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Milking the Weather – Seasonal and climate risk information for the dairy industry
Volume 12, Issue 3: Spring 2021
Welcome to our newsletter for spring 2021
In this edition:

 1. Victorian seasonal climate summary (winter 2021) and outlook (spring 2021)

2. Farmers managing seasonal risk successfully – June 2021 farmer case studies

3. Managing the season ahead – spring 2021

4. Victorian Dairying Areas Seasonal Soil Moisture Condition Assessment – winter review 2021 and spring 2021 update

5. AgVic Talk podcasts featuring Milking the Weather case study farmer Hans van Wees

6. Receiving Milking the Weather e-newsletter

Adapted from: (click on the four links below)

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM)

The Fast Break Newsletter (Vol 18: Issue 8 – 27 Aug 2021)

The Very Fast Break Victoria - 8 September 2021 

Climate Kelpie, rounding up climate tools for Australian farmers - BCG, 6 September 2021

Victorian seasonal climate summary (winter 2021) and outlook (spring 2021)
In a nutshell
  • Rainfall for winter 2021 was close to average across most of Victoria. It was wetter than average in parts of Gippsland and the Western districts.
  • Although averaged across Victoria, rainfall was only 5 per cent above the winter mean of 205 mm, the highest winter rainfall since 2016.
  • Many measured sites had their highest daily rainfall on record for both 9 and 10 June, including Port Campbell Post Office, Macedon Forestry, Cobden Post Office and Terang, all of which have more than 100 years of historical measurements.
  • Night-time winter temperatures were above average across Victoria, with large parts of the state experiencing much warmer than average nights.
  • Averaged across the state, the maximum winter temperature was 0.74°C warmer than average, the warmest since 2013.
  • Spring rainfall (September to November) predictions indicate an increased chance of  above median rainfall for Victoria.
  • Above median minimum temperatures for spring in Victoria are also predicted.
  • A negative Indian Ocean Dipole is forecast to continue for spring, and large parts of the eastern tropical Indian Ocean are warmer than average, potentially favouring above average spring rainfall for Victoria.
  • The El Niño–Southern Oscillation is neutral with four out of the 12 models surveyed in the Fast Break Table expecting a La Nina formation in the next three months, potentially increasing the chances of above average spring rainfall in Victoria.
Rainfall, temperature and soil moisture summaries and outlooks

Featured in this section is a winter 2021 round up of Victorian rainfall, temperature and soil moisture and some key outlook comments regarding this spring.

Winter rainfall was close to average across most of the state of Vicotria, with it being wetter than average in parts of Gippsland and the Western districts as shown in the Victorian rainfall deciles map for the whole of winter below.

Map showing Victorian rainfall deciles for winter 2021.

In June, rainfall was mostly above average at decile 8–9 with large areas of very much above average at decile 10, in a west to east strip of southern Victoria, averaging around Port Phillip Bay and most of the western third of the state stretching from Mildura down to Portland and the eastern tip of Gippsland. 

Rainfall in July was above average at decile 8–9 but this time, pockets of very much above average at decile 10 were mostly in the west of the state, particularly in the southern corner; however, a large central section of Gippsland was very much below average at decile one, the rest of Gippsland being below average at decile 2–3.

August rainfall was below average in large parts of central and western Victoria, but much wetter in East Gippsland. It was drier at decile 2–3 over much of the state. An east coast low delivered over 50–100 mm plus in parts of East Gippsland ranked decile 8–10.

Individual maps of Victoria showing rainfall deciles for the months of June July & August 2021.

Latest seasonal rainfall decile maps 

Latest seasonal rainfall total maps  

Maximum temperatures
Winter daytime temperatures were above average for most of the state at decile 8–10, close to average across the north east (maximum temperature decile 4–7). A small area of the tip of the Mornington Peninsula, Phillip Island and not quite to Wilsons Promontory were highest on record for winter daytime temperatures. Refer to the Maximum Temperature Deciles map for winter below.

Map showing Victorian maximum temperature deciles for winter 2021.

Over June most of the state had daytime temperatures above average at decile 8–9 including East Gippsland.  Other north eastern and Apline areas were closer to average at decile 4–7.

