Volume 4 Issue 4
Edition: Volume 4 Issue 4 December 2013
Editor: Zita Ritchie, Dairy Extension Officer/Climate Risk, Dairy Services, DEPI Warrnambool
With summer now in front of us and the new year fast approaching, it brings us to reflect on the spring conditions, which have been variable across the state. There has been average to above average rainfall in the south west providing a much welcome relief compared to the previous couple of springs. In the north, conditions have been drier which has meant farmers have started irrigation earlier, but generally pasture growth has been good across the state this spring. The outlook for summer is favouring neither wetter or drier conditions for most of Victoria, but there may be greater chance of slightly wetter conditions in South West Victoria based on the three month outlook.
Dairy State Round - Spring (Sept - November)
Mirboo North: 9
|Region||Spring Rainfall Deciles (Sept-November)|
|Northern - Irrigation|
This spring brought average to below average rainfall. Temperature across the region ranged from average to slightly above average in early spring and below average later on. Irrigation water requirements were about average with most farmers commencing irrigation early to mid-September. The temporary water price steadily increased from the mid-winter price of around $45/ML as demands intensified, approaching $90/ML by the end of November. As a direct result, home grown feed for dairy farmers with immediate short falls in allocations was more expensive while other farmers with future short falls were forced to delay purchases to later in the season or when prices become more favourable. Hay and silage production was adequate this spring, resulting in increased reserves heading into summer.
Rainfall was below average during spring but cool temperatures and plenty of soil moisture from winter helped produce reasonable growth. Milk production was not badly affected but silage yields were below average and the growing season generally finished early.
|Coastal East Gippsland|
Around Bairnsdale rainfall has been above average and regular over spring, resulting in good pasture growth. Although earlier cuts of silage were of very high quality, later ones were much lower quality. For those in the hilly drier areas, a poor autumn was followed by one of the best springs growth wise resulting in significantly higher milk production than normal. A very early first cut of silage meant regrowth in the hills could be re-grazed, contributing to improved milk production. Although later silage cuts were of poorer quality, similar to the rest of the region, they are a huge bonus for hill dwelling farmers as they will have plenty of stored fodder suitable for dry cows - a very rare occurrence indeed.
Further east around Orbost, although it was getting pretty dry towards the end of winter, spring rains continued unabated. Pasture growth was very strong, lots of feed grew, but reduced in quality as the spring progressed. Similar to the Bairnsdale region, silage cut earlier in the season was of very high quality, with second cuts much poorer in comparison. Hay making is in progress hoping for long enough breaks in rainfall to dry it adequately.
|South West Victoria|
With average to above average spring rainfall across the south west, pasture growth has been good. Silage and hay harvest is underway with yields generally average across the region. Nitrogen has been used strategically on many farms to assist in boosting silage yields. Wet weather has caused some challenges with late silage and hay, however harvest is slowly being completed. Some early summer forage crops have been sown and establishment so far have been very good. Later crops are currently being sown and germinations have been good.
|Macalister Irrigation District (MID)|
Spring started off with below average rainfall for August and September across the district and water deliveries from Lake Glenmaggie were also below average for that time of year. Good rainfall in late October/ early November topped up the Lake allowing spill entitlement to be extended into mid- December. Many irrigators took advantage of this with an estimated 40,000ML of spill used by the end of spring, more than doubling last year's usage. Although rainfall was average, it was very patchy and sporadic across the district which wreaked havoc on MID farmers' decisions around making silage and when to irrigate. Despite this hiccup, MID farmers are heading into summer with 90 per cent allocation of High Reliability Water (and potentially Low Reliability Water allocation) in addition to reasonable fodder reserves.
East Sale: 4
|South & West Gippsland|
Spring saw regular rainfall events which made fodder conservation a challenging task. As a result, silage quality is likely to be lower than desired on many farms. On the plus side, pasture growth has generally been good (except where waterlogging occurred). There has been a lot of late November silage made with more to be harvested in December. Conditions are looking good for early summer pasture and fodder crop growth, and for hay yields
In the paddock - Victorian State Cropping Roundup
Harvest is complete, Northern Mallee crops yielded better than the rainfall suggested and less than what the growth looked. Wheat average 0.8-1.2 t/ha, barley 1.0-1.4 t/ha, the odd canola crop 0.3-0.4 t/ha, legumes generally a write off. The Southern Mallee is generally finished, wheat 1.2-2 t/ha, barley 1.5-2.5 t/ha, peas 0.6-1 t/ha.
