RMI Analytics Crop Tour – Australia 2017
From October 22 to 25 RMI Analytics conducted a malting barley crop tour in Victoria’s central cropping region taking in the growing regions of the Goulburn Valley and the Wimmera.
The tour participants visited commercial fields, grain receival areas and malthouses. During the tour the harvest was still about four weeks away with excellent looking crops of barley and wheat seen in fields across the region. In the regions visited about 5-15mm of rain fell in the last week with between 5-10mm of rain observed in the area around Horsham on Tuesday night. The rain was welcome after a dry September and has slightly lifted expectations regarding yields. More rain would be welcome in the short term but warm weather will be needed in about three weeks to start finishing off the crop for a November/early December harvest.
Expectations are firming of an Australian barley crop of 8.5m MT (current Abares expectation 8.0m MT) with yields in the regions visited expected to hit 3-4MT/Ha, an average yield. Expectations are for a good amount of barley, with much of it making malting grade, but the harvest will be substantially reduced compared to last year’s record harvest.
During the tour local industry experts and farmers told participants the season had started well with ample soil moisture, in some cases to excess, which led to some late plantings as farmers couldn’t enter fields. As the season progressed conditions turned drier with some farms not seeing significant rain from the end of July until late September.
The first farm visited on the tour, near Katamatite, was the property ‘Lanivet’ operated by Graham and Jarrod Lukies, where Latrobe barley was grown on irrigation. The area is in the heart of the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District, which covers 9,950 square kilometers, and is fed by a system of lakes and the Murray River. The irrigation district is home to a large amount of Australia’s dairy and fruit growing industry and has some of the nation’s richest agricultural land. Yields in barley were expected to be 7-8MT/Ha on the irrigated land compared to about 4MT/Ha when grown on non-irrigated fields. Protein was expected at around 11% with Latrobe favored due to the higher yields compared to Gairdner, which was previously grown on the farm. Next the tour visited a private storage site in Mathoura operated by Universal Commodity Management (Grain Direct) which has 80,000 MT of storage spread across two sites (one where genetically modified grains are stored, the other conventionally bred). The site visited stores non-GM canola, wheat, Latrobe barley and feed barley, with last year’s harvested barley being about 50% malting grade. Expectations are for a lower percentage of malting barley this year. The site uses both bunker and silo storage with staff reporting some problems with birds (cockatoos) which burrow into tarpaulins covering grain, requiring netting over bunkers.
From here the group visited a field just south of Thyra where Latrobe and Planet barley were planted side by side on non-irrigated land (Latrobe left, Planet right). Last year Planet returned large yields but there were problems with lodging though despite this it’s expected there’ll be more acres of it planted in coming years. Speaking with the farmer the group heard the view that malting grade is a bonus but the goal is higher yields with Planet’s ability to deliver a yield increase even in a dry year (such as 2017) enough reason to replace all other varieties. Planet here was expected to yield 3MT/Ha with Latrobe coming in at 2.5-2.8MT/Ha. Harvest will come at the end of November.
It must be noted Planet is as yet not an approved malting barley variety in Australia with it currently under assessment and a decision expected in March 2019.
Ending the first day of the tour in Echuca the group embarked on a river cruise of the Murray River, boarding New South Wales and Victoria. The Murray River is part of the Murray-Darling Basin, the 16th longest river in the world which channels water 3,375km from Queensland and New South Wales down the Australian continent, through Victoria, discharging into the sea in South Australia. On the boat the tour group was able to get a taste of colonial Australia sailing past the historic Port of Echuca which was once Australia’s busiest inland port where agricultural products and raw materials were shipped down to Melbourne and beyond.
At the start of the second day of the tour the group visited the farm of Grant Sims, the 2015 winner of The Weekly Times Farmer of the Year award, near Lockington. Here Latrobe barley was seen in the field with expectations of 2.5MT/Ha, and malting grade, despite a low seeding rate (60kg/Ha), reduced rainfall (only 100mm during the season) and no use of artificial fertilizers, fungicide or herbicide. Mr Sims almost organic farming operation uses elements of companion planting, herd cattle grazing and leaving stubble on fields to build soil health, fertility and water retention. As well as this he mixes his own liquid fertilizer on farm which is applied at sowing.
Next up the tour visited a field of Compass barley on the Bailey Family Farm near the town of Sea Lake. Expectations here were for a yield of 3-3.5MT/Ha (10-year-avg 2.5MT/Ha) with the crop sown late, in May, due to excess rainfall. Mr Bailey told the group despite Compass not being an accredited malting variety his crop would make malting grade this year with 9.5% protein. A field of Compass was observed a few meters away on a neighboring property with frost damage but broadly the crop was good. On another of the Bailey’s fields an excellent crop of Planet was observed with the plants very dense, despite a seeding rate of only 30kg/Ha, exhibiting large ears with many kernels.
Expectations for Planet are that it will be sold as FAQ barley this year and judging on the excellent results seen by farmers (this is the first year it’s been widely grown) coming years will see more widespread planting.
From here the group drove to Warracknabeal, just outside Horsham, to the Oak Hills farm of Simon Tickner. On the farm the group saw a field of Latrobe barley with conditions starting out dry in March with a wet April and May boosting the crop followed by a dry June and then a wet July/August period. At the moment the group was visiting Mr Tickner said conditions had been very dry with rainfall much below average. (Over the course of the evening 10-15mm of rain fell over the region). In the field of Latrobe barley kernels were large with expectations of a yield of 3.8-4MT/Ha. In a field a short distance away the group saw Intergrain’s experimental variety IGB1305 which Mr Tickner said was showing excellent results and he believed it or Planet would replace Latrobe on his farm next year.
On the last day of the tour the group headed south to Ballarat to visit Cargill’s Joe White Maltings specialty malt facility. The plant’s 12,000MT of capacity is part of Cargill’s 445,000MT of malting capacity to supply the domestic brewing and Asian export market. Joe White Maltings has been making malt at the Ballarat site since 1867 and Cargill has invested in making it their regional hub of specialty malts including roasted and kilned malt.
En-route to the tour’s last stops at Malteurop’s Geelong malthouse the group briefly visited a field of Westminster barley near Cressy, west of Inverleigh. Harvest was still a fair amount of time away here (mid-December) but grain looked excellent with expectations of a yield of 6-6.5MT/Ha.
Finally the group tour Malteurop’s Geelong malthouse which is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar expansion, lifting the capacity of the plant from 75,000MT to 200,000MT. The expansion is aimed at providing capacity to expand Malteurop’s export of malt to Asia, with the malthouse located directly on the wharf at the Port of Geelong. Each batch in the new area of the malthouse is 360MT, barley basis, with four germination vessels.
This is the seventh RMI Analytics crop tour of 2017 and we would like to offer our sincere thanks to sponsors Cargill, Riordan and Malteurop.
Thanks as well go to local farmers who opened their doors, and their fields, to the tour group and shared their passion for the malting barley.
Finally, it’s important to thank the participants, who make this unique malting barley industry networking opportunity such a success.
The RMI Analytics crop tour program for 2018 will be announced in early January 2018.
Manager of Market Insights and Reporting
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