“Two speed” autumn in western Victoria

By Dairy News

FARMERS KNOW better than anyone the power of Mother Nature.

In western Victoria, the weather has played a huge role in the fortunes of dairy farmers this autumn.

Early rain for some, has delivered pasture to calve cows on, while others had to painstakingly wait until the middle of May for their first falls. Every day without pasture has added cost to their business.

Notman Pasture Seeds sales representative, Andrew Allsop, based in western Victoria, described the local season as a “two speed economy”.

Due to this he said those who got late rain were looking for short-term feed, as quick as possible. Anyone sowing perennials would have to be prepared to wait until spring to graze them as the soil temperatures had dropped, he said.

At a business level, the late rain has cost a lot for those who are still relying on homegrown feed or having to buy it in, according to western Victoria farm consultant Paul Groves.

“Last year was one of the worst autumns we’ve seen in western Victoria; for many it’s better than last year, but that’s only just for over half,” he said.

“There’s still 40 per cent whose season is similar to last year and they have less options for how to fix it. Last year you could go and buy stuff, this year it is hard to source it.

“Farms that have grass are now feeding less silage because they have pastures, that’s a big advantage.

“Farms that haven’t got grass are drawing down on fodder reserves and that could impact on milk production later.”

Mr Groves said it was difficult to calculate potential milk production losses, but estimated if the weather situation got “ugly” another 300 kg of purchased feed per cow would be needed.

At “today’s prices” he said that would be $150/cow and across an average 300 head herd, that would be $45 000.

“That’s the immediate impact, the long-term impact is that you don’t get the milk production,” he said.

“So double that loss, in feed costs, with the milk production. So, it’s $45 000 again and then there’s unpaid bills on the farm.

“That’s become a big issue which means some don’t have access to find that $45 000 they want because they can’t get it.”

Those with pasture cover going into a winter have traditionally better-avoided local issues such as soil pugging.

“With better pasture cover, you get better growth in the winter,” Mr Groves said.

“You get 10 to 20 per cent higher growth rates if you have pasture cover going into June.”

Landmark Timboon agronomist James O’Brien said his region got 90 mm in March, 40 mm in April — which dried-off emerging pastures — but they recovered with rains in May.

But he recognised there were areas not far away which missed these rains and were in a completely different seasonal situation.

For those who planted pastures in March, he said many in his local region were grazing them in the middle of May.

However, mid-May, he said soil temperatures at Simpson were 10.5 to 11.5°C and he was “surprised” it was that cold.

The onset of cold soil temperatures would mean the start of gibberellic acid applications, according to Mr O’Brien.

He said applying certain broadleaf herbicides at the same time as the gibberellic acid would not only assist with killing weeds, it would also promote pasture growth.

Popular crops in the Timboon region this year had been tillage radish, something he described as like a forage rape or turnip, great for “hard-pan soils” or for quick feed.

Ryecorn has also been popular for quick winter feed, according to Mr O’Brien.