Sodden Australian farms take to the air to fight canola disease

05.09.2016

Industry experts lifted their forecast for Australia's canola harvest, citing help from a turn by some farmers to crop-spraying planes to keep in check levels of disease being encouraged by wet conditions.

The Australian Oilseeds Federation lifted by 50,000 tonnes to 3.39m tonnes its forecast for Australia's canola production this year, taking the figure further above the 3.10m tonnes harvested in 2015.

The upgrade to the forecast - which compares with a harvest estimate of 3.24m tonnes made in June by Australia's official commodities bureau – was attributed to rainfall which "has been mostly adequate… through most of the canola growing regions during plant establishment and early growth stages".

"This has placed the canola crop in good stead."

'Heavily infected'

However, the federation - whose harvest estimate is below the 3.50m tonne-crop forecast by the US Department of Agriculture – acknowledged that rains had been too heavy in some areas.

For New South Wales, the group slashed its harvest estimate by 90,000 tonnes to 810,000, putting a drop in production on the cards, citing wet conditions which, besides inundating some crops, are encouraging disease.

"The earlier sown crops are tolerating wet condition better than the later sown crops which have been heavily infected with blackleg and have struggled in wet weather," the federation said.

Blackleg is a fungal disease which can cause heavy yield losses, and is at the centre of a threat by China, delayed last week, to impose more stringent restrictions on imports from Canada, the world's top canola/rapeseed exporter.

"Disease is causing some flower loss," the AOF added.

'Widespread use of aerial application'

In South Australia, most of which "currently has full soil moisture profiles", the federation flagged the implications of a shift is sowings to higher-rainfall areas of the state.

While this shift "will most likely see state yield above average… disease pressure is high, especially blackleg, and this may impact yield, especially in the traditional high rainfall zones".

In Western Australia, meanwhile, while overall production prospects have improved, "spraying for sclerotinia has been common place in most areas, as wet conditions have triggered high levels in many areas".

According to Western Australian agriculture officials, sclerotinia - a fungal infection "which is one of the most variable and unpredictable diseases of canola and incidence of infection" – can cause "severe" crop damage, "with losses exceeding 20% under conducive conditions".

Farmers have resorted to crop spraying aircraft to see off the disease threat, given the hindrance to fieldwork from wet soils.

"The wet conditions have led to widespread use of aerial application of nitrogen [fertilizer] and fungicides, which has ensured crops are able to benefit to the maximum from the unseasonally high moisture levels."

'Extra moisture is not needed'

The comments come at a time of mounting concerns that Australia's rains have reached levels which are seeing pose some threat to crops, besides being a blessing in helping them reach yield potential.

In wheat, Tobin Gorey at Commonwealth Bank of Australia attributed a 2% recovery in Sydney futures on Friday to a market "spooked by impending weekend rain, which duly arrived.

"The extra moisture is not needed in a lot of places so that places a question over the quality, if not the quantity, of Australian wheat."


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