Summer rain brings renewed growth

Farmers in many dairy regions managed a dry spring and prepared for a similar summer, however, significant rain events through late 2023 and early 2024 have drastically turned this around for many regions.

While the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific remains active, its weakening drying influence over Australia has been demonstrated through December rainfall being above average for large parts of the country.

After a very dry spring, especially across southern Queensland and most of NSW, this rain has considerably improved soil moisture across these areas.

Pastures have been rebounding and additional silage cuts have been made in some regions, alongside an unexpectedly positive start to the summer cropping season in the northern regions.

In other states, while this rainfall has been beneficial in some areas, others across Victoria and NSW have faced minor riverine flooding.

Water availability continues to improve with seasonal determinations improving each month.

Initially, the outlook for access to low-reliability water shares was pessimistic, but the additional resource has supported increased access to allocations across northern Victorian systems.

Nonetheless, increased demand has led to season-to-date temporary water prices rising 76 per cent and 20 per cent in the northern Victorian and Murray Irrigation systems (albeit off very low bases).

Across several southern dairying regions, the recent rain has led to quality downgrades to any grain or hay crops either still in the ground or sitting in paddocks.

However, the majority of grain harvest is complete across the country, and with a quality profile heavily weighted towards feed grade product, grain prices have remained steady. Especially as local demand stays quiet and there is greater availability of exportable grain across the world.

Fodder prices have also remained relatively steady over the same period.

Renewed green feed availability and the ability to make and conserve more home-grown fodder have led the charge, while robust export demand and a recent lift in saleyard prices are bringing additional buyers.

In south-west Western Australia and Tasmania, however, conditions have remained dry into the new year.

While the positive Southern Annual Mode (SAM) has contributed to the rainfall over eastern Australia, it has had the opposite effect for both of these regions.

Tasmanian feed prices have somewhat eased over harvest, but both fodder and grain prices continue to climb in south-west WA, with average indicative cereal hay and wheat prices being 20 per cent and 16 per cent above December last year respectively.

This summer has so far eventuated in a very different way to what was initially expected.

The additional rain has helped support water availability, both in storages and soils (especially in southern regions) but has also brought some challenges to feed production and further flooding to many areas.

Ultimately it has been a welcome change for many dairying regions who had been facing dry conditions throughout the spring.

Isabel Dando is a Dairy Australia industry analyst.