Looking to the sky

Narrandera farmer Neil Seidel needs 50mm for his canola crop to reach its yield potential. Photo: Kim Woods

Drying winds, frost and lack of rain are combining to wipe potentially millions of dollars worth of value off winter crops in the Narrandera Shire.

While regional growers have had a better start to winter than areas further north, soil moisture is depleting quickly resulting in critical decisions to be made within the next month over whether to cut canola and cereal crops for hay.

And, with east coast crops on a knife edge, the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a spring forecast for a drier than average season, an increased risk of frost and warmer day temperatures.

Narrandera farmer Neil Seidel said local growers were “living on the edge” with 50mm desperately needed to finished some big crops in the district. Mr Seidel described the mindset as “cautiously hopeful”.

“This could be a good year (around Narrandera) but it’s got to start raining,” he said.

Pastures are holding on locally with growers spraying out barley grass in their lucerne, and livestock holding their condition. Canola has been top dressed but urea has been withheld from many cereal crops as rain failed to materialise.

Elders Narrandera agronomist Ross Shaw said although crops were looking good, soil moisture was limited.

“Up until that hot, windy weather, the crops were looking really good,” Mr Shaw said. “People have held back on top dressing with urea as they haven’t had the rain underneath the crops to shore them up. There has been the odd bit of frost damage in cereals. We are doing a bit better than areas further north – hay could be an option for some.”

Mr Shaw said critical decisions on cutting crops for hay will be made in the next month if rain fails to arrive.

Neil Seidel is among the small number of growers who elected to sow canola this year in the shire and is pleased with the yield potential. With new season canola prices at around $573/tonne, Mr Seidel is hoping for a change in the weather pattern to keep the crop on track. His 80ha of ATR Bonito canola was sown into moisture at 2.5kg/ha on April 25 into paddocks which grew Ford wheat for hay production last year.

“I put the canola in to clean these paddocks up – these are beautiful sandy loam soils and there is still moisture there,” he said. “We’ve had no luck with canola over the last few years with dry finishes and high establishment costs.”

Mr Seidel said this winter had been a season of low disease levels.

“There haven’t been any aphids in the crop yet,” he said. “We have been getting scattered showers and on this lighter country it soaks in. If it doesn’t rain and doesn’t fill, this will be cut for hay.”

Mr Seidel said cereal crops on the lighter country around Narrandera were drying off.

“All my wheat was sown late, and those crops look alright at the moment,” he said. “The wind and frost have really dried out the soils – we missed that last change, if we had of got 10mm it would have made all the difference. We are living on the edge as we haven’t had a decent drop of rain – we need two inches (50mm) of rain badly. There might be a lot of stock on a lot of crop very soon.”

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