To bale or not to bale: decision time for canola growers

image of peter watt
Cowra agronomist Peter Watt from Elders is encouraging growers to consider biomass as they make decisions about canola crop management. Photo GRDC.

New South Wales canola growers battling ongoing dry conditions are now facing the tough decision of whether to take crops through to harvest or start making hay.

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Northern Region Panel Chair John Minogue said it was crunch time for many growers across southern, central and western regions as dry conditions prevailed putting pressure on moisture stressed canola crops.

As a grower and agricultural consultant based in southern NSW, Mr Minogue is keenly aware of the challenges of the current season and is encouraging growers to consult with their advisers and evaluate all options, including the market opportunities for canola hay, as they make decisions.

“Many canola crops are moisture stressed and have struggled to produce substantial bio-mass so growers are now weighing up the risk and benefits of either taking crops through to harvest or cutting for hay,” he said.

“These are tough decisions in a tough year, and I understand and empathise with growers working through this process. I think the key to making an informed decision is having access to all the relevant information.”

Mr Minogue said the GRDC had significant resources to assist growers and farm advisers with decision making in dry times.

“What we do now can significantly influence our business next season, so we need to consider the costs and benefits associated with various management options, such as nutrient removal and the value of ground cover,” he said.

“I personally try not to just live in the moment. While it’s certainly dry now, I try to focus on the fact that with the right information, we can still make proactive decisions and turn negatives into positives remembering that it will rain again.”

Cowra agronomist Peter Watt from Elders is also encouraging growers to consider biomass as they make decisions about their canola crop.

“A lot of the crops in this region are just holding on and we desperately need rain, but there is nothing on the forecast for the next month so it really is decision time,” he said.

“The key really is cutting crops at the right time to maximise hay quality, which may stand you apart in the market.

“Many crops are at that stage now so growers and consultants are having to weigh up their options and I believe many will opt for hay.”

Mr Watt said trials like the GRDC-CSIRO Farming Systems trial at Greenethorpe provided invaluable ‘real time’ data about cutting canola crops for hay.

“CSIRO researcher John Kirkegaard cut canola crops at the trial site last week and is providing us with data about biomass, which will help guide the decisions we are making with our growers given the trial crops are comparable with commercially grown crops in this area,” he said.

“This is an excellent example of how research trials can play a genuine and very practical role in informing growers’ decision-making.”

Wagga Wagga based farm business consultant Chris Minehan from Rural Management Strategies (RMS) said he has been discussing making hay versus taking crops through to harvest with clients this week.

“I believe one of the key considerations when making this decision is knowing your market options if you decide to make hay,” he said.

“Indications are that the demand for stock feed in many areas of NSW has been reduced as farmers either destocked or significantly reduced livestock numbers.

“While there is still demand for hay from drought-stricken areas further afield it may be a matter of working out how you link up with that demand.

“Alternatively I do know of situations where farmers have opted to cut canola and are also now looking to buy in store lambs to take advantage of having a full hayshed.”

However Mr Minehan said it was important growers understood the economic costs and benefits of a decision, any animal health risks as well as the long-term consequences in areas such as impact on the paddock, ground cover and availability of standing feed over summer.

Recognising this is a critical time for decision making the GRDC is joining with NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) next week to offer southern NSW growers and advisors the opportunity to discuss crop management during a Grower Breakfast Forum at Henty Machinery Field Days this Wednesday (September 18).

The forum from 8.30am – 10:30am at the new GRDC site at Henty (P722 and P723) will include presentations on: drought and heat tolerance in canola and drought and supplementary feeding decision making, as well as guidance in the use of support tools for decision making.

Additional resources are available for growers and advisers including:

NSW Department of Primary Industries: Salvaging crops for fodder, grain or grazing – costs and income calculator

To support growers and advisers wishing to access tools and resources to assist with decision-making, and for general support, the GRDC has developed a “Dealing With The Dry” web portal which contains links to useful information.

Growers and advisers dealing with tough seasonal conditions can also tune in to timely advice to guide crop management decisions, thanks to a short four-part specialist podcast series developed by the GRDC and NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

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