In July most of the state experienced average daytime temperatures although it was warmer in parts of the south and especially in east Gippsland, where it was decile 10.

Maximum temperatures over August were mostly at decile 8–10 and some 0–2 degrees warmer over the state.

Individual maps of Victoria showing maximum temperature deciles for the months of June July and August 2021.

Minimum temperatures
Winter night-time temperatures were above average across Victoria, with large parts of the state experiencing much warmer than average nights. Of note is that highest night temperatures on record occurred around Orbost and surrounding areas in East Gippsland. Refer below to the Minimum Temperature Deciles map for winter.

Map showing Victorian minimum temperature deciles for winter 2021.

Night-time temperatures over June were at decile 8–10 for most of Victoria with much of the Western half  and all of East Gippsland at decile 10, very much above average. A sizeable strip from the NSW border around Wodonga spreading down to the south-east coast was average at decile 4–7.

Minimum temperatures in July were above average at decile 8–9 for most of the state. Exceptions were in the north west reaching into the Wimmera where they were average at decile 4–7, and most of East Gippsland and a small patch of the north east close to the NSW border around Corryong were decile 10. The highest daily minimum temperature of 14.6°C was recorded at Lakes Entrance in East Gippsland on 28 July.

Over August, minimum temperatures were also warmer at deciles 8–10 on and south of the ranges, with northern areas being closer to normal.

Individual maps of Victoria showing minimum temperature deciles for the months of June July and August 2021.

Maximum and minimum temperature deciles and other temperature related maps  

Soil moisture

The BOM Australian Water Resources Assessment (AWRA) of modelled plant-available soil moisture indicated in the last week of August that water decile for pastures in Victoria are ranked drier at decile 2–3 in an area of the North West and North Central. Central and East Gippsland are ranked wetter at decile 8–10.

Currently (as of 8 September) in the northern part of Victoria’s dairying areas, the upper river valleys have mostly average soil moisture levels (decile 4–7) and the northern irrigated areas have mostly wetter soils at decile 8–9 soil moisture.

South, west, and east Gippsland have very wet soils at decile 10 soil moisture at present, and areas around central Gippsland are showing even wetter soils at the root zone level, putting them at the highest one per cent of records.

Map showing Victorian winter 2021 modelled plant available water deciles for 10 to 100 centimetres soil depth.

BOM AWRA modelled plant available water decile 10–100 cm, 8 September 2021

Latest Victorian soil moisture map 

Climate driver update

In this section an update on key climate drivers of Victoria’s rainfall is presented in order of and including El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), Sea Surface temperatures in the Indian and Pacific Oceans (SST),Southern Oscillation Index(SOI), Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and the Southern Tropical Ridge (STR). They mostly focus on how these drivers behaved and influenced rainfall events over the winter just gone. Website addresses to access the latest maps and graphs related to each of these drivers are also provided.

A very handy tool which displays longer term rainfall records for selected locations as interactive maps, showing how climate drivers such as ENSO and the IOD have influenced seasonal rainfall in the past, can be found here. This tool was develeoped as part of the Grains Research Development Corporation "Using Seasonal Forecasts" extension project (April 2018 – February 2020).

El Niño–Southern Oscillation

Speedo graph showing current status of the El Nino Southern Oscillation  outlook at the start of September as inactive.

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is best described as the oscillation between El Niño and La Niña conditions. The current (6 September) ENSO Outlook is INACTIVE. This means the ENSO is neutral with no obvious indication that El Niño nor La Niña will develop in the coming months.

Latest ENSO updates

Typical impacts of El Niño relevant for Victoria is a decrease in rainfall in eastern Australia and temperature incresases in southern Australia. Whilst typical impacts of La Niña is increases in rainfall in eastern, central and northern Australia and decreases in daytime temperatures. On average one, both or either occur(s) every three to seven years and 40 per cent of El Niño events are followed by La Niña.

Four out of the 12 models surveyed as part of the Fast Break are predicting the formation of a La Niña in the next three months. Some models are picking up the cooler water in the Nino 3.4 region of the Pacific Ocean and predicting this may extend into the La Niña territory.

