Eye on the sky for summer crop production costs

IT’S STILL unknown if the larger plantings of summer crops in Victoria have delivered financial gains for dairy farmers this season.

Seed companies reported selling larger volumes of summer crop seed in spring, for grazing and silage, as dairy farmers sought an antidote to high grain, hay and irrigation water prices.

Notman Pasture Seeds owner Peter Notman said, last month, most summer crops in regions which weren’t impacted by dry conditions had yielded up to 20 per cent more than a “normal” season.

He said going forward, pest control and moisture deficiency would play a role in yields and this could impact the cost of production.

Mr Notman said there was a “fair range” when it came to the economics of growing maize this year.

“Maize at this stage looks like it is coming in at a reasonable cost per tonne,” he said. “At the lower end it would (cost) about $180 a tonne, medium $230 per tonne and obviously there will be some a lot more than that (due to moisture stress). The next five-to-six weeks will really tell the tale.”

South-west Victorian consultant Paul Groves said a lot more crops went in earlier this season, but the “jury is still out” when it comes to determining the viability of sowing extra crops.

He said some herds were grazing crops at Christmas and the green feed helped maintain milk production without relying on expensive grain. It had also delayed silage feeding for some farmers.

But Mr Groves said most grazing summer crops had to yield about 4 tonne/ha to make the investment “worthwhile” and those farmers yet to graze their crops “may have missed out” due to bug damage and water deficiencies.

Yanakie dairy farmer Paul Hannigan sowed maize for the first time this year.

“Basically, we did it because grain was $500 a tonne,” Mr Hannigan said.

He said the dryland crop, in Gippsland, would be made into pit silage.

“A couple of kilograms” of maize will be added to the diet in autumn to reduce grain feeding, it will also extend hay supplies and provide carry-over for next season.

Initial budgeting predicted a yield of 16 tonnes a hectare at a cost of “a bit over” $200/tonne of dry matter in the pit. Harvest’s anticipated mid-to-late March depending of the weather. In the middle of January, Paul said the crop was on track to meet the budget.

Stu Modra milks 180 cows at Gunbower in northern Victoria: he recently ensiled sorghum which yielded 10 tonne/ha. He estimated this cost about $230/tonne “even with water at $400 a megalitre”. The herd is also grazing about 40 ha of Lucerne estimated to cost $220 – $230 tonne (direct grazed).

“Water should never be $400 a megalitre, but we have focused on getting bang-for-our buck, the best tonnage per megalitre,” Mr Modra said.

“It has kept us out of the hay market, but we have plenty of hay left over from spring. We are conserving fodder to get us away in autumn- until the winter feed gets away.”