This season’s canola production, already back on sowing, is at a crossroads as producers across the state decide how best to make use of the offering.
In NSW it is expected production will decline 60 per cent on last year while elsewhere in the country, like Western Australia, conditions have been kind.
Yet Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) suggests a national canola crop down 24 per cent to around 2.8 million tonnes.
Meanwhile, forward selling prices hover around $600/t which is not enough for most producers to risk leaving their crop in the paddock.
Cargill, the biggest oilseed buyer, is offering $600/t for old seed and $630/t for new according to Pete McBride, Corporate Affairs Director, who predicts zero exports as domestic demand gobbles up what supply comes to the door.
At this stage it seems most crop throughout NSW and into northern Victoria will be grazed, baled or ensiled with grower confidence in useful grain yield ebbing after a poor season and too little rain that came late. Some have already sprayed out to keep paddocks clean.
As the Bureau of Meteorology released its ominous dry spring forecast – for the south – the question of whether to bale, or not, almost decided itself.
“It’s really a no brainer, to look at the crop now,” says Darren Mooney, "Eversleigh", Bimbi who farms in conjunction with his brother, Craig. “Sure the price for oilseed is more than $600 a tonne but you need yield. You’ve got to make weight and oil content. Right now what we’ve got is hay yield in front of us and a forecast for a dry finish.The hay option makes sense.”
The brothers, who were awarded this year for the quality of their cereal hay, will process their canola into large bales with half remaining on-farm and the remainder being sold.
They estimate a return somewhere around $250 to $300/t at 1.5t, or three bales, a hectare.
“There is a bit of unknown in this but we know the demand is there. If we get that return it will certainly cover costs and provide hay for our own stock.”
Nathan Simpson, Binjinbar at Goolan, east of Dubbo had turned sheep onto his dual purpose canola crop and will once again open the gates before the crop loses all its flowers.
He decided against letting it go to seed – in spite of a lucrative $100 a tonne premium on the Victory variety had he had done so.
“We have a long way to go and there’s too much chance we will run into hot weather,” he said. “But it will be interesting to see where the domestic price goes by December.”
To bale or graze winter crop a “no brainer”
Wagga district agronomist Nathan Stoll, at AgnVet, Mangopla, said the prospects of a quality canola crop were fading as a result of the dry and also too, from stem frost damage, which left no other option other than to bale.
“Most growers are doing their budgets and finding that by doing hay or silage they will come out in front, particularly with the price of lamb and the phenomenal weight gains that can be achieved on grazing canola.
“These growers are just not prepared to risk the crop tanking out in the spring. On those hot windy days the yield falls substantially.”
Mr Stoll said market signals for canola seed compared to cereal grains would encourage grazing, or baling over the likes of wheat pushing $390/t.
“Growers need a plan. They need to be organised,” said Mr Stoll. “The crop needs to be cut on time with about 10 - 20 percent of flowers still on and windrowed. There is only a small window when the crop goes from good to poor.”
Those with good crops are hanging on, in spite of an ominous spring forecast, says Sandy Biddulph, Biddulph Rural Consulting at Cootamundra.
While patchy conditions meant sheep were being put on crop in some areas, paddocks not far away, that got enough rain at the right time and poked plants out of the ground early, now looked promising and could still yield 2t/ha of grain.
The seasonal forecast is weighing heavy on those growers who are desperately hanging on but Mr Biddulph said the memory of canola hay production in the first decade of the millenium had turned many off from attempting to bale.
“At the time they were caught with wet hay that was difficult to move,” Mr Biddulph said. “Many vowed they would never do that again.”