SEASONAL conditions have turned sour in northern Victoria and eastern South Australia, with frost the major culprit.
While farmers in the northern Mallee in Victoria are still hopeful of average yields, there is unease about the severity of frost damage.
Further south, crops in the southern Mallee and northern Wimmera still remain fresh but some growers are looking to the sky for a final finishing rain.
Simon Craig, agronomist with Farm 360 based in the northern Mallee said there was heavy frost damage in his local area and across the Murray river into the far western Riverina.
“Around Kooloonong, Kyalite and across to Balranald (NSW) farmers are picking up frost damage.”
He said barley looked to be particularly hard hit among the cereal crops, while legume crops such as lentils and field peas have also been damaged.
“I expect we will see some barley paddocks with 50 per cent losses due to frost,” Mr Craig said.
“The field peas and lentils have dropped their flowers so they will also be hit hard, I’d expect up to 80pc yield loss in some of the peas.”
He said the frost damage was exacerbated by the dry turn.
“We could recuperate some of those losses with rain, but the window for that is closing rapidly and on the forecast useful rain looks unlikely.”
Mr Craig said it was difficult for growers as they had spent the money on inputs.
“The season looked good and it favoured putting nitrogen out so that cost is unlikely to be recouped now, which is a blow.”
“It has taken the gloss of what looked a very promising year.”
Mr Craig said there had been several frost events, but farmers felt a frost which at face value seemed relatively innocuous had done the worst damage.
“It was not that cold in terms of minimum temperatures but it was cold for a long time and it seems to have been the one that has knocked the crop about.”
Mr Craig said soil type was a major factor in terms of the amount of damage.
“It is definitely worse on the low lying flats, which you would expect, but also on the lighter soil on sand hills where the crops were moisture stressed, the plants did not have the resilience to cope with the frost.”
Across the border into South Australia, Pinnaroo farmer Corey Blacksell said frost was also rearing its head in the SA Mallee.
“I’m not sure just how severe it will all be in the final wash-up but certainly it will do a fair bit of damage, in particular the canola looks hard hit.”
“I’d expect 20pc yield losses in some wheat paddocks, but in general barley has been worst hit out of the cereals.”
He said after monitoring images taken by drones it appeared areas with residual ground cover were worse impacted than those with minimal stubble.
“The ground cover has acted like a fridge and kept the cold air in.”
In terms of moisture, Mr Blacksell said he believed there would be adequate moisture to finish crops.
“It’s hard to say without knowing the full extent of the frost damage, but I’d say this area is on track for an average to slightly below average year.”
He confirmed Mr Craig’s theory that the frost that did the most damage was not especially cold, but stayed cool for a long period of time.
The potential yield losses in Victoria and SA will alter the dynamic of the Aussie domestic grain market.
With NSW and Queensland experiencing below average years, Victoria and SA supplies were expected to be the primary source of cheaper feed grain this year.
Following the frost, volumes available to the domestic market may be down, which in turn could see another lift in domestic basis.
However, it is not all doom and gloom in the south.
Cameron Penny, a Warracknabeal district farmer, said while another rain would be nice to finish crops, in general he was happy with how the year was panning out.
“Touch wood, we have avoided the worst of the frosts so far and there seems to be good yield potential,” he said.
“We’re just starting to see crops go off around tree lines, but that is normal in our area.
“Another solid rain would really finish off the season, but even as it is, I’d hope to see average yields without too much more rain.”