Minature representation recognising  El Nino and La Nina  events. Both images reflect details on frequency, trends and other impacts

Full sized infographs (as show above in minature) on recognising an El Niño and La Niña event with details on frequency, trends and other impacts can be found at the BOM website.

El Niño infograph

La Niña infograph

Indian Ocean Dipole
Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) events are driven by changes in the tropical Indian Ocean. Sustained changes in the difference between normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical western and eastern Indian Ocean are what characterise IOD events. A negative IOD is a “wetter climate driver” typically enhancing winter–spring rainfall in southern and eastern Australia. The accuracy of IOD forecasting is better over spring and summer.

A negative IOD is typically associated with

  • cooler sea surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean relative to the east
  • winds becoming more westerly, bringing increased cloudiness to Australia's northwest
  • more rainfall in the top end and southern Australia.

Sea surface temperature anomolies
Looking at the sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies (refer to SST anomaly map for 24 August 2021 below), Nino 3.4 cooled a touch more in August more to be -0.26 C, but still ranked normal. A large area of cooler water has developed at depth giving some models sniffs of La Niña later in the year.

The Trade Winds backed off a bit, to be only slightly stronger in the western Pacific, but still holding warmer water in the Coral Sea. Over in the Indian Ocean, the DMI index retreated to a weak negative IOD (-IOD) and a value of -0.35 C where the threshold is -0.4 C. This is on the back of more warming, off Africa. For most of August westerly winds backed off but in the last week of August they have restrengthened. Cloud patterns have also become more like -IOD in the last week.

World map showing the  Pacific Ocean signs for El Niño or La Niña activity for 24 August 2021.

Latest SST maps

Latest NINO 3.4 SST Index graphs

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) produces long-range sea surface temperature outlooks for the NINO and IOD regions, to provide information on the potential development of El Niño, La Niña or IOD events in the coming months. The focus is on the NINO3.4 index and the IOD index as these are used to help identify ENSO and IOD events respectively.

A summary of the ENSO and IOD forecasts from international climate models is also produced (refer to Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions Table for Victoria from September 2021 Run models section below).

Southern Oscillation Index
The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) gives an indication of the development and intensity of El Niño or La Niña events in the Pacific Ocean. It is calculated using the pressure differences between Tahiti and Darwin. Sustained negative SOI values of less than −7 often indicate El Niño events.

These negative values are usually accompanied by sustained warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, a decrease in the strength of the Pacific Trade Winds, and a reduction in winter and spring rainfall over much of eastern and northern Australia.

Sustained positive SOI values of greater than +7 are typical of a La Niña occurrences. They are associated with stronger Pacific Trade Winds and warmer sea temperatures to the north of Australia. Waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become cooler during this time. Together these usually give an increased probability that eastern and northern Australia will be wetter than normal.

Graph showing that at the beginning of spring 2021 the Southern Oscillation Index is heading back to neutral territory.

The SOI took a dramatic dive into neutral territory over August as pessure patterns around the equator were behaving like La Niña, but are returning to normal resulting in the SOI heading back to neutral territory (refer to the 30-day moving SOI graph for 8 September on the left). Latest 30 Day Moving SOI map

Southern Annular Mode

The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) can influence rainfall and temperature in parts of Australia. It is a shorter term climate driver and relates to the (non-seasonal) north-south movement of the strong westerly winds that blow almost continuously in the mid- to high- latitudes of the southern hemisphere. This belt of westerly winds is also associated with storms and cold fronts that move from west to east, bringing rainfall to southern Australia including Victoria.

Whilst summer and winter are the two times that SAM are important for delivery of rain, it can have a lower influence on rainfall events during spring and also autumn.

At the start of the second week of spring, the SAM is currently still positive and is forecast to stay this way for the next fortnight at least (refer below to the SAM graph for 8 September).

Graph showing that at the start of the second week of spring 2021, the Southern Annular Mode is positive.

A positive SAM typically acts to decrease rainfall over south-west and south east Australia and increased rainfall over parts of eastern Australia during winter. Latest SAM graph showing observed and GFS forecasts 

The Sub-Tropical Ridge

Over August essentially the Sub Tropical Ridge of High Pressure (STR) remained at a more northern position to normal, which would usually be the Great Australian Bight. This would normally have allowed more frontal systems through.