Harvest mid-way through. Canola 2.0 t/ha and Barley 3.0 t/ha and almost finished, lentils 2.0 t/ha and faba beans 3.0 t/ha, wheat just starting.
NE-Harvest two thirds complete however bad weather has slowed progress. Canola and barley finished, wheat mid-way. Canola varied from frost affected 0.4 t/ha up to 2.3 averaging 1.5 t/ha some poor quality from 33 per cent oil – 48 per cent generally averaging 42 per cent. Some exceptionally high barley at 5.5/t.ha but most 3.5t/ha. Wheat varying from frost affected 1 t/ha – to 6.0 t/ha on Dookie hills most averaging around 3.0 t/ha with high protein.
NC- Harvest two thirds finished with canola 1.1-2.7 averaging 2.0 t/ha and barley 1.5-4.5 and averaging 3.4 t/ha. Lowest yields have arisen from badly frosted paddocks. Wheat mid-way finished averaging between 2.5-3.0 t/ha with high protein.
Been a great spring with harvest just starting, first canola harvested and some receivals at Westmere and Willaura. Plenty of crop ready to harvest but showery and cool weather has stalled some harvesting.
Slow progress due to wet weather. Windrowing or harvesting canola in full swing, canola yielding 1.5-1.7t/ha, cereals are ripe and ready to harvest soon. The late sown wheat will be harvested in January. Summer crop growth is slow due to cool weather. Army worm issues requiring control in barley.
Seasonal Climate Outlook
Tropical Pacific to remain ENSO-neutral for the first quarter of 2014 (from Bureau of Meteorology)
The tropical Pacific remains neutral with respect to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with the majority of atmospheric and oceanic indicators well within the neutral range. International climate models surveyed by the Bureau of Meteorology indicate the tropical Pacific is expected to remain neutral at least through to the austral autumn.
The Indian Ocean Dipole is currently neutral. It typically does not influence the Australian climate from December to April.
This seasonal climate outlook has been put together with assistance from Dale Grey, editor of DEPI's seasonal climate risk e-newsletter, The Fast Break.
Seasonal model forecasts for Victoria over the next three months
|Current outlook (28 November)||Past outlook (October 29)|
|PACIFIC OCEAN:||Neutral||PACIFIC OCEAN:||Neutral|
|INDIAN OCEAN:||Slightly warm||INDIAN OCEAN:||Slightly warm|
|TEMPERATURE:||Slightly warmer||TEMPERATURE:||Slightly warmer|
The SOI (the air pressure difference between Tahiti and Darwin) made a recent rapid but short lived rise but has returned to neutral values +6.6 (12 Dec). This is indicative of the pressure patterns along the equator being normal. The rise was due to lower pressure at Darwin.
Sea surface temperatures (SST) along the equatorial Pacific Ocean remain neutral. The Coral Sea is slightly warmer as is the whole Indian Ocean. Greater evaporation is coming of the oceans to the NW and NE of Australia.
Over most of spring the strongly negative phase of SAM brought pretty frequent fronts of particularly in the SW of the state and Gippsland. Moving in to summer the SAM is essentially in a normal position of slightly positive.
The Sub Tropical Ridge of high pressure has rapidly changed from a further north than normal position past month to be much further south of Melbourne in the past 30 days. The position of the highs more below the Great Australian Bight has still allowed fronts through southern Victoria but also led to moisture troughing conditions along the east coast of Australia. The high position also led to cooler and drier weather north of the Divide.
