CHRISTMAS WISH: Toowoomba-based agronomist Paul McIntosh says growers are now anxiously waiting on rain for summer crops.

Fingers crossed for Xmas rain

There are still some very dry areas on the western Darling Downs, as well as pockets on the southern downs.

SOUTHERN Queensland agronomist Paul McIntosh has wide-spread rain right up there near the top of his Christmas wish list, and he’s not alone in wanting a wet festive season.

The Toowoomba-based agronomist with Pulse Australia and the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative describes 2017 as a challenging year for those in the southern Queensland and northern NSW grains industry.

“Winter was dry and cold and in many cases yields reflected those conditions, particularly in chickpea crops, while cereals generally performed better,” Mr McIntosh said.

“Now heading into summer there are still some very dry areas on the western Darling Downs, as well as pockets that have missed out on the southern downs, but farmers are an optimistic, hopeful lot, so sorghum and mungbean planting has gone ahead, after in many cases, just limited storm rain.

“Now what we really need for Christmas is some steady, soaking, widespread falls even into early January so more grain sorghum and mungbeans can be planted across this region and into Central Queensland.

“Rain will also ensure those who already have summer crop planted have the best chance of good results, while those holding off to plant winter crops next year go into the season with full soil moisture profiles.”

South to the border and Goondiwindi-based agronomist Stuart Thorn agrees no-one would turn down some wet weather.

GRDC northern regional panelist and Liverpool Plains-based agronomist Peter McKenzie says some growers in his region have missed out on rain for summer crop planting.

But the MCA director said despite the below-average winter rainfall, cereal crops in south west Queensland and northern NSW actually produced better than expected yields this year.

“It was a tough year and expectations for cereal crops were low, but they actually produced some average yields, which I believe is a direct result of how effectively growers had managed fallow before winter planting, meaning crops were planted into reasonable soil moisture profiles,” Mr Thorn said.

“Unfortunately chickpeas didn’t handle the dry conditions as well, and this combined with 20 cold events during late August-September meant crops didn’t set and hold flowers and yields were dismal.”

He said if there was a key take-away message for growers after a challenging winter it was effective fallow management could be the difference between average and below-average yields in a dry year.

“Growers are doing a really effective job managing grass weeds in their fallow so they preserve soil moisture and I think this year it really paid dividends. They definitely understand the importance of fallow management and this summer many were straight off the headers and out spraying,” Mr Thorn said.

Looking ahead he said 90 per cent of the traditional summer cropping region was planted predominately to sorghum with small areas of mungbeans and crops were looking positive.

“Most of this region has had good falls through November and December so summer crops have established well and some sorghum is already at early grain fill stage, so things are looking good, although growers would welcome more rain.”

On the Liverpool Plains, agronomist and GRDC northern panelist Peter McKenzie said with the exception of some chickpea crops that had benefited from late rain and should be harvested by Christmas, the winter cropping season was finished and had generally produced below average yields.

“For the region north of here, it has been a tale of two sides of the (Newell) highway,” Mr McKenzie said.

“West of the highway has seen many failed or not even planted crops. There have been small patches around Rowena that have harvested some crop but they are few and far between. East of the highway was better but still patchy and for most, well below average.”

He said rainfall during winter was one of the lowest in recorded history based on the Bureau of Meteorology’s historical data.

“However the ‘golden triangle’ region of Warialda, Croppa Creek and North Star proved a shining light with crops yielding average to above average however; rainfall at harvest did see quite a bit of quality downgrading,” Mr McKenzie said.

“When I went through that country mid-November there looked to be an average summer crop plant and a lot of those crops were well established and looked fantastic, so those growers will definitely be looking for rain for Christmas.”

Looking ahead to next winter Mr McKenzie predicted there would be more wheat/durum grown on long fallow as planting moisture has not been sufficient to get summer crop in and growers have been taking note of exceptional yields achieved on long fallow in recent seasons. 

He said the results from time of sowing trials run over the past three to four years had started to convince growers to plant earlier with longer season varieties and a long fallow suited this system well.

In the meantime he too said rain was high on his wishlist this Christmas and would allow growers and agronomists to take a much-needed break over the festive season.

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