A sea level pressure anomaly 30 day mean seal level air pressure map as it relates to weather influences over Australia for the time period of 27 July to 25 Aug 2021.

The positioning of the high pressure over NSW was not giving good access to tropical moisture, a feature that becomes more important in spring. Refer to bright red line marked across the middle of Australia as shown on the left in the 30 day mean sea level pressure map for 27 July to 25 August. In spring the normal position of the ridge would be centred at Adelaide.

Latest 30 day mean sea level pressure map

The drier result over August was mainly due to higher pressure forming over Australia and chasing the rain triggers away from northern Victoria; as indicated by the grey horizontal squigly lines in the 30 day Anamoly Air Pressure map for 2 to 31 August on the right. 

Latest air pressure anomoly map

30 day Air Pressure Anomaly Map as it relates to weather influences over Australia for the time period of 2nd to the 31st of August 2021.

In a juxtaposition the pressure ridge was further north of its winter position at the top of the Bight and allowing plenty of fronts through south of the Divide (indicated by the blue squiggly arrows in the map below), but the overall position of the high was blocking moisture transport from the north. One can only hope to see the ridge lower over this spring as that drags the tropics and their moisture closer to Victoria.

Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions for Victoria from August 2021 run models

The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria over the coming spring months (September, October and November), shows likely wetter rainfall and no clear signal for temperature conditions. Rainfall predictions for the summer (December 2021, January and February 2022) are a mixture of neutral/slightly wetter for seven of the twelve models and again no clear signal for temperature, but this is very much ‘crystal ball gazing’ as climate drivers will begin to reset over this period.

Larger resolution version of the latest Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions for Victoria

For more details on how to interpret this table below, visit the Fast Break team’s new e-learn module

A table of twelve modelled climate and ocean predictions for Victorian from August 2021 run models.  It covers the 6 months from August 2021 until February 2022 inclusive.
Farmers managing seasonal risk successfully - September 2021 farmer case studies

Maria Rose, Dairy Extension Officer, Agriculture Victoria 

In this edition of Milking the Weather we catch up once again with Kevin Fitzsimmons from Merrigum in the Northern Irrigation Region (left), Chris Nixon from Orbost  in East Gipplsand (middle), and Hans van Wees from Tinamba in the Macalister Irrigation District in Central Gippsland (right). 

Collage of photos of the three farmers. From left to right - Kevin Fitzsimmons, Craig Dwyer and Brett Findlay.

We will find out

  • how the previous season(s) have turned out for them (i.e. Kevin’s winter 2021, Chris and Hans’s autumn and winter 2021)
  • what key risk management strategies they have planned this spring
  • about their anticipated risk level and related mitigation strategies beyond this spring.
Kevin Fitzsimmons, Merrigum, Northern Irrigation Region

Last time when we spoke in early June, Kevin was confident given they received a 100 per cent water allocation and as such only needed to buy-in 300 ML to get them comfortably through the whole of the 2020–21 irrigation season. Their first full season with their newly-installed pipe and riser irrigation system was proving its worth. They planned to increase herd numbers from 280 to 350 at the start of the new milking season. Back in cruise mode (normal), workload wise Kevin and Faye were looking forward to a well-earned break away from the farm. This time in early September: Kevin had the following to say:

A wet and soggy winter
When I spoke with you last, we were planning on a wetter winter, because that’s what was being forecast at the time. We didn’t get a lot of rain in one go but it was just continually wet nearly every day. We received between two to 10 millimetres of rain each time, which just kept everything soggy and saturated.I couldn’t get cows onto the newer pastures because that would have just made a huge mess, so I just had to be patient.

All the bought-in vetch hay was fed on the feed pad. We still fed out in the paddock but nowhere near as much as we would have in a normal or drier winter. We did quick rotational grazings around our older pastures, feeding out our round bale and silage on those paddocks.

In doing that we protected our annual pastures of shaftel and rye on our new pastures, which the milkers have now been grazing since the last two weeks of winter as the paddocks have started to dry out.

