December 19, 2018
Hoping for a pot of gold Farm leaders are hoping for combined state and federal government commitment to generate financial growth in the industry. Story, page 51. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER
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Development on wish list A
BY DEAN LAWSON
concentrated effort combining regional infrastructure and research development with an aim to generate financial growth in industry sits at the top of a regional wish list for the new year.
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said 2019 presented an opportunity for state and federal governments to work together on regional programs that would ultimately benefit the Wimmera and southern Mallee. Mr Jochinke, also Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnership chairman, said he hoped a major spinoff of all the strategic pieces coming together would be further progress of a Networked Centre of Grains Excellence.
“The business case for the centre is with the State Government and we will see how that progresses,” he said. “But hopefully things that are going on at state and federal government level come together and work well for the region.” Mr Jochinke said the State Government had made a commitment to use infrastructure programs across Victoria as a key development driver and that was important for the Wimmera. “There is a need for infrastructure work across the region, especially in roads and telecommunications, and this of course leads into research and development,” he said. “There is a federal election coming up in the new year and we’re hoping there is a solid commitment, from whoever wins, for research and development models to continue and to
make sure they are based on producing commercial outcomes. “We need research that helps industry generate money. “Having that commercial nous combined with research is something we’re always keen to see. “We need a reconfirmation of that and to have plans to work with research and development organisations to make sure that is what they’re focussed on. “State Government infrastructure programs combined with Federal Government support for research should fit in beautifully with the Wimmera and especially with a project such as the Networked Centre of Grains Excellence. “Such progress would deliver not only the short-term, but long-term viability of agriculture in the region.”
The proposed network project, born from the Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Assembly, is designed to ramp up the region’s role in national agri-tech science and grains research, education and technology. The State Government provided $250,000 for a study into the concept, which involves developing an integrated system drawing on agricultural knowhow across the region. A broad brief is to use the region’s collective strength to enhance and develop industry opportunities and innovation. This would be based on turning science into economic benefit and regional prosperity. A physical anchor point for an ‘innovation cluster’ would be at Horsham’s Grains Innovation Park.
Corporation events open for registration Registrations are open for Grains Research and Development Corporation events throughout Victoria in early 2019. GRDC Grains Research Updates and Farm Business Updates – designed to inform graingrowers’ decision-making leading into next year’s cropping season, and beyond – will be in February and March. GRDC southern region grower-relations manager Courtney Ramsey said information, insight and advice to be presented at the sessions had the potential to underpin improved agronomic practices and farm-business operations for increased profitability. “The updates will each feature a line-up of expert speakers who will deliver the latest findings from GRDC research investments, which have relevance to and implications for the state’s growers,” she said. “Further opportunities to generate profit growth within Victoria’s grain-growing enterpris-
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
es will be explored at GRDC Farm Business Updates, where the economic implications of practice change by growers and adoption of new technologies will be investigated.” The updates will start on February 26 and 27, when the Victoria’s premier grains research, development and extension event is in Bendigo. The Bendigo update plays an important role in enabling researchers to transfer their knowledge from GRDC investments to advisers and growers, and for showcasing the latest developments in technology. Regional Grains Research Updates will be at Dunkeld on February 28, Hopetoun on March 14 and Boort on March 15. Farm Business Updates will be at Sale on March 6 and Geelong on March 14. People seeking further information and to register for can visit website grdc.com.au/ events/list, phone 5441 6176 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. ADVICE: GRDC southern region grower-relations manager Courtney Ramsey.
