Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Wet feet kills crops

The highest autumn/winter rainfall in Benalla in decades will reduce crop yields if the soil doesn't have a chance to dry out

LIBBY PRICE July 24, 2014 3:10am

Water logged crops start to yellow near Benalla in very high rainfall opening to season.

Grain crops in the Benalla region have started to turn yellow, indicating water logging and potential yield losses.

Record autumn rain has been followed by a very wet opening to winter, with the highest June rainfall in a decade of 88.5mm bringing the year-to-date total to just over 400mm.

While there had not been a large rain event this month, the slow, steady rain has kept the soil very wet.

Department of Environment and Primary Industries climate specialist Dale Grey predicted there would be crop yield losses if the soil did not get a chance to dry in coming weeks.

‘‘It’s been more than wet enough for long enough for the root system to literally start dying from lack of oxygen,’’ Mr Grey said.

‘‘If crops are under water for a couple of months, they’re in a fair bit of trouble. Once the roots die it’s pretty much irreversible.’’

Canola is considered to be more ‘water sensitive’, followed by barley, while oats and faba beans can cope with longer periods of soil saturation.

‘‘In ‘crab holes’ where there are smaller areas of slight hollows, you can see the crops showing stress,’’ Mr Grey said.

‘‘Farmers sometimes get out the shovel to try and drain these areas, but the water’s got to go somewhere and it’s not a great way to win over the neighbours.

‘‘Farmers are spreading a bit of nitrogen fertiliser on them (the crops) to make them look a bit better.

‘‘It’s too wet to get onto the country so they’re having to do it by plane ... aerial spreading. They’re flat out in the north east.’’

Paton Air Helicopters director and chief pilot David Empey confirmed the business had never been so busy.

‘‘We have six pilots and four choppers working from daylight ‘til dark on good days with fine weather,’’ Mr Empey said.

‘‘Wet brings on the mildew and insects breed, and we’re spreading a lot of urea because of the rain and wet paddocks. There’s also a lot of broad leaf weed spraying in the hills.’’

It’s frenetic work as the JetRanger helicopter can only carry 400kg of fertiliser at a time which means it re-loads up to 30 times an hour.

‘‘We don’t have to land every time to reload as there’s a 30 foot line on the chopper, but as you can imagine, it gets very busy,’’ Mr Empey said.

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