Technical Bulletin – 30 October 2019

In the northern Mallee a few headers have started, largely on barley, and in the southern Mallee a few are trying to ‘strike the first blow’. Early reports indicate yields (in northern Mallee) are around 1.6-1.9t/ha of Barley. Compass is the first to come in. In the Wimmera harvest is 2-3 weeks away and in the meantime insect control and desiccation are taking priority. Hay yields have been encouraging however conditions are not necessarily conducive to getting it into bales.  


Table  1. Rainfall and deciles across the Wimmera and Mallee (number in brackets denotes decile). 

Nov 18-Oct 219 (1) 176 (1) 218 (1) 229 (1) 408 (7) 310 (3) 475 (4) 234 (1) 422 (6) 439 (6) 348 (2) 384 (2) 354 (3) 241 (1)
Jan-Oct 155 (1) 115 (1) 160 (1) 145 (1) 207 (1) 168 (1) 327 (1) 165 (1) 271 (2) 285 (2) 259 (2) 309 (1) 250 (1) 188 (1)
Apr-Oct 132 (1) 113 (1) 144 (1) 132 (1) 193 (1) 152 (1) 270 (2) 151 (1) 249 (3) 250 (3) 238 (3) 290 (3) 185 (1) 156 (1)

Oct (1-30)

0 (1) 4 (1) 5 (1) 2 (1) 5 (1) 3 (1) 6 (1) 2 (1) 12 (1) 13 (1) 11 (1) 20 (2) 1 (1) 4 (1)


The strong +IOD keeps trundling along showing no signs of decay yet. Most models predict it to last into December which is very unusually late. Most in the last ten years have died in late October. Winter like pressure patterns persist which is blocking out tropical moisture feed from the NW, but the Coral Sea remains warmer to our NE, which is where the approaching rainfall is coming from. Most models are still sitting on likely drier and warmer for the next three months (Dale Grey, Agriculture Victoria).

Heliothis thresholds

As canola pods are maturing, it’s worth considering if heliothis control is an economically viable option. If you are considering a plane, then you would need approximately 7 grubs/10 sweeps to break even at the canola price of $600/t (assuming plane + products costs $25/ha (cesar)). If you are within 7-14 days of windrowing or desiccation (or approx. 10% colour change) heliothis are unlikely to damage yield.


Windrowing is deemed to be part of the harvest process, so after spraying insecticides ie. Trojan, you need to wait 7 days prior to windrowing.

Windrowing v Direct heading

Consider your own logistics when making this decision, i.e. availability of contractors, weeds in paddock, thickness of crop. If desiccating high water rates are important to help penetrate the canopy. Once you have decided which way you will go, then try to do the various components at the correct time. It is a risk management decision as much as an agronomic decision, if you’re comfortable with direct heading then go for that. Late windrowing doesn’t necessarily have any effect on yield loss unless it is close to (ie approx. 70-80% or more) maturity, in this instance it would be worth considering direct heading.

pulse desiccation timing

With impending rain this Friday, take a cautious approach. If you have not already desiccated, consider the total area that you desiccate as it could lead to pod loss after the rain as it increases in brittleness. Pulse Australia have some good photos about correct timing for desiccation and croptopping.

weed control

Check paddocks once hay has been carted because there could be vetch and medic growing and using moisture. Consider returning to hay paddocks and spray where necessary. Skeleton weed rosettes are present (largely on sand hills) and are worth spraying after harvest. While you’re in the header, make a note of any weedy patches while its fresh in your mind.

windrow burning

If you haven’t done this before and considering giving it a try this year, harvest low and watch for weed seed losses around the opening of the windrow shoot that don’t get into the windrow.

harvest priorities

Current conditions indicate that some crop types are going to come in quite close together. Weigh up the value and prioritise your high value crops first ie canola and lentils (which are prone to pod drop in ordinary weather). Barley will generally hang on longer, Planet barley is quite good at head retention and there is nothing to suggest that it will lose heads. Map out and have a plan for your harvest priorities based on crop yield, grain prices and weather, so in high pressure times you have a plan to fall back on.

header losses

Header set-up is important to help minimise harvest losses. Canola is a high value crop and is often the crop with the highest amount of losses. Peter Newman from Planfarm Consulting, has a great podcast on measuring harvest losses and GRDC have an excel template for calculating harvest losses.

stubble management

Harvester setup determines the way stubbles are left. When planning harvest logistics, consider the preferred type of stubble and how crop residues will be managed to ensure successful sowing in the following season. Find out more about harvester setup to manage stubble here.

weed control timing

For crop topping, consider the weed stages, the below photos show when is a good time for crop topping weed seeds in paddock, photos Peter Boutsalis.


