Cereal yields up, but only slightly
The weather played a big part in determining whether cereal growers regarded the 2018/19 season as very poor or average, or even very good in some places.
The latest AIMI (Arable Industry Marketing Initiative) cereal growers’ survey shows yields were up 3% across the six crops (milling and feed wheat, feed and malting barley, feed and milling oats) compared to last season.
"But the last season was also regarded as poor by many growers," Federated Farmers Arable grains vice-chairman Brian Leadley says.
"Farmers in dryland areas, particularly in North Canterbury, scored plenty of rain and also enough sunshine to record yields that in some regions were sometimes even better than those with irrigation. Their yields were well up on the year before.
"Those who described it as their worst season ever were mostly on reasonably heavy soils, around the foothills where they probably got less sunshine too," Brian says.
"Having said that, it’s probably also a reflection of their expectations, given the inputs and levels of expertise that have been developed in the industry. Average yields are pretty high now on international standards.
"The ‘worst season’ descriptions will also be a commentary on their whole farm systems. The AIMI survey is on grains only and we know that 90%-plus of grain growers put in other seed crops as well and some of those have been disappointing - particularly peas."
While growing conditions were generally very favourable from a rainfall perspective, that combined with low sunshine hours combined to create a very high disease pressure season that was a challenge for grain growers to manage.
The yield for malting (7.5t/ha) and feed barley (7.3t/ha) increased on last year’s results, as did the average yield for milling oats. Yields for milling and feed wheat were the same as 2018’s harvest.
A 7% increase in total tonnage was recorded for the season.
Stable weather has enabled growers to prepare paddocks for autumn planting. While only 10% of the predicted autumn plantings had been completed when this first AIMI survey for 2019 was undertaken on April 1, indications are that the area sown in autumn feed wheat will decrease on previous years.
Predicted intentions for other crops could alter as market signals change, Brian says. "For example, some farmers may be waiting for spring crop options or carrying lambs or other livestock through the winter before sowing arable crops in the spring."
There are encouraging signs of an increase in the area of milling wheat intended to be planted for harvest in 2020 - a boost for the Arable Food Industry Council’s drive for New Zealand to be self-sufficient in milling wheat by 2025.
"The outlook is brighter," Brian says. "There are contracts out there with pretty good pricing. For lower end quality, there are contracts for about $420 a tonne, then as you go up in the higher premium grades, prices go up a bit.
"The higher prices for those top end grades recognises the risk of a slightly lower yield potential, and is also a reward for that better quality milling wheat that’s in demand."
The earlier the market gives signals about what varieties are wanted and not wanted the better, Brian says.
"People are making plans in March on what they want to go in, and where. Signals from the mills are desperately needed then. There’s disappointment for some growers when they might put in feed wheat, and then the mills put out really good contracts [for milling wheat].
"Those early signals are a real positive - and we’re getting more and more of that."
The push for self-sufficiency in milling wheat is not at the expense of the feed industry, Brian adds.
"It’s really about trying to lift total production of milling wheat, bringing on some more irrigated land with the likes of the Central Plains, and also growing a bit more in places such as Southland and also in the North Island."