Managing the spring ahead
With no strong indicators to suggest rainfall might vary from average this spring, it might be best to make plans based on average rainfall this spring.
There is a mixed outlook for spring temperature. If anything, plans might be made on the basis of warmer than average temperature. This would mean late spring growth might be a bit slower and late sown crops might be under greater heat stress. On the plus side, warmer temperatures in early spring would boost growth coming out of winter. Silage surpluses will appear earlier if this occurred.
On farms with a good current soil moisture profile or where irrigation is available (e.g. much of Gippsland, NE, the NIR and parts of SW), a good start to spring growth is almost guaranteed. Plans to make the most of a strong early spring surplus should be put in place.
Those farms with moderate to low soil moisture (e.g. parts of the SW) will need some reasonable spring rainfall to ensure a good spring. Strategies to sure up feed supplies should be explored so that you are ready to react if needed. One that may be worth considering is the boosting of early spring growth with nitrogen fertiliser to increase pasture surpluses. The costs and risks involved should be weighed up and compared against purchasing in any feed shortfall that may result from the impact of a poor spring on fodder conservation.
All farmers are encouraged to look for early signs that pastures can be "banked" for silage. When it gets to the stage that the cows start to leave grass behind (aren't grazing to 6 cm between the clumps) this means that it is time to take some paddocks out of the rotation for conservation. If any paddocks are not of ideal quality at planned grazing, consideration should be given to conserving these paddocks.
Silage quality has a big impact on cow performance when it is fed back. High quality diets are required for high intakes. High intakes are required for good milk production. Harvesting the silage crop around the time it would otherwise have been grazed will result in high energy and protein content fodder, so that should be the targeted harvest window.
In addition to having higher quality silage, pasture regrowth and total spring production are both associated with short lock ups. They will have higher tiller density due to less shading. Silage yield per hectare will be lower but more hectares can be cut. So short lockups normally have more benefits than disadvantages.
Greg O'Brien, DEPI Ellinbank and Tom Farran, DEPI Tatura
Early season silage will be better quality than later season silage due to the affect of seed head development on quality later in the spring. So there are feed quality advantages from generating an early surplus where practical.
Average spring rainfall may delay the sowing date of fodder crops on farms that currently have high moisture content (e.g. many Gippsland farms). Those with soils that are not saturated should be planning to begin their fodder cropping as soon as possible to take advantage of ideal growing conditions in early spring. Select forage varieties that will be ready for grazing when a pasture shortfall is anticipated.
Cool season forage crops are ideal for early spring sowing (e.g. brassicas, some clovers, chicory and plantain). These all have high quality which will be great for maintaining high milk production well into summer. The hotter Victorian dairy regions are likely to have temperatures that are too high for many of these species to grow well during summer.
If sowing a forage crop sown later in spring or early summer there is a greater risk of failure due to high temperatures and drying of soil surface during the establishment phase. Sowing technique and seed bed preparation can reduce some of this risk, but can't eliminate it. Summer grasses such as millet and sorghum hybrids are well suited to summer growing conditions. They can handle some moisture stress but good soil moisture or irrigation is required to obtain profitable yields.
The summer grasses have lower feed quality than cool season species, so will not support as high a milk production. For this reason they should only make up a proportion of the cows diet. They are useful where growing conditions are too hot and dry for cool season species to perform well. They also have few pest and disease problems.
Dairy farmers will also be keeping one eye on spring seasonal conditions in the grain and hay growing districts. At this stage world grain prices are on the rise due to drought in many Northern Hemisphere grain growing regions.
Dairy farmers will be thinking about how to respond to the price rise. Limiting exposure to purchased feed prices through fodder conservation or forage cropping may be a consideration. A partial budget can help determine the cost-effectiveness of options. Some of the risks to consider are those that impact on crop yield and quality, and those associated with estimating the price of purchased feed (better polish your crystal ball). Forward contracting of grain is an option that has the advantage that you can set your budget around it. However, the grain price could still rise further, or if Australia and some other countries have a reasonable harvest, it could start to fall.
The spring back page
Useful Quick Clicks for Spring 2012
The "Local Climate Tool" is now officially launched
The Local Climate Tool gives you the ability to view historic rainfall and temperature information for 27 locations around Victoria. Use this tool to find out about the drivers of climate in each location and to look at updates and forecasts of their behaviour.
If you want to be one of the first to check this great tool out, go to the DEPI website.
The 27 locations available to you at the click of a button are distributed evenly across the state within regions defined by the Bureau of Meteorology climate zones. Each location has at least 100 years of rainfall data available for analysis. Victoria has thirteen locations with a high quality temperature data set without urban influence. For local temperature analysis, the closest continuous high quality data set is used.