Dry weather and frosts wreak havoc on region’s canola crops

SEA OF YELLOW: Farmer Simon Moloney's crop is faring better than most, but he's holding out for rain. Picture: Les Smith
SEA OF YELLOW: Farmer Simon Moloney's crop is faring better than most, but he's holding out for rain. Picture: Les Smith

Frost and relentless dry weather have bitten down hard on the region’s canola, with farmers set to lose millions as flowering shuts down.  

Many farmers north and west of Wagga have resorted to cutting their whole crop for hay or letting stock in for grazing, with Coolamon hit particularly hard. 

Properties in the south and east were faring better, however last weekend’s searing Saturday temperatures dampened hopes of much revival. 

“Areas that looked good 10 days ago are now really feeling the pinch,” NSW DPI agronomist Rohan Brill said. 

“Even in the last week we’ve seen crops knocked down around Junee and The Rock.” 

Half of Simon Moloney’s 3000 hectare property north-east of Wagga is canola. 

“Everything’s just gone to a mustard yellow this week, as opposed to that brilliant yellow we had around for a month or so before,” Mr Moloney said.

His crop is faring better than those further west, but a little rain would go a long way.

Aphids and bugs also become a problem when it's dry, chewing up the top of stalks. Picture: Les Smith

Aphids and bugs also become a problem when it's dry, chewing up the top of stalks. Picture: Les Smith

“We’ll see what we get, there’s some grain in there, if we get rain they’ll stay there and if not it’ll be a recovery mission,” he said.  

Mr Moloney is looking at around 30-40 per cent of last year’s bumper harvest, representing a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Mr Brill said now is the prime time to make decisions about whether to cut in the east. 

“Most farmers are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, neither option (cutting for hay or harvesting low yielding crops) is all that palatable,” he said.

“Advice at this stage is just to back themselves and make the decision that suits their business.” 

He expects yield will be less than half of average and possibly a mere 20 per cent of last year’s excellent return around the worst affected regions, but encourages producers to think beyond this harvest. 

“It's hard to get a good gauge on yield potential. Frosted canola often yields better than expected but that’s not the case for droughted canola,” he said.

While cutting for hay may be a profitable option, it leaves paddocks exposed through summer which will dry them out, impacting the soil’s water retention and yield of the next crop.

“Don’t let this year hurt next year, keep some cover on paddocks and take the chance to clean up weeds that have survived control.”