Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Early crops risk frost damage

Wheat crops sown at the end of April to mid-May were two to three weeks early, increasing the risk of frost damage, the Finley Discussion Group’s meetings earlier this month heard.

July 31, 2014 3:03am

Farmers count shoots of Gregory sown late April at the East Jerilderie discussion group meeting

Wheat crops sown at the end of April to mid-May were two to three weeks early, increasing the risk of frost damage, the Finley Discussion Group’s meetings earlier this month heard.

The same crops were poorly tillered with counts of 300-500 shoots/m2. By mid-May, later sown crops appeared to be tillering better with some early counts of 650 shoots/m2.

It is believed the record high temperatures at the end April to mid-May pushed rapid wheat vegetative growth from emergence to the first node stage that has led to wheat plants having one fewer tiller than normal.

Gregory, Ventura, Suntop and Livingston crops were all at the first node stage and a Suntop crop sown on May 5 was reaching the second node stage.

The crops looked at and the sowing dates of the crops in the group records were sown at the start of the recommended window — it’s a one-off with the high temperatures and something farmers can’t do anything about.

Most farmers have large sowing programs and have to start at the earliest recommended time in order to get as much of their winter crop as possible sown in the optimum period.

Making matters worse, crops were sown into excellent soil moisture and emergence was quick — often within seven days.

The optimum time for wheat flowering is the last week of September, which is the trade-off between later sowing to lower frost risk and sowing early enough to avoid higher temperatures which reduce yield.

Frosts are wanted now to slow the crops up but no frosts are wanted around flowering.

The brighter aspect is that the crops sown after mid-May appear to be tillering better, and flowering will be later — reducing the frost risk.

Growers hope last season repeats itself, with a few early-sown irrigated Livingston, Suntop and Wedgetail crops reaching the first node stage on July 20 and yielding 5-6.5tonnes/ha.

There is also early-flowering canola as there was last year, but most of these crops yielded moderately last year so it is less of a worry.

With the great start to the season many group farmers are aiming for 7-8tonnes/ha wheat yields in spring watering layouts.

The shoots/m2 window at the first node stage is 500-800 shoots/m2 so the 500-shoot crops still have 8tonnes/ha potential but can’t afford to lose any more shoots. For dryland crops, we are looking for 350-500 shoots/m2.

Nutrition of most crops was excellent as it was found the first two leaves were still green. The speed of the first node development of the early-sown crops surprised farmers and meant crops should have been top-dressed with nitrogen two weeks earlier.

Paddocks have really dried out with many farmers ground top-dressing and spraying crops.

This is backed up by readings from weather stations from Yarrawonga to Tuppal and Deniliquin showing the last significant rainfalls of more than 25mm were in early June with small amounts since.

The soil moisture upside is most paddocks have sub-soil moisture to 100cm compared with only 45cm last season. This is much better for dryland paddocks.

For spring-irrigated crops, if there isn’t a good 25mm of rain in the next three to four weeks, the first spring irrigation may have to be applied in late August.

When 50 per cent of available soil moisture is left it is important to irrigate immediately, before any signs of moisture stress, because this sets up yield potential for the rest of spring.

Farmers without soil moisture sensors generally water two weeks too late and wonder why they don’t get the expected yield responses.

— John Lacy,agriculture consultant, Finley

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