Strong result overall for South Australia’s grain industry

GOOD YIELD: Despite a favourable start to the 2023-24 season, below average late winter and spring rainfall in all grain producing areas limited yield potential in a number of regions. Picture: File

Despite a favourable start to the 2023-24 season, below average late winter and spring rainfall in all grain producing areas limited yield potential in a number of regions.

Final crop production is estimated at 8.7 million tonnes, below last season but slightly above 2021-22.

Strong grain prices have resulted in an estimated farmgate value of $3.3 billion.

A dry finish to the season meant an early start and finish for harvesting in many districts, however late season rainfall from summer storms reduced grain quality to feed grade in some areas.

Strong prices for feed grades reduced the negative financial impact for affected growers. In general, grain quality was very good.

Despite the dry finish to the season, the absence of extreme heat events during spring, together with carryover subsoil from the 2022 season enabled average to slightly above cereal grain yields in most districts. Canola yields were average to slightly above, but with lower oil contents reported in early finishing crops.

Lentil yields were variable due to the dry finish to the season while hay crops achieved good yields and exceptional quality.

The crop mix saw a reduction in the area sown to barley, mainly replaced by wheat.

A significant increase in lentil sowings were observed in areas of the Upper Eyre Peninsula and Murraylands regions.

The area of lentils is expected to further increase in the 2024-25 season taking pasture area from an expected reduction in sheep numbers.

The area of field peas is likely to reduce in 2024-25 due to proposed rationalisation of receival sites by a key bulk handler.

Overall, pest and disease impacts were generally low with outbreaks managed well by most producers.

Mice were a concern in areas of the Eyre Peninsula and Mallee early in the season but managed by targeted aerial baiting.

Baiting was also undertaken for field slugs in the South East and high rainfall areas of the Mid North.

Given limited opportunity post last year’s weather delayed harvest, many producers have this year taken the opportunity to invest substantial time and capital into property improvement.

Significant areas of lime, gypsum and soil amelioration treatments are being applied this autumn in preparation for the upcoming seeding.

Autumn pasture growth in 2023 was strong across the state, providing good feed for the cooler months that prompted many producers to retain livestock on-farm, rather than accept low prices at market.

By spring, pasture growth in the Lower South East and Fleurieu regions had slowed significantly due to the warm and very dry finish.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, El Niño persisted into early Autumn 2024 but a steady weakening trend is evident.

Department of Primary Industries and Regions general manager, industry partnerships and intelligence Matthew Palmer said the season had challenges.

“The 2023-24 season had its challenges following a strong start with El Niño conditions prevailing but thankfully weakening now,” he said.

“A solid, albeit slightly reduced production was largely compensated for by strong prices resulting in another good season for South Australia’s grain industry.”

Grains Producers SA chief executive officer Brad Perry said despite an average yield, a multi-billion dollar contribution had been made to the economy.

“Off the back of a record harvest, the 2023-24 grain season finished with an average yield but importantly, a more than $3 billion contribution to the state’s economy,” he said.

“Last season showed that South Australian grain producers continue to be resilient and produce impressive crops, even with little finishing rain.

“With seeding about to get underway in many areas of South Australia, grain producers face a nervous wait for much needed opening rains.”