Croppers escape worst of rain damage
IT IS not often farmers in Australia's low rainfall zones are happy with getting less rain than expected. Last week was one of those times.
THERE will be patches of severely downgraded grain in parts of the Riverina in NSW and north-eastern and northern Victoria, but overall the grains industry believes the impact of last week’s significant rain was less than initially feared.
Farmers harvested around the clock in the lead-up to rain, fuelled by Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecasts of rainfall totals in excess of 100mm over wide swathes of the cropping belt.
While some centres, such as Echuca and Stanhope in Victoria did record these type of falls, for many totals came in far below this figure.
Through much of the Wimmera, where there was a lot of angst about the rain event given the good yields being recorded from earlier crops being taken off, there were many areas that received less than 25mm.
The market reaction indicates industry is less concerned about weather damage than it was, the ASX January wheat futures contract falling $8.50 a tonne in the period from Friday to Monday afternoon, to sit at $269.50/t.
Prices had rallied in the lead-up to the rain while the market concerned about supplies of good quality grain.
Clear Grain Exchange managing director Nathan Cattle said after a slow start to the season there had been a spike in buyer activity last week.
“We saw a flurry of buyer demand hit markets later in the week as they aimed to secure some grain ahead of the storm,” he said.
He said buyer demand was particularly focused on the better quality grades, which is not unusual for this time of year, but was likely accentuated by the weather forecast.
Southern Riverina farmer Ian Trevethan, Corowa, said he felt had got off lightly with falls of 65mm.
He was optimistic about losing dollars due to quality downgrades, partly because of the conditions and partly because of the strong feed grain market in the area.
“We’ve had the ideal conditions following the rain, cool and breezy, so hopefully any downgrading is not too significant.”
“The other thing here is that we have a strong feed market, we grow some dedicated feed wheat varieties anyway, so our major concern will be in terms of yield loss due to the lighter test weight rather than downgrading as such.”
“That said, if there is a lot of feed wheat about it will put pressure on prices for lower quality lines.”
He said harvest in the area was around half completed.
The story is less rosy in Victoria’s North Central region.
Landmark Elmore agronomist Greg Toomey said on the outskirts of his region there had been torrential falls – 128mm at Echuca and up to 170mm near Stanhope.
He said while general rainfall figures were much lower, he expected damage to crops.
“A lot of places had 80-90mm, but even the areas that had 50-60mm I feel there will be some damage as it was constantly wet for two and a half days on ripe grain.”
“The expectation is that the quality of the grain may be affected and downgraded while there will be yield losses due to weight loss in the grain.”
In spite of this, he said many will feel the result is better than expected.
“Almost everybody is going to have a saleable product, so it is not like 2010-11, after the predictions we had I think most will feel they have got out of it not too bad.”
Prior to the rain, Mr Toomey said yields had been excellent.
“It has probably been slightly over what we expected given the growing season rainfall, which comes down to stored moisture from last year.
“A lot of the canola was going 2-3 tonnes to the hectare, barley 4-6t/ha and wheat 3.5-5.5t/ha.”
David Johnson, Emerald Grain chief executive, said the business was not expecting deliveries to its Elmore storage site until the end of the week.
He said of Emerald’s receival sites, Elmore would be the most likely to see downgraded grain.
“There are also issues in the Riverina, so The Rock and Coolamon could also see lower grades coming in, but certainly that North Central Victorian area is the major risk at present.”
The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is also warning growers to be careful when resuming harvest.
Grain storage specialist for the southern region Peter Botta said high-moisture stored grain can lead to mould and insect growth, so storage experts are advising growers to take prompt action to avoid damage.
“Grain at typical harvest temperatures of 25-30°C and moisture content greater than 13-14 per cent provides ideal conditions for mould as well as insects,” Mr Botta says.
“Although many growers don’t have the equipment and infrastructure in place for drying grain, there are some other measures they can take to reduce the risk of grain being damaged in storage.”
He said farmers could look at blending high moisture grain with other supplies lower in moisture, airing the grain under cool air or drying if they had the facilities available.