A SERIES of heavy frosts over areas with crops on marginal moisture in northern Victoria and southern NSW has strengthened farmers’ resolve to cut crops for hay where possible.
Kelly Angel, senior research officer with Birchip Cropping Group (BCG), said farmers through the Mallee and south-west Riverina were reporting some damage in cereal crops from recent frost.
“It was very cold and it appears in some areas there could be stem frost damage in the cereal,” Ms Angel said.
“The crop was already moisture stressed, so we’re advising growers to get out and check for damage on the head.
“In some cases the cause of damage may not be clear, whether the plant has frost damage or is moisture stressed but at the end of the day the management decisions are much the same – do I take a crop to grain or do I cut for hay?”
Ms Angel said at present it was a somewhat counterintuitive situation.
“In general people are looking to cut their better crops, which is the opposite of what would normally happen,” she said.
“It is only those better crops that have the sufficient biomass to make a hay crop worthwhile, so those with struggling crops will probably just leave them as ground cover and hope for spring rain to get some sort of a harvest off them.”
Ms Angel said the long-term Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecast for spring was another factor in farmers’ thoughts.
The BOM recently gave north-west Victoria just a 20pc chance of exceeding median spring rainfall.
She said the one saving grace was the high price of both hay and grain.
“It won’t take a lot of hay or grain to generate an income,” she said.
Ms Angel said farmers looking to explore the hay option more thoroughly needed to do their sums, such as calculating hay yields.
“You can cut a square metre patch at your hay cutting height, dry it in the oven at 50 degrees for a day and weigh it.
“Following that, multiply by ten and that is your dry weight per hectare, then factor in losses of 10-20pc.”
Ms Angel said farmers also had to weigh up other options such as grazing.
“On light crops grazing with livestock may be a good way of getting some return from the paddock, but equally if the soil in the paddock is erosion-prone, such as sand, it might not be a good idea.”