FARMERS are gritting their teeth and finding cash reserves to fund extensive summer spraying programs across the country, confident of the benefits of stored moisture in the upcoming winter crop.
Chemical companies are reporting strong sales of key summer weed control herbicides such as glyphosate, ester and triclopyr.
While many farmers in south-eastern Australia are strapped for cash following a tough season last year, they are finding the money for a spraying program.
Victorian-based research agronomist Simon Craig, Agronomise, said storing moisture from summer rain was one of the best investments a grower could make.
“If I was down to my last dollar, in a low rainfall environment, I would spend the money on controlling summer weeds, rather than start-up fertiliser.”
Brett Hosking, president of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) grains group, said farmers appreciated the stored moisture would be an advantage later, but they still had to fund the cost of running the sprayer over paddocks.
However, he said farmers now worked closely with their bankers and the banking industry understood the importance of a summer spray program.
Mr Hosking said some growers were looking to take an opportunity for non-chemical control.
“With fuel prices back a bit, farmers are taking the opportunity to cultivate and store moisture through a fallow.
“It gives the herbicide rotation a break, its relatively cheap this year and it also gives growers a chance to renovate paddocks for better trafficability, getting rid of wheel ruts and things like that.
“Most farmers generally use no-till systems now, but many still use cultivation opportunistically.”
On the other side of the equation, glyphosate prices are rising, primarily on the back of the falling Australian dollar.
Horsham-based agronomist Darren Scott said the falling dollar was putting pressure on glyphosate prices.
“We have seen some increases in line with the dollar.”
He said farmers now were comfortable to buy a whole shuttle of glyphosate.
“If they don’t use it with their summer spraying, it will be there for the autumn break, and it looks like it is more likely glyphosate go up rather than down.”
A Nufarm spokesperson said sales had been strong right across the country following the good summer rain in the past two months.
She said sales of traditional summer sprays such as glyphosate and 2,4-D ester had been very solid, and had not been knocked around by any potential switch to cultivation.
She said supplies and availability of product were good.
In NSW, NSW Farmers committee member Mark Hoskinson said there had been good rain in his local region in the northern Riverina.
“We’ve had up to 75 millimetres in some places, which is good, and people are flat out spraying.
“It is another chore, but the value of the moisture is proven in-crop.”
Mr Hosking said in Victoria, falls ranged from less than 20mm in parts of the Mallee to over 75mm in parts of the Wimmera, with lucky farmers under thunderstorms receiving over 100mm in parts of the Wimmera, North Central and southern Mallee.
“For those that have had the big falls, it is definitely worth spraying, for those at the lower end of the spectrum, it is probably more marginal.”
He said farmers would be targeting the hardy, moisture sucking summer weeds, such as melons and heliotrope.
“There have been some volunteer cereals come up, but people are probably focusing their program on controlling those weeds that can really do some damage in terms of sucking the moisture out.”
Mr Hoskinson agreed, saying products such as Garlon, a triclopyr-based herbicide used to control melons and woody weeds, were proving popular.
“For mixed farmers, the volunteer cereals may even provide a little bit of feed for a while and even though they will use the moisture, farmers may rate having the feed higher.”
Mr Craig said leaving no weeds alive was the best policy.
“It’s fairly cheap to control weeds at present, around $12 a hectare, even with slight rises in glyphosate prices.”
He said a rule of thumb was to allow for 30 per cent of rainfall in January and February to be available for the crop the following spring, with the figure rising for March and early April rain.