Crop growers in box seat if rains continue

By Sophie Baldwin

Despite the lack of record-breaking rains across northern Victoria and southern Riverina this season, crop growers are sitting in the box seat if the rains continue.

And it’s a big ‘if’, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting a drier and warmer than average spring.

Elmore crop farmer Darren Trewick said his crops were looking magnificent but a good inch of rain was still needed.

‘‘We are in a better situation than this time last year,’’ Mr Trewick said.

‘‘We have been able to put out more urea to stimulate growth and we are hoping we get another good dollop of rain before September — if this happens, we will be okay.’’

The Trewicks grow oats for the export hay market, wheat, barley, canola and chickpeas on 2000ha.

They have been supplying the export hay market for 25 years.

The oats help with weed control while also helping spread some of the workload.

‘‘We can start cutting the oats at the beginning of October and by the time harvest comes around, we are a quarter of the way through,’’ Mr Trewick said.

‘‘The export hay market has helped us diversify and last year when we had to cut our crops for hay, we already had the equipment to do so — we don’t have all our eggs in one basket.’’

Mr Trewick said there was no point getting too concerned about weather forecasts because that was out of his control.

‘‘We live with the repercussions of the weather and we have to take the good with the bad.

‘‘Long-term I believe agriculture has a great outlook and as an industry, we are positioned really well.’’

Just down the road, Elmore farmer Ged McCormick said his crops were also looking magnificent.

‘‘Our crops are looking great at the moment and we received another half an inch of rain last week,’’ Mr McCormick said.

‘‘They are now at the height we cut them last year for hay and we have the potential for it to be a better than average year, if it keeps raining.’’

Mr McCormick said the moisture level in his soil was sitting around 47 per cent and another 75mm of rain over August would take his crops through to a reasonable harvest.

‘‘Without spring rain, the moisture will be gone by October and I will see you all at the clearing sale,’’ he joked.

Sowing started about April 10 and everything was sown dry.

In southern NSW at Womboota, mixed farmer Alistair Starritt adjusted his mix of crops to suit the weather conditions this year.

As a southern Riverina irrigator, he is facing another year of zero allocation.

‘‘The mild season and the small amounts of rain we have received have been valuable and enabled good establishment of dryland crops, although our prospects are nowhere near as good as they would be, had we had irrigation,’’ Mr Starritt said.

He has received about 115mm of rain this season (the growing season average sits around 250mm).

‘‘We have sown a lot less canola and dryland wheat and have increased barley, oats, hay, lentils and peas.

‘‘Things might be looking good at the moment but we are at the mercy of the weather, which creates a lot of uncertainty.’’

Mr Starritt has turned his irrigated area into a grazing feedlot for sheep.

The story is the same at Rutherglen for mixed farmer Andrew Russell.

‘‘Our crops are looking good at the moment,’’ Mr Russell said.

‘‘We are behind in rainfall but we are happy and grateful for where we are at.’’

To date he has received between 200 and 240mm of rain, 100mm behind the end of July 350mm average.

‘‘We are just trying to manage our nitrogen use to minimise input and maximise output and we are being as realistic as we can because there is potential there.’’

Mr Russell said there was some moisture at depth, according to his soil probes.

‘‘The outlook for spring is terrible, which makes things very difficult to manage — my focus will be to get through the year without making a loss, do the best we can and concentrate on next season.’’

Mr Russell said he had stayed with his pasture rotation and sowing of cereals, including wheat, barley, triticale and oats.

The Bureau of Meteorology said August was likely to be drier over the tropical north extending down into eastern Queensland, NSW and into northern Victoria.