CANOLA looks set to be the major casualty of the damaging series of frosts in NSW.
With a run of consecutive nights below zero, culminating in temperatures as low as -5 in late August all crops have been impacted by the freezing temperatures, but analysts fear canola was at a particularly vulnerable stage.
“Canola has been really badly hit just due to its growth stage when the frosts hit,” said James Maxwell, Australian Crop Forecasters (ACF).
“Many canola crops through NSW were flowering or in early podding stages at the time of the frosts and they dropped both pods and flowers,” he said.
“It could be quite severe in terms of yield impact.”
Neil Fettell, research advisor at Central West Farming Systems based in Condobolin in NSW’s Central West, said canola would be relying on its secondary branches for yield.
“You can definitely see some main stem damage as a result of the frost and the early pods have come down.”
Mr Maxwell said overall, Australian canola production was unlikely to suffer too much of a yield reduction on previous estimates due to the healthy state of the crop in Victoria, also a major canola producer.
“It won’t entirely cancel out the losses in NSW, but it will certainly mitigate the situation if the Victorian crop continues on its current track,” he said.
The situation is only slightly healthier in the pulse sector.
Mr Maxwell raised the alarm for the national chickpea crop, in spite of conventional wisdom that chickpeas are relatively frost tolerant at this stage of the year due to their ability to reflower.
“The chickpeas aren’t much better than canola, a lot of flowers dropped after the frost.”
“They do have a small edge because they can reflower and recover, but that is obviously dependent on the conditions and there is no moisture this year for them to do this.”
With this in mind, he forecast a national chickpea crop below a million tonnes – a massive year on year drop.
“I’d expect it could come in less than half of last year’s crop,” he said.
Dr Fettell said in his region lupins had been hit by the frost but said many chickpea crops were not yet in flower.
“That has protected them a bit.”
In terms of cereal crops it is the proverbial mixed bag.
Mr Maxwell reported his organisation was hearing early crops had fared worse due to their development stage than later sown crops, but Dr Fettell said the more robust early crops that have been able to get better established in winter, had better potential.
“It’s impossible to give an overall picture, there is some early barley out in head which will probably get some frost damage in the head, others will get stem frost, it really is a paddock by paddock case,” Dr Fettell said.
“There will still be some heads out there in the paddock, it will not be a complete wipe-out, but as yet we don’t have a handle on how severe the damage was.”
Mr Maxwell agreed there was variation, but said on the macro scale, the news was negative.
He suggested most wheat forecasters would make significant subtractions to their crop estimates when they were updated.
For his part, he said ACF’s current figure of 22.7 million tonnes of national wheat production would come back hard.
“It may well be that our next figure comes in below 20mt, depending on the scope of the NSW damage, along with prospects in other states.”