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Growers, agronomists and analysts say sector has more ups and downs than a game of snakes and ladders

Lara Webster, Mike Pritchard and Tim Fookes, Wednesday September 19, 2018 - 06:14 EST
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Moree agronomists Caleb Torrence and Tony Lockrey describe summer grains planting as a snakes and ladders game. - ABC

It is not too often a board game and the grain sector go hand in hand, but as growers wait to plant a summer crop the season is being likened to "snakes and ladders".

In fact, right now there are possibly more twists, turns, ups and downs than the board game itself.

The news grabbing most attention is frost, with reports the Western Australia could

Victoria also was hit with another round of frost, and while heat and wind are challenging the winter crops on both sides of the country, there is little left to be impacted in many East Coast areas.

Grains analyst Mark Martin believes 2019 is going to challenge government, grain users — be it animal feeders or bread makers — as well as consumers and farmers.

He said we could be facing a grain shortage not witnessed before.

"I think 2019 could be at an unparalleled level of grain shortage that the country has not seen," Mr Martin said.

"It is so, so big a challenge. Some crop programs are trying to get underway but most growers are being challenged with that one too as the moisture is just not there."

Summer crops

Growers still hold on to hope that a summer planting could put a dent in that forecast shortage.

To plant a summer grains crop, you need soil moisture and the right temperature.

Different grains require different temperatures before planting.

While temperatures are increasing, farmers throughout New South Wales are waiting on enough rain to enable them to get a crop in the ground.

Many missed out on a winter planning, so cue the snakes and ladders comparison.

However, patchy rain of between 40 and 60 millimetres was received in recent weeks throughout the North West, and some growers have decided to plant part of their crop on limited soil moisture.

That move has been a calculated risk for growers.

Tony Lockyer, an agronomist with AMPS based at Moree on the Northern Tablelands described those isolated falls as the first ladder he had seen in a board game with more downs than ups so far.

"All we have had so far this year has been snakes so really this rain is the first ladder we have seen," he said.

"We have come a long way down but we can actually lift the head and climb a few steps up."

Mr Lockyer estimated 20 to 25 per cent of growers throughout the Moree District who had put aside country for summer crops have been able to plant something.

"We are operating in the open air casino as we call it— so we do our best with what we have got and at the moment we are presented with a planting opportunity."

Start again

Meantime Parkes farmer John Unger has not had any ladders yet and has been considering spraying out his entire 600-hectare crop of canola and plan ahead for next season instead.

At this time of year, the canola should be chest-height, but this season with a lack of rain it is barely reaching knee level.

"There's absolutely no sub-soil moisture under any of the crops, they're just growing on what little has fallen out of the sky," Mr Unger said.

"With the canola this year, you can often see more dirt than plant so we're going to have to move out of canola which has made it tough

"You've spent all the money preparing the crop, and you get to a certain point in the year when you realise it's not going your way, and the biggest worry is trying to work out how you'll fund next year's crop."

Some farmers like John Unger are looking at planting a summer sorghum crop to try and make up for what has been a dire year for growers.

"Planting sorghum has been relatively successful in previous summers, but there'll need to be at least 50-80mm of rain in the next few months before we can consider a summer crop," he said.

"But we'll certainly have everything ready to go."


© ABC 2018

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