Riverina farmers prepare for winter crops

EARLY DAYS: Downside farmer Ryan Dennis says there are a larger than usual number of mice on his land as he prepares to sow winter crops.
EARLY DAYS: Downside farmer Ryan Dennis says there are a larger than usual number of mice on his land as he prepares to sow winter crops.

Farmers could face the prospect of fighting a rare mouse plague as they move to sow this year’s winter crops.

It comes at a precarious time for those preparing their land for wheat and canola.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is warning of warmer and drier than average conditions for the next couple of months, which could force farmers to plant without the prospect of rain to allow them to maximise their yield potential.

The BOM has forecast rain for next week but it is unlikely to bring significant downpours.

Downside farmer Ryan Dennis remained cautiously optimistic about what laid ahead for the upcoming season, but expressed concern over the potential for mice to stymie dry-sown crops.

There’s quite a few mice about (which can be a problem when dry sowing)

Riverina farmer Ryan Dennis

“There’s quite a few mice about (which can be a problem when dry sowing),” Mr Dennis said.

“But it’s only early days.”

He said farmers had to roll the dice if they were forced to dry sow and, if mice caused crop damage, they would have to resow.

The multi-generation farmer said the process of burning off stubble made it a lot easier to detect rogue rodents on the land.

“I’ve only experienced the one mouse plague (in 2011),” Mr Dennis said.

While the rodent problem is nowhere near 2011 levels, which was reported to be one of the worst plagues on record, the official Mouse Alert monitoring suggests a mouse outbreak is highly likely, but the Riverina is not showing a high number just yet.

Mr Dennis said most of his 3500 acres is “borderline on germination” but admitted the land was “screaming for rain”. “There’s plenty of moisture (about a metre) down, but not much on top,” Mr Dennis said. 

“It’s just a matter of bridging it together. At the end of the day I’ll continue on planting.”

Cootamundra-based Landmark senior agronomist Mark Golder said the rainfall three weeks ago boded well for crops in the north of the region and said farmers in the area had “progressing pretty well”, despite the season outlook being “on the fence”.

“(Some farmers) are holding on to their stubble for as long as possible to retain soil moisture,” Mr Golder said.

Total forecast rainfall from April 20 to April 27. Source: BOM

Total forecast rainfall from April 20 to April 27. Source: BOM

“We’re lucky in the Cootamundra area, we have a pretty reliable area.”

He said the region didn’t need big falls, “10 to 20mm over a day or two would be a good kick along”.

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