Farmers’ hopes for a boom year for Cowra crops could be put at risk by predictions dry conditions will arrive with an El Nino weather event.
Dry weather under an El Nino in spring could reduce potential crop yield, putting an above average harvest beyond expectations, according to Peter Watt, agronomist at Elders Watt Robertson.
The district’s soil now holds a full profile of moisture after recent rain, setting up local crops well for the spring harvest, and farmers had hoped for a boom year in crop yield.
However international climate models are expecting conditions to reach El Nino thresholds by late winter or early spring, bringing drier conditions before crops reach their critical demand for moisture.
Peter Watt said predicted dry weather is hard to fathom given paddocks are currently boggy from recent rainfall.
“Everyone was hoping for a boom year both [with] yield and commodity price and it will be a pity if we can’t maximise our yield,” he said.
“We are at the favourable eastern edge of the wheat belt so with a full profile [of moisture] it’s hard to imagine we won’t get somewhere near average yield.
“Canola fortunately flowers and fills three weeks to a month earlier than the wheat and with a full profile of moisture from the winter it’s amazing what we can do with even 50 to 60 per cent of average rainfall from here on in.”
Possible lower yields may be offset for farmers by canola prices and the rapidly increasing price of wheat.
Farmers will prepare for an El Nino as the weather event develops, he said.
“But we have learnt from past experience not to ignore the obvious signs of these climactic indicators. This may mean fodder conservation, shoring up water supplies and possibly destocking to accommodate a drier season,” Mr Watt said.
If the predicted El Nino begins, farmers may curtail nitrogen top dressing as expected yields fall.
“We’ve had a bit of practice at these El Nino events over the last six to eight years and growers are more attuned to tactical nitrogen strategies.”
Graham Wallace, farmer at ‘Melrose’ near Morongla, said an El Nino will “make life a little bit awkward again.”
“We’ve been through a lot of droughts and we know we handle them pretty well.”
Mr Watt said the past has proven farmers are resilient.
“With appropriate planning we need not fear an El Nino, we can accommodate the effects of an El Nino with planning.”