Wild radish and ryegrass
Wild radish and ryegrass
Barley grass and milk thistle
Barley grass and milk thistle
Brome grass 2 panicles on left immaure and 2 panicles on right have mature seed.
Brome grass 2 panicles on left immaure and 2 panicles on right have mature seed.
Wild oat seed maturation. Panicle on the left is immature. Once some brown seeds are visible, the panicle is mature enough for testing.
Wild oat seed maturation. Panicle on the left is immature. Once some brown seeds are visible, the panicle is mature enough for testing.


Grain sales

A number of companies are now offering two-day payment terms. Consider this when planning grain sales to avoid the risk of losses through insolvencies.

variety planning for 2020

Plan your crop choice and an estimate of which varieties you will sow (which can be subject to change, depending on yield). If you haven’t started harvest, make a plan for next year with your agronomist. Some varieties to keep a watch out for are: wheat – Catapult (suit an early sowing opportunity), Rockstar (mid-late flowering with mace parentage). Barley – RGT planet (IGB1705T (imi-tolerant line). These are examples of Wimmera and Mallee suited varieties, wait and assess yield results first. Barley Australia have a list of preferred malting varieties if you prefer growing malt varieties.


Hay made from failed crops should be tested before feeding to stock. If N fertiliser was applied prior to becoming moisture stressed it will help protein, but plants will be at risk of having high nitrate levels. Rumen bacteria are very effective at using plant nitrates, but in excessive amounts the bacteria can be overwhelmed resulting in toxicity. Nitrate levels above 5000ppm can cause health issues, and >10000ppm can cause death. A gradual increase in ration nitrate levels that allows rumen microbes time to adapt can be well tolerated by ruminants. Feed test to understand the nitrate risk, then introduce slowly in small amounts with safe feeds, preferably high in carbohydrates (grain, if adapted) that provide energy for microbes to convert nitrate to ammonia.


As northern parts of Victoria just get a start, harvest is well under way in NSW, northern SA and Geraldton port zone in WA.  Our local wheat and barley bids are being driven by domestic demand which is mostly into central NSW and Queensland. Even with grower selling being light, prices have certainly dropped during October as we approached harvest.  Lentils are the one commodity where bids have been firm at around $480/t delivered Wimmera site.  For all grain stored on farm, it is extremely important that you know as much about the quality as possible, this can only help with future marketing decisions.  There is no better time to collect good representative samples than at harvest time, so on-farm sample collection should be a priority (Peter Sidley; ADM).

Table 4. Current prices for Geelong port zone as at 28 October, with changes noted for the past fortnight.

2018/19 SEASON
2019/20 SEASON
$340 (-$10) $345 (-$12)
$586 (-$13) $601 (-$22)

$281 (-$11)






Compiled by Claire Browne with contributions from Kelly Angel, De-Anne Ferrier, Alison Frischke, Tim Rethus, Adam Campbell, Simon Severin, James Murray, Tom Batters, Simon Craig, Cam Taylor, Julia Severi, Georgina Warne and Luke Maher. 

DISCLAIMER: The Birchip Cropping Group Inc. (“BCG”) makes no warranties regarding merchantability, fitness for purpose or otherwise with respect to this report. Any person relying on this report does so entirely at their own risk. BCG and all persons associated with it exclude all liability (including liability for negligence) in relation to any opinion, advice or information contained in this report and any consequences arising from the use of such opinion, advice or information to the full extent of the law, including but not limited to consequences arising as a result of action or inaction taken by that person or any third parties in reliance on the report. Where liability cannot be lawfully extinguished, liability is limited to the re-supply of the report or payment of the cost of resupplying the report. You should seek independent professional, technical or legal (as required) advice before acting on any opinion, advice or information contained in this report.

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