Australia's rollercoaster grain season

In a poll in our September newsletter, we asked our customers to identify the biggest challenge they were facing this harvest. Well, the results are in, with 65% of respondents believing weather and climate conditions will be the biggest challenges in getting through the coming harvest.

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Weather woes

After 2016’s record grain yield, Australian growers were looking to continue the success this season. The skies, however, had other plans for us. The winter crop faced a mixed start to the cropping season this year, with the “driest winter” some farmers have ever seen. Unfavourable weather conditions and rains falling short in Queensland, northern NSW and Western Australia, has meant a variable and patchy season, with ABARES forecasting a 33% drop in the winter crop of grains, legumes and oilseeds.

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It didn’t rain….and then it did

The majority of growers in the eastern states couldn’t take a trick this harvest, with the dry start to the season, a decrease in yields and first deliveries coming at a much slower pace than in previous years. Then, the rains came, hampering harvest operations in Queensland and New South Wales and playing havoc with crop quality, particularly in cereals and chickpeas. Sprouting, splitting and mould in these crops are impacting prices and export opportunities.

Hope is not lost

Despite this, it’s not all doom and gloom. ABARES are still predicting a crop yield around the five year average to 2015/16. Some east coast growers have been happily surprised by the quality of their crops and are also benefitting from strong feed prices for wheat and barley.

September rains have also provided Western Australian growers with a last- minute boost to fill out some of their grain, bringing the harvest size for the northern region up by almost a million tonnes.

As growers, this variability from harvest to harvest is second nature to us. When you work the land, you know to take the good with the bad. You can’t mess with Mother Nature — resilience is key.

A farmer’s eyes and ears

While we can’t control the weather and how this will impact crops, advances in technology can provide an unprecedented amount of data to help make the best of each harvest, no matter the conditions.

Internet of Things (IoT) enabled ‘smart’ devices are now being used to measure effects of Australia’s uncertain climates, namely crop stress. Drones fitted with remote sensors can detect crop stress through infrared mapping far more quickly and accurately than the human eye, as well as collecting data on soil and water management. While infrared technology has been used in agriculture for satellite and plane surveying for almost a decade, drones can provide much higher resolution, measuring areas within centimetres as opposed to metres. Live data provided by the sensors, allow farmers to respond in real time to weather events, making informed decisions and changes to how they’re managing their land.

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These devices can assist in keeping farmers up to date with environmental changes on properties. From a multiple season perspective, IoT devices are providing producers with enhanced data and insights to assist farmers in managing long term trends and decision making.

Our team’s harvest updates

Craig Bowes, a Senior Developer in our technical team, grows wheat in Naradhan, NSW, and says: “Last year we had 800mm of rain — leaving the property flooded. This year we are at 163mm for the year, so when we say our season is very dry, you can see what we mean. Better season next year!”

Ben Reid, one of AgriDigital’s co-founders, who farms out of Young in NSW commented: “I tend to take the law of averages approach to farming. When one thing is up the other is down, and the average will take care of things. 2017 has been a sub-average rainfall year however, we have been lucky to get some October rain which will deliver average to just under average yields. We will windrow our canola in about two weeks and harvest this in late November, then quickly into the wheat in late November and early December.”

Bob McKay, our Executive Director, continues to farm out in Warren, NSW, where he grew up. "In Warren, we only received 40mm of effective in crop rainfall through the growing season meaning that a crop that looked fantastic all year literally ran out of moisture in the spring. We are forecasting a yield of about 1–1.5 tonnes per hectare, but with average rainfall through the growing season, we could have got from 2.5–3.5 tonnes per hectare. Looking forward to delivering to an AgriDigital buyer so I can experience first hand the grower AgriDigital experience!”

The platform for farmers by farmers

Harvest, and pre-harvest can be a tough time for producers. As farmers ourselves we understand that it’s a stressful time of year, whether it’s a boom or bust. And that’s why we designed and built the AgriDigital platform. AgriDigital is here to support you through harvest, removing unnecessary stress and time consuming back office fixes. Whatever your harvest brings, we’re here to help.

Drop us a line at hello@agridigital.io to find out more.