To view a summary table of Global Climate Models with their outlook for rainfall and temperature for the next three months go to: Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions Table for November 2013
By Maria Rose, Dairy Industry Development Officer, DEPI Maffra
Farm Manager David Lee and his eldest daughter Laura
Victorian dairy farmers are continually challenged by climate variability when trying to maximise farm productivity and profitability. In order to deal with extremely wet conditions over winter, the Trigg Family partnership have constructed a free stall barn on their 650 hectare property to fully house up to 500 milkers.
Located at Bungaree near Ballarat, their two main enterprises are producing milk and growing potatoes. The milking area consists of 350 hectares. The rest of the property supports potato production and carrying replacement dairy stock.
Recently I met with farm manager David Lee on the property. The following excerpts from that meeting and further conversations with David and farm owner Ron Trigg, highlight how the decision to construct a free stall barn came about, the tasks they faced in building it and their future aspirations.
Why and when did all this start and what were the key catalysts?
The idea in earnest to build a free stall barn to house the milkers began in March 2012. Traditionally in the Ballarat region it is very wet and cold. We endured the last fifteen years of mostly drought conditions and prior to that it had been very wet. Generally we have hotter summers and wetter winters, but they are becoming noticeably more extreme.
Particularly over the last few years, we have been using forage crops and pastures and feeding the cows on a feed pad over winter. In fact, over the last 40 years, dairy practice on this farm has always involved some element of feed lotting.
As most of the grazing land is on the other side of the road from the dairy, initially the free stall barn was to house the cows at night time. Additionally, in the really wet months, we planned to house them there during the daytime as well.
What were your key practices before installing the barn?
Over the last 15 years we have been practicing some form of "off-pasture" feeding as a way of managing the traditional very wet and cold seasons and the increasing frequency of drier conditions. Our normal practice, involves feeding a totally mixed ration as our main growing season is only six to eight weeks. For the 2012-13 season, the milking herd produced 121,000 kilograms of milk solids from pasture and fodder grown on the farm and 420 tonnes of bought in grain. Cows are milked on a rotary platform containing thirty six milking stalls.
What were the key challenges that you faced in constructing the barn?
The actual building of the free stall barn began in March last year. We have had a few hold ups which include the following;
- The foundation got wet and so couldn't finish off the concrete slab until December 2012.
- The shed construction began early this year over January and February and we had hoped to have the cows installed this summer, but this has been delayed due to demands from planting potatoes and making silage this spring.
The main challenge was to build the free stall at an economically viable cost. After a lot of research and inquiries, we were able to source the shed from Asia which was transported in 12 shipping containers from China. It was built with our own labour input, which included engineering and building construction expertise from two of the partners.
What will be your key practices once the cows are housed in the barn?
As the milkers will be fully housed, all feed will be cut and carried potentially allowing us to substantially grow more, as pasture damage will be reduced by avoiding cows grazing over the six week time period in the winter. There can sometimes be a month delay before the pasture recovers after a wet winter; however fully housing the milkers will negate this problem caused mostly by pugging.
We hoped to have all 230 cows currently milking housed over this summer and walk them all through the rotary dairy. Additionally, our plan was to gradually install up to eight robotic milking machines over the two to 18 months following, at which time the milking herd size would likely increase to 500 cows. However, partly due to the delays, we are now considering to install four robot milking machines by the time the current milkers are settled in until after late January. The herd would initially be split at milking times, half remaining in the shed and the other half taken to the rotary.
What will your environmental and nutrient management focus be?
Our eventual aim is to have up to 500 milkers in the shed at all times, within the next two years, aspiring to improve the herds milk solids production by 50 per cent in the next five years. To this end, we are currently researching the merit of methane digestion as a power source and effective methods of effluent management in line with improved environmental stewardship. With the assistance from DEPI, we have had preliminary discussions with energy consultants and are now in the process of gathering relevant data for a funding submission to the federal government regarding the feasibility study of installing a biogas plant.
Meeting with Trigg family partnership has showed that a number of innovative strategies can be implemented to manage climate and business risk to help grow the profitability of the farm. Although these strategies may not be suitable for all dairy farmers in Victoria, it does show that by considering your unique situation, options may be available to help you in the longer term.