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Torrential rain across the Wimmera and southern Mallee in the past week has provided a double-edged sword to regional broadacre farmers already dealing with a tough season. While many who are still stripping crops are hoping for a quick return to warm and windy conditions, others have welcomed sodden conditions as a potential springboard into the new year. Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said he suspected most northern areas had finished harvest, Wimmera farmers were about 80 percent finished and growers south of the ranges were in full swing. “It varies a lot because crops haven’t matured and ripened evenly due to dry growing conditions,” he said. “Farmers in the south would be particularly looking for some quick drying conditions because many have hopes of a reasonable return. “We need some wind to keep down levels of humidity, which can cause downgrades. Much will also come down to how heavy the rain came down – whether it shattered seed pods or knocked them to the ground.” Mr Jochinke said a potential silver lining for many might be that the heavy rain would recharge an extremely dry soil profile. “Unfortunately we can’t call it a break. If it had come three months ago we would be talking about a different season altogether,” he said. “But at least what it does is set up some areas that will be of benefit to livestock and grain growers. “The bucket was pretty empty when it came to soil moisture. “There will be a need for a summer spray that farmers have to do early, which will help in retaining the moisture for the next growing season.” Much of the region was awash last week, especially in the southern Mallee and parts of the Wimmera. Bureau of Meteorology rain data for December: Beulah 125.7 millimetres; Berriwillock 134.6; Hopetoun-Wirrbibial Downs 139.6; Rainbow 77.6; Nhill 61.6; Dimboola 68.2; Donald 109.9; Warracknabeal 104.8; Goroke 58.2; Great Western 24; Natimuk 63.8; Apsley 59.6; Rupanyup 75.8; Horsham 28.6; Mt William 70.4; Ararat 60.8; Wickliffe 59; Willaura 71.
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A Prime Minister fail I
hate to tell you, ‘I told you so’, and not because I was right on the Federal Government’s drought policy, because it would be so much better if I was wrong.
Let’s cast our minds back to when Scott Morrison became Prime Minister. It might seem like time travel, but it’s only four months ago. What was one of the very first things he did? A drought tour. Remember? In my column at the time, I wrote: “The simple fact of the matter is governments have always grappled with drought policy and are yet to come up with a resounding solution. Let’s hope our new Prime Minister, for his sake at least, does more than just strut his stuff and then dust off his hat and head back to Canberra. If a very real commitment to supporting farmers isn’t given, it will be seen very clearly for what it is.” Within a month we had all sorts of promises and appointments – a $5-billion future drought fund that no one seems quite sure how to spend, a drought summit, a national drought co-ordinator in Major General Stephen Day, and of course, the rather peculiar announcement of Barnaby Joyce as the special drought envoy. Very special indeed. As one farmer put it to me, ‘Barnaby
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Country Today with Libby Price
brought agriculture into focus when he was first elected. Since then, well, what an embarrassment’. Frankly, Mr Joyce seems far too self-absorbed in his personal problems than he is on coming up with any meaningful national drought policy. The day before the drought summit, I attended a Farmers for Climate Action conference. Farmers and farm leaders from across Australia were there. The chitchat over lunch was, not surprisingly, general disappointment in the Federal Government’s inability to take climate change seriously. A leading agricultural policy maker spoke of his fear the drought summit would be just another, ‘photo opportunity for the Federal Government to look as if it cares and is doing something about drought’. This week was the Morrison government’s last chance. The Council of Australia Governments meeting – you might be more familiar with the acronym COAG
– where a new inter-governmental drought agreement was reached. By all reports, it was pretty much signing off on what drought assistance has already been available. Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke was disappointed with what the agreement did not include. “The only change that we really saw in the language was recognition that drought was a national issue,” Mr Jockhinke told County Today. “We’ve really missed an opportunity at COAG to put that strategic framework in place for a national drought approach.” He also said he received several phone calls a week from farmers venting their frustration at the lack of direction in federal climate change policy. Hardly surprising with both the Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud unwilling to blame climate change on human activity. To quote Mr Littleproud, ‘I don’t give a rat’s if it’s man-made or not’. The PM must be breathing a sigh of relief at last week’s flooding rains across eastern Australia. Nothing like a flood or two to take the attention away from drought policy.
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Warning to grain growers Researchers are urging grain growers to test the seed they intend to retain for next year’s pulse crop to avoid disease issues in 2019. Despite dry conditions, there have been significant levels of bacterial blight in field peas. Agriculture Victoria research pulse pathologist Dr Joshua Fanning said many crop diseases were seed-borne and could be transmitted to the following crop. He said growers could minimise losses from these diseases by only using high-quality seed. “Seed health tests detect the important seed-borne pathogens and will identify potential disease problems, allowing steps to be taken to reduce the disease risk prior to sowing,” Dr Fanning said.” “Seed with high levels of seedborne disease should not be used
for sowing.” Fellow Agriculture Victoria research scientist Dr Pragya Kant has been assessing field pea crops for bacterial blight this season and has found the presence of the disease to be widespread. She said this was a result of many spring frosts causing damage to the plant, which allowed infection to occur. Agriculture Victoria plant virologist Dr Mohammad Aftab said seed testing would also provide growers with assurance that seedborne viruses were not present in their seedlot. Agriculture Victoria offers seed testing services. Information is available online at agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/pests-diseases-and-weeds/ diagnostic-services.
