Mixed start to winter for Queensland grain growers

image of Arthur Gearon
Chinchilla grain grower Arthur Gearon described grains industry sentiment in his region being as ‘low as it could get’. Photo GRDC.

A well-known American once said ‘a farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer’. In Queensland, like much of eastern Australia, the statement is proving uncannily accurate this season.

Seasonal conditions remain variable across the State as grain growers head into June still optimistically looking skyward for rain as the winter crop planting window narrows.

In southern Queensland, Chinchilla grain grower Arthur Gearon described industry sentiment in his region being as ‘low as it could get’.

Mr Gearon is one of the 11-member Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Northern Region Panel, which provides grassroots advice and guidance to the organisation to guide investments in grains research, development and extension.

While he said the organisation couldn’t make it rain, the GRDC had resources that may help growers dealing with the dry, such as farm business management information, evaluating planting pros and cons in dry times and mental health resource links.

“Most of the GRDC’s Northern Panel members are directly involved in the grains industry either as growers or as farm advisers and researchers, so we know how much impact a tough season or a run of tough seasons can have on farm business and grower morale,” Mr Gearon said.

“For many growers this will be the second or third consecutive year without good rain so that starts to really impact on how you cope and I think this is a time when you have to take care of yourself and keep an eye on your friends and neighbours.”

Mr Gearon said it was currently a mixed bag seasonally for much of the western and inner Darling Downs and further south to the Queensland and New South Wales border.

“You can draw a line north from about Bungunya where most of the area to the west received either no or little rain in March and good falls in April, with exceptions as some growers missed out completely,” Mr Gearon said.

“To the east it was the opposite, with big rains in March and smaller (5-10 millimetre events) in April but again some growers missed out entirely.

“Put into the context of the preceding seasons, it is quite interesting. Most summer crop growers actually planted on limited moisture and crops struggled to yield anything at all.

“Whilst in the winter-prominent areas the biggest issue seems to be successive years trying to chase high chickpea prices which has meant there is very little ground cover and as a result an inability to store moisture.”

Mr Gearon said looking ahead, growers were predominantly concerned about ground cover and were evaluating the cost of planting barley or wheat even if they had limited chance of a reasonable yield, just to get cover on paddocks.

“Some optimistic growers chasing moisture have put in deep sown chickpeas, so there is a bit happening, but the reality is the planting window has not closed yet so if we get rain there is still time.”

Meanwhile, growers on Queensland’s coast and across the Wide Bay Burnett region? are also battling dry conditions with minimal rain during the traditionally wetter summer months of December to February and late falls in March.

image of jo white
Maryborough-based researcher Jo White said it was the third dry summer in a row for growers in the Wide Bay region. Photo GRDC.

Maryborough’s GRDC Northern Panel member and researcher Jo White said it was the third dry summer in a row for growers in the Wide Bay region.

“Maryborough received four percent of its usual rainfall in January and 16pc of the average in February,” Dr White said.

“Conditions improved in March and April with 210mm and 90mm respectively and this pattern was similar for the South Burnett/Kingaroy region.

“Dryland peanuts suffered due to drought conditions with yields well below average in the Burnett. Rain in late March had little impact on improving the yield potential of peanuts in this region.

“The quality and quantity of peanuts were better under irrigation in the Bundaberg region. However, issues with irrigation management due to lack of water availability and PKS (Peanut Kernal Shrivel), has reduced overall quality.”

Dr White said the situation was better for peanuts in North Queensland where good rainfall and disease management produced high yields.

“Soybeans fared better this season, coping reasonably well in the hot, dry conditions. December-planted crops fared worse than January-planted soybeans which yielded two tonnes/hectare,” she said.

“Simply speaking, there just isn’t enough water for crops so we really need some good falls to top up water supplies for irrigators, as well as replenish soil moisture levels.”

Central Queensland (CQ) remains one of the more positive regions after receiving reasonable rain in three separate falls in March, April and early May.

image of Graham Spackman
Emerald-based private agronomist Graham Spackman said even within his region there were stark differences in soil moisture levels. Photo GRDC.

Emerald-based private agronomist and GRDC Northern Panel member Graham Spackman said even within his region there were stark differences in soil moisture levels.

“Overall, it has been a good start to the season, with a significant amount of the Central Highlands and parts of the Dawson regions planted on good moisture. However, the Callide area centred on Biloela is still very dry,” he said.

“Late rain saved sorghum crops in the Capella and Clermont areas, although it did lead to a significant influx of Helicoverpa moths that growers had to manage. Growers are now harvesting but it is tricky as there is some re-tillering with 2-3 stages present in the crop.

“A large amount of winter crop has now been planted to the Central Highlands with many growers opting to grow wheat and restore stubble cover to paddocks. There has also been more barley planted than usual, and there is a significant planting of chickpea.

“The earliest planted cereals received in-crop rain and weed control programs are underway. Some early barley and grazing oats crops, and the occasional early wheat crop, have suffered infestations of armyworms and Helicoverpa.

“Despite a good start however, many winter cereal crops in the region now need in-crop rain to establish properly and to prevent them maturing too early.”

Mr Spackman said those with irrigation in the region were also facing some challenges with Fairbairn Dam currently at 21pc which had resulted in reduced allocations.

“Allocations from July 1 are expected to be low, but there will be some carryover from the current year. Comet River irrigators were able to harvest substantial volumes of water following a 200mm rainfall event over Carnarvon Gorge courtesy of Cyclone Trevor. This will enable a reasonable planting of primarily cotton for those irrigators in spring.”

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