Wet winter yield losses largely a furphy

Wet winter yield losses largely a furphy

Grain
IN A RUT: It's been a wet start to the season in many parts of the cropping belt.

IN A RUT: It's been a wet start to the season in many parts of the cropping belt.

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Farming on the globe's driest continent all but the wettest of winters is unlikely to dent yield projections analysts say.

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REPORTS of water damage as the nation's cropping belt goes through an old fashioned wet winter are unlikely to translate to widespread yield losses at the end of the year according to long-time industry observers.

There is concern in parts of NSW and Western Australia that the wet conditions over the past couple of months will have caused irreversible crop damage across large areas.

However, Ron Storey, long-time industry participant, said it was very rare for in-season rainfall to significantly dent yield potential on a macro scale.

"We certainly see some waterlogging and crops washed out, which is bad news for those that have the problem but even within the one paddock what you lose down the low end you'll often make up the other end," Mr Storey said.

"As a rule we are probably at more risk of heavy harvest rain causing paddocks to be abandoned, such as what happened in 2010-11, than we are in seeing rain at this time of year doing real yield limiting damage over a lot of hectares," he said.

However, he said some areas were more susceptible than others.

"In parts of central to northern NSW where it is really flat you do have the potential for water to lie a long time and that has happened before, so if it is to be a major problem outside the high rainfall zones, where they are set up to drain water during the winter, that is likely where it will happen."

He also said some crops were more at risk.

"Certainly wheat tolerates the wet more than barley and both more than most pulses.

"Crops like chickpeas can have very bad results from getting too wet and that is before you even factor in not being able to get on the paddock to spray for disease."

"In general though, we farm in a semi-arid climate and there really are very few places you can ever say are getting too wet," Mr Storey said.

In northern NSW currently pulse industry sources say the chickpea crop is generally hanging on well, with the plant able to handle more moisture in winter than in spring.

Matthew Madden, NSW Farmers grains committee chairman and farmer at Moree, said he was confident conditions were drying.

"There are definitely patches that have been quite wet here around Moree and up towards Goondiwindi, but in general they have dried out a little in the past fortnight," Mr Madden said.

"We did see some localised storms and certainly some people will see a yield penalty due to excess moisture but I think that will be by far outweighed by the positive response we see in most cropped areas," he said.

He said historically the Bland region, around West Wyalong, was one area that had lost big portions of crop to wet conditions but said it was not in that position at present.

"Throughout NSW there is good confidence and once the days get a bit longer the crops will start growing and will handle more moisture if it comes."

Malcolm Bartholomaeus, Bartholomaeus Consulting, had to think all the way back to 1992 for a year where winter rain had seriously damaged yield potential.

"Through NSW there were issues with some wet years on very flat country but it is a very rare occurrence."

Mr Bartholomaeus said rain at harvest, or earlier in the season at sowing, was more problematic.

"There have been some years, particularly when people had less standing stubble, that it was hard to get out and plant a crop because paddocks were just too wet," Mr Bartholomaeus said.

"This led to crop being planted well past the optimum window and saw yield losses," he said.

He said a major threat at present was the inability to perform crop management.

"We do see a lot more nitrogen go on in-crop, which is fine, but in these wet years you have to have a means of doing so, whether that is by plane or whatever, or you could have yield loss, the same goes for herbicide."

He said he was still very comfortable with the national crop.

"I think we are in a pretty strong position at present, it is better to be a little too wet than too dry."

Nigel Lotz, general manager of operations at GrainCorp, said his organisation was busy hiring large numbers of harvest casuals in preparation for a big east coast harvest.

"We know it has been wet in places but we expect the good patches to more than compensate," Mr Lotz said.

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