Managing the Season Ahead - Summer 2014
Greg O'Brien, DEPI Ellinbank and Brendan Ley, DEPI Tatura – Dairy Services
With no strong indicators for above or below average temperatures and rainfall over summer, planning around receiving average conditions would seem the best bet this summer.
Spring pasture growth around the state has been variable, but may areas have been able to harvest adequate silage for reserves. However, if summer pasture growth is well below herd requirements on rain-fed dairy farms, it would be wise to check the amount of fodder reserves on farm to see how the amount stacks up compared to what would be expected at this time of year on your farm. If you have less than normal, it might be time to think about purchasing options.
The amount of fodder in store on hay growers' farms and hay merchants' sheds will give a guide to likely supply issues later in the season. If reserves are low, there is more likely to be upward pressure on price as the season progresses. The other element is demand.
There are two elements, the domestic demand and the export demand. On the export side, the price of the Australian dollar and the ability for other countries to supply fodder into our export markets will influence domestic price and availability. There are reports that some hay grown for export took too long to cure and may be down-graded (perhaps looking for a home on the domestic market)
On the local front, seasonal conditions will dictate domestic demand for fodder. Much of Queensland and NSW has drought affected and destocked. With reasonable summer rains, it is likely that their demand for fodder will drop off. There was timely late spring rains in much of this part of the country, but the summer outlook is for below average rainfall odds for the eastern half of Queensland, with average for much of the rest of this part of Australia. Given average conditions across much of Victoria for summer may prevail, then demand for fodder from this part of the world could be "normal" or perhaps lower than normal given the good spring conditions for silage and hay production on most dairy farms across the state.
Check the Grain and Hay report on the Dairy Australia web site for the latest market information. If there isn't likely to be upward pressure on prices, you may decide to purchase as needed. You may get a good season and not need to purchase as much. On the other hand, if there is likely to be upward pressure on price, you may wish to do a bit of forward purchasing. Also, if your on-farm reserves are low, you may wish to avoid being caught in a scramble for fodder later in the season and lean more to purchasing much of your fodder needs early.
Fodder crop yields
While there is no guarantee when it comes to weather, the odds favour average summer growing conditions, so an average yield of fodder crops is most likely. With good soil moisture reserves at sowing in most regions, fodder crops should be looking okay in early summer (unless you rolled the dice and sowed late). Hopefully, this allows for less feed purchasing this summer and good milk production.
With average seasonal conditions forecast, it is expected that irrigation requirements will be around average over the summer period. All irrigation districts have close to 100 per cent determinations of High Reliability Water Shares, with some smaller districts with a Low reliability Water Shares determination and spill usage concluding in the Thomson/Macalister. Inflows have been average to below average, but dam levels are generally very high. Temporary water prices are higher as compared to recent seasons making it more expensive to grow home grown feed if farmers are faced with a short fall in allocation. It may cause farmers to delay purchases until later in the season.
The Summer Back Page
In recognition of International Volunteer Day on December 03 2013 the Bureau of Meteorology acknowledged the important contribution of its thousands of volunteer observers, through sharing stories of a few of their dedicated volunteers in various locations around Australia. One family recognised, the Curr family has carried on the tradition of maintaining rainfall records since 1883 and their rainfall record is one of the bureau's most complete.
Read more stories about some truly incredible volunteers.
The local Climate Tool
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.
National temperature and rainfall outlook for December to February
Warmer summer days are more likely for much of eastern Australia and the Top end of the NT. The chances of wetter or drier than normal season are roughly equal over most of Australia, Climate influences include a neutral tropical Pacific, and local sea surface temperature patterns
More at Australian temperature outlook
Chances of a wetter or drier than normal season are roughly equal over most of Australia. The exception being much of the northeast Australia, where a drier than normal season is more likely. Climate influences include a neutral tropical Pacific, and local sea surface temperature patterns.
More at Australian rainfall outlook
Watch out for Climate Webinars in 2014. Actual dates have not been set yet. If you wish to receive information about these webinars send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
With Christmas just days away, all of those involved in compiling Milking the Weather wish its avid readers (over 500 of you) and their families a safe and happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.