With judging of AgShows NSW Dryland Field Wheat Competitions to begin this week, Greenethorpe farmer Rob Taylor is hopeful of the trifecta of winning wheat crops.
But nature might have delivered a lethal icy blow as an unexpected -2.8-degree frost hit the area north of Young in the wee hours before dawn just over a week ago.
So, while the sun shines, it was onto the tractor for more baling of some of the 2023 wheat crop, which has more value as hay than harvested grain now.
Rob has won the state title two years running – in 2021 and 2022 – and although the crops have weathered a leaner year than the two prior, he was still optimistic enough to enter again in 2023.
He will be among a mixed bag of entries across NSW thanks to a dramatic weather shift from last year’s widespread flooding to the current El Nino conditions.
Some farmers received more rain than others, certain paddocks retained moisture from last year’s floods, while others have faced a very dry season.
This intriguing blend of factors has inevitably shaped the long-term impact on the crops, making this milestone four-region competition – now in its 25th year – an interesting one to judge in 2023.
The judging process begins next week with Northern NSW growers first in the firing line with Western, Central and Southern districts following suit to determine the top five crops in each region.
Each winning regional crop is then judged against its peers to determine the state winner.
Rob says, like everybody, a drier 2023 has resulted in crops that he feels are nowhere near as good as the crops of recent years.
“We had a magnificent start in autumn but in spring things really started to dry off,” he said. “We survived on subsoil moisture but we’re nowhere near the crops down south, so I think it will be highly unlikely we will win three years in succession.”
But for the frosts, which strike at the heart of the wheat yields, the ripening grain.
“We still have some decent crops but having been hit by a few late frosts in the last week or two that’s starting to become a bit more evident right now so we don’t know how that’s all going to play out,” he said. “It won’t be good.”
“Not all varieties are damaged though some of the later sown ones were worse affected and those on the lower country near the creeks have been affected but the higher ground and earlier sown are not too bad, but I just don’t know – I’m not expecting anything terrific this year,” Rob added.
But in different regions production outlooks differ.
Wheat Advisory Committee chair Dave Herbert said some farmers were optimistic about an increased production thanks to favorable growing conditions, while others were contemplating whether it’s even economically viable to harvest their crop.
A 24 percent decline from the previous year’s record-breaking winter crop of 63.85 million tonnes is anticipated by Rabobank.
“While there will be less wheat around than in previous years, it will still be very interesting to see which areas have performed better over others, and to evaluate the impact of different management practices,” Dave said.
Established in 1996 after the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW saw the need for a yield-based competition, the Dryland Wheat Competition offers immense educational value to participating growers.
The announcement of the regional and, ultimately, the state winner will be announced at the 2023 Wheat Presentation Dinner in Dubbo on 12 January 2024 at Club Dubbo.