THE SERIES of frosts throughout much of Australia’s cropping zone in September, along with the dry conditions that dogged much of country throughout the growing season, mean there will be damaged crops that growers will need to harvest.
The good news, however, is that while there may be downgrades to frost and drought impacted crop, it will still be easy to find a buyer given the shortage of feed grain around the country.
With the moisture stressed crops the higher levels of screenings is not expected to pose too many problems in terms of demand.
But farmers will have more to contend with than just marketing.
A frost management expert has said farmers need to take extra care when harvesting frosted crops to minimise risks, such as machinery breakdowns and fire, both of which are higher risks in frosted paddocks.
Areas likely to see frost damage include inland South Australia, the southern portion of the Victorian cropping belt and parts of Western Australia.
WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) research officer Ben Biddulph said in his area he expected barley to be worst impacted, while in Victoria, Western District growers said frost struck just as wheat was flowering.
Dr Biddulph said one of the major risks with frosted paddocks was the added dust that builds up on the machine.
He said harvesting a frosted crop brought another layer of complexity to an already busy time of year.
“Some of the complications are limited to this season’s harvest, while others have ramifications for next season’s crop,” he said.
“If practical to do so, harvest frosted paddocks last so that grain from better paddocks is safely in storage first.”
Dr Biddulph said frosted crops were difficult to thresh due to higher residual sugars, lower grain volume and the green material in the case of a plant re-tillering.
This is also the case for drought stressed crops, which also have a similarly high level of sugars.
“Despite lower tonnages, daily harvest maintenance and cleaning down equipment regularly still remain vital to minimise machinery fatigue and fire risk in these difficult harvesting conditions,” he said.
“Frosted crops generate more dust and the crop residue builds up on the machine when harvested, contributing to increased fire risk.
“This is due to the tough nature of frosted stems, shattering of frosted grains and increased saprophytic fungal and bacterial growth on the crop.”
Dr Biddulph said grain quality might be compromised depending on the timing of the frost.
“Frost-affected grains usually have a lower hectolitre weight and higher screenings. Adjusting header settings and/or grading can be beneficial but check the feasibility first,” he said.
“If keeping seed for next season, it’s important to source seed from least-affected areas to maximise establishment.
Pleasingly, Nathan Cattle, Clear Grain Exchange, said there had not been widespread reports of crop damage as yet.
“We may be getting to it later, as harvest starts to get into places like the Western District in Victoria where there were problems, but at present it is not too big a problem.”
He said he did not expect farmers with frost-damaged or moisture stressed downgraded grain to struggle to find a home for it.
“I think it should sell easily and I don’t think there will be too much of discount as everything is priced relative to feed values anyway – it’s going to be a case of grain being grain this year in terms of pricing.”
Thus far, Mr Cattle said most of the grain harvested had been of good quality, due to crops always being in a low yielding environment, meaning there was not the issue of pinching when crops dry off suddenly.
However, he said he expected parts of NSW to have pinched grain along with the frosted crop in Victoria and WA.
Dr Biddulph said farmers needed to be careful if storing frosted grain for seed.
“Even after grading, frosted grain can have 20 to 50 per cent lower crop establishment than unfrosted grain during the following season.
“As a result, growers need to retain more seed than normal, sow into an optimum seed bed and increase the seeding rate to compensate for lower crop germination and vigour of frosted grain.”
And the problems do not end once harvest is over.
Dr Biddulph said frosted stubble could rot at ground level and be difficult to seed into, in the following season.
“To minimise trash flow problems in subsequent seasons, frosted stubbles may have to be cut low during harvest or in a separate operation later on,” he said.
Dr Biddulph’s opinions on how to go about harvesting frosted grain can be found on the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s podcast page.