Warmer weather and a good watering, plus 200 kilograms a hectare of urea, should be just the ticket to boost growth for the Maunder family's Janderoi durum wheat at Undoolya, Boggabri.
Harry Maunder was setting up a run of 60 siphons to water the crop this week, which had been sown into beds, giving it a much-needed drink.
The farm has had no rain since April.
"We gave it a water a few days after sowing, but it's had no rain since then," Mr Maunder said.
Before the wheat crop the paddock was under cotton, which Mr Maunder said had extracted a heavy toll from the soil's nutrients.
"That's why we're putting out 200kg of urea. We're also keeping an eye on phosphorus levels," he added.
He said Undoolya had a total water allocation for the summer and he had plans for 100ha of cotton.
"But the dry season means we won't be planting the planned 200ha at the family's Edgeroi property run by my brother," he said.
Mr Maunder said the rapid return to dry conditions was a complete reverse from last October and November when four floods swept down the Peel and Namoi rivers, damaging crops and cutting the Kamilaroi Highway near Undoolya.
In the markets, durum wheat exporter Peter Howard, Australian Durum Company, said the price for the staple semolina ingredient reflected its scarcity, with predictions of $600/tonne at port.
Meeting strict quality criteria demanded by key importers in Italy would also dictate which growers could participate.
Last year's wet helped foster the fungal toxin deoxynivalenol, or vomitoxin, and European buyers will not accept grain infected with it at any level.
The market was banking on a bumper Canadian crop similar to last year's 5.8 million tonnes but with a lingering dry summer, that figure has softened to 4.3MT and could go lower.
The Italian crop was damaged by flooding, with black tip affecting quality and yield, making buyers even more interested in the Australian product.
However, there's limited upside to the forecast NSW crop, with many growers having opted out due to fears of vomitoxin spores persisting into this year's crop.
"In most areas, lack of rain has stunted growth, with crops west of Moree falling away sharply, while the Narrabri district is showing little promise," Mr Howard said.
"In saying that, the early sown crops appear strongest as they were able to get their roots down."
The market was, however, strong enough to make it worth irrigating.
"Normally, durum wheat sells for $400 to $450/t, and anything above $600/t is not bad, while two years ago, we paid $750/t," Mr Howard said. "The buyers want good test weight and good protein levels, so if growers keep up the nitrogen, it will be worth it."
CHS Broadbent's trading manager, Tim Murray, Toowoomba, Qld, said last year's quality woes had damaged demand from Europe.
"Last year production-wise, there was a decent crop, but the crop struggled to produce quality," he said.
"Most of the samples of durum didn't meet European Union standards."
He said Australian exporters needed to regain confidence in Europe, which has "really strict" guidelines.
"We have exported a lot of durum in the last couple of years, but in the last 12 months we have been struggling to get some reward for growers," he added.
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