The winter crop summary
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The winter crop summary
This publication summarises information on current varieties of the major winter crops grown in Victoria. Sources of additional information are listed in each chapter. Local advisers are also a key resource for information relevant to individual localities.
This publication aims to prompt growers to ask themselves, 'Am I growing the best variety for my situation?' Use it as a guide for discussion with consultants, advisers and marketing agents.
Thank you to the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) for its support in making this guide available to Victoria.
National Variety Trials (NVT)
The majority of variety trials presented in this book are sourced from the NVT program. NVT also provide data from some breeding trials to add to the information available. In Victoria, NVTs are fully funded by the GRDC and in 2017 were contracted to three Service Providers: Eurofins, Birchip Cropping Group and Southern Farming Systems.
NVTs provide independent information on varieties for growers. The aim of each NVT is to document a ranking of new and widely adopted varieties in terms of grain yield and to provide grain quality information relevant to delivery standards. NVTs are also used by pathologists to determine disease resistance ratings used in the Winter Crop Summary.
Conducted to a set of predetermined protocols, NVTs are sown and managed as close as possible to local best practice such as sowing time, fertiliser application, weed management and pest and disease control, including fungicide application. NVTs are not designed to grow varieties to their maximum yield potential.
It is acknowledged that an ongoing project of this type would not be possible without the cooperation of farmers prepared to contribute sites, and who often assist with the management of trials on their property.
After a wet 2016, much of the state entered 2017 with good soil moisture. Most cropping regions also had average rainfall leading into the growing season, with a large part of the Mallee and the South West receiving above average pre-season rainfall (Figure 1). With such a good lead up some dry sowing occurred in March and a near perfect break at the end of April provided good establishment conditions for crops. Gippsland was the exception this year, with a drier start to the season that continued throughout 2017.
Figure 1: 2017 Victorian rainfall deciles for the pre-season (January to March). Source: Bureau of Meteorology.
Figure 2: 2017 Victorian rainfall deciles for the growing season (April to November). Source: Bureau of Meteorology.
High stubble loads from 2016 proved a challenge at sowing. Accompanied by high mouse numbers during autumn, this saw an increased number of growers burning stubble, particularly in the Wimmera - a departure from common practice. Mouse activity also resulted in widespread baiting across the Wimmera-Mallee. Mouse pressure was variable from paddock to paddock, with higher numbers in paddocks where high levels of residue remained and in barley stubble where heads were lost in 2016. Heavily grazed paddocks generally had lower mouse activity. Mild temperatures meant activity continued into June in the Wimmera with reports of some paddocks being baited up to three times.
Soil moisture and the timely break resulted in good emergence, but frosts slowed growth and limited spraying opportunities. The majority of Victoria was sown by the end of May with the remainder finished by the end of June. The tap turned off in June across the west of the state with some areas experiencing their lowest June rainfall on record. Drier conditions benefited Wimmera and South West growers to complete their cropping programs in a timely fashion.
July brought slightly below average rainfall in many areas, with parts of the Mallee in particular looking for moisture. Despite drier winter conditions, crops which started the season with full moisture profiles were generally able to hang on. This set growers up for average to above average yields dependent on a mild spring and no major stresses. Some crops in the Western District and Wimmera were affected by waterlogging, but generally not as badly as in 2016.
August was wetter, with rainfall ranging between decile 7 to 10 across the Wimmera-Mallee and average rainfall in the North Central region. August also brought the first of the major stresses for crops, starting in the Mallee with the first cereal stem frost damage. Wheat was seemingly more affected than barley, with losses reported of up to 30 per cent in some early sown crops and 5 to 15 per cent in crops sown after May 1. Due to dry seasonal conditions, Gippsland crops entered flowering and grain fill under stress with soil moisture reserves running out.
Winter seemed to hang around with cooler minimum temperatures continuing into spring, potentially a sign of what was to come. For Wimmera growers, frosts in September caused some damage to canola, lentils and barley. Rainfall was low in the north and soil moisture rapidly declined. Mice activity also increased in September, with higher pressure in paddocks where bait wasn't applied early, and next to fallow paddocks. Mice caused very minor damage to most heading crops in the Wimmera-Mallee, some of the worst affected paddocks were baited.
Hay cutting started in late September in the Mallee and by mid October in the Wimmera. Barley harvest got underway in the Mallee around the last week of October, with North Central and Wimmera growers getting the header out in the second week of November.
A very late frost on November 3 had major impacts on Wimmera pulse crops and Western District cereals, particularly between Skipton and Lake Bolac. Late frosts can be very unforgiving of crops at any growth stage and often sowing date can have little effect on the losses.
The first of two major rain events occurred on November 16, halting harvest which had only just begun in the Wimmera, North West and North Central. Falls of between 20 mm and 70 mm were recorded across the major cropping zones of Victoria. Just as headers got cracking again, growers prepared to weather a second major rainfall event with forecasted falls of up to 250 mm in some areas. Rainfall totals were lower than anticipated, ranging from 40mm at Dimboola to 139 mm at Echuca, with totals increasing moving eastward. Generally, a dry soil profile beforehand, and good drying conditions afterwards, meant that harvest could resume again within three to seven days.
Pre-harvest sprouting was a concern after these two rainfall events, and receival sites tested cereals for falling numbers, with downgrades of milling grades to General Purpose grades. Isolated hail storms across northern Victoria were common during November and December resulting in a few insurance claims.
Despite the usual array of stresses throughout the 2017 season, crops yielded well, ranging from average to above average yields for many.
Looking forward to 2018
Late storms which frustrated growers will have bolstered depleted deep soil moisture reserves drawn down in most areas. For many, summer volunteer and weed control started before harvest was finished and will continue right up to sowing. This will help to preserve soil moisture reserves, save nutrients and minimise the green bridge for pests and diseases. The 2017 season really showed the value of a full profile with moisture quickly being drawn down as crops reached stem elongation.
Seed that was rain damaged at harvest may experience germination or vigour problems at sowing. Growers will need to conduct germination and vigour tests on retained seed to identify the best seed to use. Careful attention will need to be paid to pre-emergent herbicides, seed dressings, coleoptile length, vigour and sowing depth, to prevent poor establishment.
The 2017 season threw almost everything at growers and was a reminder that while there is a natural desire to get everything in the ground while the weather is warm and the soil moist, spreading sowing time can be a useful technique to minimise risk. Likewise, growers are encouraged to use varieties and crop types with a range of maturities and frost sensitivities to minimise damage.