Waiting patiently for rain
Growers need rainfall for winter crop planting
WINTER planting season is well and truly under way, but many growers are still waiting for the arrival of much-needed rainfall.
South Felton farmer Michael Meara usually grows chickpeas, barley and wheat during the winter season, but at the end of June he is still holding out for rain.
“We’re going to need a good three inches to think about anything really,” Mr Meara said.
“Last year I grew chickpeas, barley and a bit of wheat.
“I’ll put the same in this year if we get enough rain, otherwise I’ll wait over for the summer crop.”
Mr Meara said the Felton area had a fairly long winter planting season and he could hold out as late as July through to early August.
“It’s dry and it’s a worry, but I’ve had a reasonable summer crop so I’m not too concerned,” he said.
“But if it continues into summer, I’ll be worried.
“The forecast isn’t looking too good at the moment.”
Senior agronomist Paul McIntosh said the prime planting time for winter crops was from May to June.
“However in the past we have planted crops in late June-July,” he said.
“In some cases we have even planted as late as August.”
Mr McIntosh said the disadvantage of late planting was it risked subjecting the winter crops to warmer temperatures, however there were still some advantages.
“Wheat and barley don’t like temperatures above 30 degrees maximum. They will develop their best yields in a cool spring,” he said.
“Last year we planted in April-May and we got hit with some frosts. This year we’re probably going to be subject to warmer springs.
“The advantage of planting later is there is less risk of frost damage to the reproduction stage of wheat barley and chickpeas.”
Mr McIntosh said late plantings could still produce a significant yield.
“I had one grower who planted Seamer chickpeas in July and yielded 2-3 tonnes per hectare, which is a pretty handy yield,” he said.
“It’s not ideal by any stretch of the imagination planting in July, but we can do it.”
This year has had a large increase in dry plantings, according to Mr McIntosh.
“Some people have planted dry. It’s the biggest dry planting we’ve seen in the Northern River, ever,” he said.
“You can do it with wheat and barley but you can’t really do it with chickpeas. It might get you into trouble where it brings the seed up and then it dies, or it might be the best idea since sliced bread.
“Most people haven’t planted yet, most people are waiting patiently for that late rainfall. They’re waiting to see what rain they get and what paddocks they can plant – if they can plant any.
“There is mass black soil out there, there aren’t many crops around at the moment.”
Mr McIntosh said there were agronomic and economic reasons to plant a winter crop.
“There are agronomic reasons for the stubble from the wheat or barley crops, and then the cash flow from the winter crops,” he said.
“You’ve got to be thinking a bit further ahead than, ‘Oh it’s too late to plant, we’ll just wait for a summer crop.’
“You’ve got to survive until summer and you’ve got to have some stubble so any summer storms that come don’t just wash the soil straight into the river.”
Read more on this in Paul McIntosh’s column on Page 12
Michael Meara on his property in South Felton. TOO DRY: Well into planting season, farmers are waiting patiently for winter rainfall.