CRUNCH time is coming for NSW’s early sunflower crop as dry conditions in the State’s North West threaten to throw up a repeat of last season’s measly harvest.
Solid rain is needed within the upcoming sowing window open until mid-September.
Rain is needed to bring soil moisture profiles up to the necessary metre-mark or the majority of the Liverpool Plains will be too dry to sow.
Conditions are dire further north, at Walgett and Moree, and sowing appears unlikely on the back of two years with no rain.
Pursehouse Quirindi branch manager Mark Roseby said between 35 and 50 millimetres had fallen across the sunflower cropping around the Liverpool Plains in the last fortnight.
“Most of the country still doesn’t have enough subsoil moisture to plant,” he said.
“As a ballpark figure there is about 40 centimetres of subsoil moisture in the drier areas.”
Senior agronomist for Hunt Ag Solutions, Jim Hunt, said most of the dryland cropping country around Liverpool Plains didn’t yet have sufficient soil moisture profile to plant summer crops.
“The area typically allocated for summer crops only has 50 per cent of the moisture profile needed,” he said.
“Only about 20 per cent to 30pc of the dryland summer cropping area has sufficient moisture to plant.”
Mr Hunt said a “significant rainfall event” was required to bring soil moisture profiles up to scratch.
“As a general rule of thumb we would need another 200mm of rain to add sufficient moisture to start planting,” he said.
Growers will have a second bite at the cherry to take advantage of any future summer rain, with a second sowing window open from mid-December through to March.
According to ABARES, NSW’s 2013-14 sunflower crop produced 32,000 tonnes from an area of 27,000 hectares planted.
Cargill Australia trading manager – crush, Lachlan Herbert, called that crop “disastrous”: the smallest since 1992, he said.
Strong prices are tipped to continue into the near future, which should encourage growers to plant, weather permitting.
“Prices are sitting at about $800/t delivered Narrabri, prior to August 15,” Mr Herbert said.
“Looking ahead for the new crop to March, the price is currently about $700/t delivered Narrabri.”
The domestic market consumes virtually the entire domestic sunflower crop, but prices are linked to the global market, which could fall due to strong soy bean production in the US and a bumper crop predicted for the Black Sea region.
Australian domestic customers, such as fast food chains, sign long-term import contracts to secure reliable oil supplies throughout the year, meaning the domestic price is effectively set by the international market, Mr Herbert said.
The Argentine sunflower crop will come onto the market in April and influence the global market.
Current predictions are for a good harvest, which will impact the long-term outlook for Australian growers, Mr Herbert said.
Nevertheless, Department of Primary Industries NSW technical specialist northern dryland farming systems, Loretta Serafin, said growers would plant sunflowers if they could.
“I have been hearing sunflower growers are pleased with the current prices,” she said.
“They are saying prices are attractive enough to put a crop in, but it is the soil moisture profile that is holding them back.”
The AWB Sunflower Production Program offers growers a $15/ha seed cost rebate on approved varieties of sunflower seed and a fixed price on a portion of crop.
Canola a chance on falls at Moree
NO AMOUNT of rain could give Moree grower Jason Rogers the chance to use the early planting window for sunflowers, although planting a crop wasn’t out of the question.
In recent years, Mr Rogers has opted to plant canola instead of sunflowers on “One Tree” mainly due to weed pressure, but he used to plant a crop every year.
For him to be able to plant a crop of sunflowers this season, Mr Rogers said he would need 200 millimetres of rain between now and December.
The soil profile on his farm is 50mm, which is too low to sow a crop.
“Our chances for early planting are poor, they’re basically non-existent,” he said.
Mr Rogers said historic records showed although receiving rain was unlikely, it wasn’t impossible.
“It has happened in that time period before, so we’ll see,” he said.
If he didn’t receive a full profile by early January, Mr Rogers said he would fallow through and plant another crop of canola during winter.
Current prices for sunflowers are encouraging, although there would be no point in Mr Rogers putting a crop in without the needed moisture.