Written by: Nick McKenna | Agronomist | 0427 681 574
At the time of writing, things are not as rosy as they have been. There is little stored moisture, little rain forecast, and grain prices have fallen from the lofty heights of the past. But there is still cause for optimism.
+ There is a bit of crop out of the ground! Ranging from early April (canola) to mid may emergence, these crops on paper have a good time of sowing. Yes, its living on the smell of an oily rag. But when it rains these earlier crops will bounce away much better than the crop sitting dry.
Figure 1. Canola with its priorities in order.
+ We are getting cold fronts though they aren’t delivering any useable amount of moisture for crops that haven’t emerged. We just need to wait for some tropical moisture to feed in and much of the northern wheatbelt will be relieved.
+ There is not much pest pressure around. Though there are exceptions, mostly the emerged canola is free from weed web moth, diamond back moth, and various aphids. I have seen a few paddocks (canola and lupin stubbles interestingly) with obvious mice activity but mostly I see no cause for alarm.
+ Urea has come back a long way. Obviously its more appealing when you have a huge yield potential, but nonetheless it will be useful.
+ Grain prices are not too bad! I wont pass too much comment about this, except to say that historically speaking getting $360 for APW is a good price, and that seems very achievable for 23/24 new season crop!
– There isn’t much stored moisture which will make achieving above average yields difficult.
– There will be a large N requirement this year. As the break of the season moves later and later, crops will emerge more slowly and soil nitrogen will take longer to mineralise. We will need to fertilise more than you would like to grow an average crop.
– No knockdown. Wet finishes the last few years have been a boon for grass weeds. This year it has been dry with no knockdown opportunities. This puts more pressure on pre emergent chemicals.
• The dry conditions havw made it very difficult for preemergent chemicals to work. For those that are getting crop out of the ground. For example, sakura on its own is struggling to control emerging rye (the soil is not wet enough for the chemical to be active in the soil) and triasulfuron is not controlling emerging canola well.
Figure 2. Like all plants, ryegrass is limping out of the ground. This photo is from wheat that had sakura applied, but the dry conditions have made it unavailable.
• We will probably have to start spraying emerged crops before there is a proper flush of weeds. Be it canola with a bunch of volunteer wheat that has emerged at the same time which is sucking the profile dry, or wheat with triasulfuron underneath which is not killing the volunteer canola you may have to spray crops twice to preserve moisture and still control the main weeds.
• Its going to be a hungry year. The big crops last year will have sucked the soil dry, and the large crop residues will tie up any applied N. as the break of the season becomes later and later, the soil will be cooler, slowing the rate of mineralisation. If you have broadcast urea or flexi-N, we will be waiting for a large rainfall to wet the soil enough for roots to access this nitrogen, plus it will be sitting in the inter-row area with much of the trash and residue from last year(along with the pre-emergent chemicals, which will limit root growth in the area!). If you haven’t applied much N yet, you will need to apply more than average to achieve average yields. Especially when there is limited rainfall to play with, you will need to ensure you have enough nutrition to ensure that it is not limiting your Water Use efficiency.
So what are the actions we take from here?
As always, you need to keep making decisions. Though its been dry up until this point, there is no reason we won’t achieve average rainfall for the rest of the growing season, and slightly below average yields. to achieve this, we will need to apply Nitrogen. Crops are likely to be thirsty, but its better than being thirsty and N-deficient!
Canola weed control is a pretty easy decision. If you have a lot of grass weeds coming through in canola, I think it is better to spray them now than to wait another 2 weeks to spray larger more stressed weeds in the future.
Cereal weed control. It is already obvious that there will be some grassy paddocks this year. Make a plan early to adopt some harvest weed seed control and budget appropriately for next year.
Things are definitely not as good as they could be, but the game is far from over. The temptation for many will be to tighten the purse strings, but you should think carefully before committing to this. Emerged crop still has good yield potential, but it will need some love to get there. Later emerging crop will be hungry for N, and one of the better ways to help lift it from the winter blues will be to ensure it has adequate nutrition. The season isn’t shaping up as rosy as it could be, but there is still plenty to be optimistic about.