Harvest is off to an early start in the region, with local farmers expressing confidence in winter crop production despite challenges faced on a national scale.
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Despite a more average year of rain and a dry September, late Spring rain set a positive tone for the harvest, which is now underway many weeks earlier than last year.
Lowesdale farmer Graeme Hicks said the area was looking pretty good this year, and while not quite at last year’s level, farmers in the area were pretty pleased to be able to get on the paddocks.
“We started on canola last Saturday and from what we can tell, it looks great yield wise,” he said.
“Everything else, wheat and barley, is also looking good- if it’s going to yield to what the canola does, we’ll be pretty happy.
“It’s been an average rainfall year here, other than the dry September, we were lucky to get that 50-60mm of rain in October- that topped things off nicely.
“I think the moisture that’s remained in the ground from the wet start to the year has really helped us along.
“While we might not get to last year’s bumper, we haven’t got as wet conditions, and we are able to get on the paddocks which is good.
“And prices, while they’re not as strong, there certainly better than livestock prices in the country at the moment.”
Over in Rutherglen Lilliput Ag’s Andrew Russell was farmers were pleased with how the season had panned out.
“Farmers over this side are generally pretty happy, he said.
“Most farmers are underway with windrowing canola, some are halfway, and a few are close to finishing,” he said.
“A comment I received from a grower this morning is that it may be the first time in a very long time that we finish canola and can’t start the wheats as they are still looking quite green.
“That’s likely due to the cool finish. We haven’t had too many hot days which is good. A nice cool finish for the cereal will add to the yield- they will fill properly, and with nutrients and moisture it’ll be great.
“In my forty years on the farm, I can’t recall that happening- noting that we don’t have barley over here- so farmers who do will jump off canola and onto barley.”
Mr Russell said that the big thing on everyone’s mind now over summer would be the long, hot and dry weather.
“Growers have been pretty diligent in making sure their fire safety is preparedness is up to scratch,” he said.
“You look back at this time last year, on the 14th of November we were completely flooded. Our road outside was underwater, and our farm was 100 per cent flooded.
“The contrast from this year to last year is chalk and cheese. We were bogging headers, couldn’t get onto paddocks to windrow, it was just very, very unique.
“You always remember those years, but looking back you just realise how bad it was.”
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) recent outlook report suggested that the agricultural sector remains robust despite mixed seasonal conditions across the country with the 2023–24 winter cropping season seeing diverse conditions.
Locally, the region has experienced better-than-expected early winter rainfall, enhancing soil moisture levels and benefiting crop establishment and growth.
In contrast, Queensland, northern New South Wales, and the northern and eastern cropping regions of Western Australia faced unfavourably dry planting and establishment conditions.
June and July brought average to above-average rainfall, particularly in the southern NSW cropping regions, resulting in a buildup of sub-soil moisture. This has encouraged the completion of planting activities and supported overall crop development in these areas.
Despite the challenges posed by drier conditions, the Australian agricultural sector is poised to achieve the third-highest yearly gross value on record in 2023–24, with a production value predicted to reach $86 billion.
Executive Director of ABARES Dr Jared Greenville highlighted the sector's resilience in the face of adversity.
"After a record $92 billion result in the 2022-23 financial year, the forecast 14% decrease will see value fall to $80 billion in 2023-24 because of drier domestic conditions and an expected fall in global commodity prices,” he said.
As Australia transitions from a higher rainfall La Niña period to a drier El Niño climate, below-average rainfall and warmer temperatures are expected to reduce crop yields and production from the previous year's record highs. Total crop production value is forecasted to fall by 20% to $46 billion, with national winter crop production expected to be slightly below the 10-year average at 45.2 million tonnes.
While the impact of drier conditions is more pronounced in northern cropping areas, the prospects for southern cropping regions remain relatively stable due to better-than-expected winter rainfall. It is also anticipated that summer crop plantings will decrease from the previous year but remain above average, with lower rainfall forecasted for spring and summer being offset by high levels of water storages.
While it’s fairly good news for the area, farmers are however grappling with elevated input costs, including fertiliser, diesel, and labour, while high-interest rates are increasing the costs of debt repayments.
Despite these challenges, Dr Greenville said that the falls are coming off the back of record years, which have helped rebuild financial reserves, and the agricultural sector remains resilient and competitive.
Meanwhile, the recently released 2023/24 Australian Winter Crop Forecast by Rabobank acknowledges that after three consecutive strong harvests, Australian grain and oilseed production is expected to return to more modest levels.
And prices are expected to provide some silver lining to the lower production totals for Australian farmers, says report co-author, RaboResearch associate analyst Edward McGeoch, with dry conditions in Australia pushing local prices above those globally, to a ‘positive basis’ for wheat and also barley. While global export demand should also be supportive of canola prices.
Mr McGeoch says drier weather conditions that have spread across many cropping regions in the country and the prevailing El Nino climate outlook are playing a significant role in the tighter supply outlook for Australian grain and oilseeds.
“Production expectations are varied across regions with some farmers expecting to see elevated production due to positive growing conditions they have experienced while others will be facing tough decisions as to whether it will be worth harvesting their crop,” he said.
Winter crop production is expected to decline across all states, except Victoria, where the bank sees it rising by eight per cent from last year.
However, Mr McGeoch says, this is primarily due to the losses incurred during last year’s harvest, with a significant proportion of crops in the northern parts of the state unable to be harvested because of flood damage.
“Parts of Victoria have seen further strong rainfall across cropping regions in early October which will play a significant role in determining if these targets will be achieved or exceeded,” he said.
While Australia’s wheat production is forecast to come in at 26.9 million tonnes (down 26 per cent on last season), barley and canola will suffer less decline, Rabobank says.
“Barley is expected to see the slightest decline in all grains and oilseeds this year (down 18 per cent on last year to 11.91 million tonnes),” Mr McGeoch said. “However, this is primarily due to an increased planted area for barley this season compared with 2022/23, while the remainder of the winter crop varieties saw reductions in planted area.”
Canola production is forecast to fall 24 per cent on last year to 5.77 million tonnes. This total, however, remains 20 per cent higher than the five-year average, Mr McGeoch said, while pulse production – though forecast to be down this season – also remains slightly higher than the five-year average, at 3.08 million tonnes.