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Confidence low after a dry season A
survey into Victorian farmer confidence has revealed a generally pessimistic outlook for the next 12 months, based on a dry 2018. A final Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey for 2018 showed Victorian farmer confidence remaining subdued at near-decade lows. It found half of the state’s farmers were pessimistic about their prospects for the year ahead, with drought the primary concern. Despite ongoing seasonal concerns, 95 percent of surveyed farming businesses in Victoria indicated a level of preparedness for drought – with more than half stating they were more prepared now than five years ago. The latest survey, completed in November, found rural sentiment in the state had changed little from the last quarter, with 50 percent of Victorian farmers surveyed expecting conditions in the agricultural economy to worsen in the next 12 months. This was compared with with 51 percent in the previous survey. Drought remained the key driver of this pessimistic sentiment, cited by 94 percent as the reason conditions were likely to deteriorate. Farmers expecting conditions in the agricultural economy to improve stood at 18 percent, up from a previous 14 percent, while 28 percent expected similar conditions to the previous 12 months. Rabobank regional manager for Southern Victoria and Tasmania Hamish McAlpin said confidence was relatively subdued in grain, beef and sheep – albeit tracking above last quarter’s levels. “The dry start to spring and a series of frost events have taken their toll on the grains crop, with quite significant frost damage reported in areas west of Ballarat and around Horsham,” he said. “But thankfully, frost-damaged crops that have been cut for hay have still been able to realise good returns.” Mr McAlpin said Victoria’s winter crop was expected to be down about 40 percent on last year’s strong harvest result, with the multiple frosts and dry start to spring limiting grain filling. “Also incentivised by high fodder prices, upwards of 50 percent of planted area will not be harvested for grain in the Wimmera and Northern Central region,” he said. “However, there will still be some good yields in areas such as Hamilton and those crops around Horsham that have not been frost affect-
ed are yielding better than expected given how dry it has been.” With availability of grain tight, Mr McAlpin said the cost of feeding livestock was weighing on the minds of beef and sheep graziers. “The decisions facing graziers are becoming tougher, as many have already made decisions around the sale of older or younger stock, and are now weighing up whether to sell breeding animals,” he said.
Mr McAlpin said circumstances were particularly challenging for the dairy industry, with 61 percent of surveyed dairy farmers reporting a pessimistic outlook, up from 47 percent with that view in the September quarter. “The dry season has increased the requirement for, and the cost of, bought-in feed and water for dairy farmers, particularly in the Murray dairy region,” he said. “These input prices are around double that of last year and there is little relief for margins foreseen in 2019. “This could see a sizeable drop in milk production in this northern region and, if it eventuates, the national milk pool is at risk of falling to its lowest level in two decades.” With little change in overall confidence levels, farmers’ expectations about their gross farm incomes also remained relatively in line with last quarter. A total of 43 percent of Victorian farmers surveyed were expecting their incomes to fall in the coming year – up slightly from 38 percent in the previous survey – while 36 percent expected similar incomes to the past 12 months. Those expecting an improved financial position stood at 22 percent, the same percentage as last quarter. Longer-term confidence in the Victorian sector remained relatively sound, however, as reflected in farmers’ investment intentions for the coming year – with 17 percent looking to increase their investment, and the majority, 67 percent, planning to maintain current levels.
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Mr McAlpine said for farmers looking to expand the rural property market remained quite active, particularly in western Victoria – which had exhibited strong land-value growth. “In the Western District, we are continuing to see a fair bit of interest and activity in the property market, indicating the buoyant longer-term outlook for the ag sector,” he said. The next results are scheduled for release in March, 2019.
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