AT A CURSORY glance canola crops throughout the Riverina look excellent, having made the most of winter rainfall, however farmers concerned about a lack of subsoil moisture are busy coming up with contingency plans should the spring come in dry.
NSW DPI agronomist Rohan Brill said canola in Riverina still retained full yield potential, but needed a heavy rain event in the next couple of weeks or else yields would slip.
"It looks great, but the fuel light is well and truly on, there is nothing underneath these crops."
Further to the north he said the season was less favourable.
"I farm at Ganmain and just 40km north the crops are really battling, you wouldn't even get hay, I would say farmers with livestock will put them out on the paddocks soon."
Throughout the Riverina, but especially in areas to the north of Wagga Wagga, Mr Brill said farmers would look closely at the option of cutting canola for hay.
"There is really good biomass there for the most part, most crops would have the potential to do 4 tonnes to the hectare of dry matter, the growth on the rainfall we have had has been phenomenal, so the temptation is certainly there to make fodder, especially with all the long term forecasts talking about the prospect of a dry spring."
Riverina Oils and Bio-Energy (ROBE) operations manager Lachlan Herbert said farmers were eagerly looking for rainfall in the next couple of weeks.
"The general chat is that the potential there and we probably have two to three weeks before that starts to fade and farmers are faced with the hard decisions about what to do with the crop."
Mr Herbert said crops had done well on the rainfall thus far and would not require too much more rainfall to provide an economic return as a grain crop.
"It is looking better than this time last year.
"They certainly need more rain, but equally, so long as there is some rainfall, even if it is less than average, you would probably see some sort of a crop, providing there is not a major heat or frost event."
He said the industry had noted how much better modern canola varieties handle the dry.
"Things look really good in areas that have had below average rainfall, the new varieties, combined with conservation agriculture techniques mean the crop is much better placed to handle the dry these days."
However, he echoed Mr Brill's comments regarding the Central West crop.
"It does drop away really sharply to the north, we certainly are not budgeting on supplies being available from the Central West and north."
Mr Brill said after a year's experience making and marketing canola hay farmers would be more comfortable with the process this year, but added many would prefer to harvest for grain logistically.
"It depends on your situation, some people are not set up well for hay making in terms of equipment and storage facilities.
"In these cases, if it looks like the crop needs to be cut they may look to sell the crop standing to a contractor."
Mr Brill said canola hay had sold well last year and that there would again be good local demand this year.
"It really will boil down to rain in the next couple of weeks, many northern Riverina crops still have 2t/ha grain potential and there are the costs associated with hay making but on the flip side the biomass is already there and you are not relying on spring rain."
The newly opened up hay market has seen a shift in varietal preferences.
"There really has been a move towards the hybrid varieties, just because they do generate that extra biomass so if the season does look dicey then people will have extra dry matter as a hay crop."
Mr Brill said another option for those unwilling to make hay but not sold on the seasonal prospects would be to run livestock straight out onto the crop.
"The livestock prices are so high that there is a very good return to be made, if you have sheep or cattle, by just putting them out on the paddock and finishing them.
"Mixed farmers will look very closely at this option."
He said canola and wheat would be the major crops monitored for their fodder or feed potential should it come in dry.
"The barley has largely locked in its yield and without something going amiss you'd expect there would be some barley to harvest, but wheat and canola are less assured."
However, he said farmers in the Riverina were thankful they at least had an income stream with the crop biomass sufficient for hay or livestock.
The story Riverina canola crops look good, but fuel light on first appeared on Farm Online.