Managing tracks in the prolonged wet
The biggest hassle in dealing with these very wet conditions was the management of the tracks. Even though we’d upgraded them before spring, they just didn’t get a chance to dry out at any stage. The stones start poking through when you lose that top, hard cover.

Early in the season, we had a lot of oaten hay of lesser quality that we needed to use up, so used about 12 of those rolls, spreading them out along a lot of the tracks, creating a cushioned surface for the herd. That made a huge difference as cows could walk without stones poking through.

Minimal antibiotics required
Initially we had a lot of cows with bruised feet. Luckily, only a couple of cows required treatment with antibiotics, but we did have to treat a lot with anti-inflammatories (obviously we could still put that milk into the vat). We kept around a dozen milkers closer to the dairy shed so they didn’t have to walk as much.

Minimising hoof damage
With hay on the tracks, to minimise hoof damage, it still created ruts in those very wet conditions, but once they were packed down they started to dry out. Our plan then was to run the multi discs over them and grade them to smooth them out (which we did yesterday as they had dried out enough) and they’re now back in working order again.

Favourable water security
We are in a pretty strong position water security wise at the very start of spring, with 71 per cent of our high security water right allocation and carrying over 230 MLs from last irrigation season. If we get 100 per cent of water right, I’d be looking to top that up with about 300 ML, as we normally use about 800 ML annually.

The forecast for spring is for a wetter than average one through to the end of November. So hopefully we won’t be rushing into any irrigating soon. I’ve got my fingers crossed for the predicted 20 to 30 mm rainfall forecast tomorrow (3 Sept.) to occur as the pastures have dried out pretty quickly over the last couple of weeks.

Additionally, in our favour is the current market price for water at around $100 per ML. Compared to what we have paid for it over the last several years, that’s pretty good. So overall, I am pretty confident we will get through this spring easily and obviously with the new irrigation system it will be more efficient, so hopefully the water will go further as well.

Fantastic cereal crops
Of the 3000 rolls of hay harvested last year, we’ve still got around 1000 left. We bought vetch on top of that, so we have plenty of hay on hand currently. The cereal crops we’ve got in this year, are looking fantastic – so we’re going to make plenty of hay this year, probably even more than last year, and certainly better quality. These cereal crops are a mix of wheat and vetch, oats and vetch and straight oats. Then we’ll obviously do our annuals of shaftel and other clover crops on top of that. 

Flexibility with milking herd numbers
We are currently milking around 270 cows as we sold about a dozen off in the last three months; mostly for not being in-calf as we didn’t want to carry them through the wet winter unnecessarily, especially given current cattle sale prices.

So probably come next autumn if things pan out, we’ve got the numbers there for around 340 milkers overall for the year. That’s with the ones calving next autumn. So, we’ll just see how that goes, pasture management and season wise. One thing we’ve learnt over the last few years is to be pretty flexible with our milking numbers. One thing we’ve learnt over the last few years is to be pretty flexible with our milking numbers. 

Best quality pasture ever
The oversowing of pastures in both the new and some of the older ones last autumn has worked well. We just finished grazing our new pastures and we plan to put urea on that tomorrow (3 September).

With the predicted imminent rain, I am pretty confident that we are going to grow a lot of high-quality feed over spring. We are pretty flush with the amount of feed we’ve got at the moment. We’ve been able to grow some pretty good quality feed because we have been able to get the water on and off the paddocks quickly with the new irrigation system.

Our current paddock feed is probably the best quality I’ve ever seen in all the years I’ve been growing pasture. I put that down to managing it pretty well in regard to grazing and fertiliser application, but also to the pipe and riser irrigation system that we have got in place now. 

Young stock going well
Our young stock have got plenty of grass and hay to eat and they’ve all had their regular drenches, so they’re tracking pretty well.

Spring floods not out of the question
We are in a comfortable position at the moment for the start of this spring. Obviously, the pastures are still firing up and we’ve got plenty of feed ahead of us. It’s just about managing and seeing what the weather does for the next few months and then we are into hay making.

Obviously one of the risks is, when weather forecasters say, “wetter than average” and they are currently talking about flood warnings over in the east, it could be a similar situation for us. It’s happened before – we’ve had floods here in spring before. That’s one of the major risks for us. It’s hypothetical at this stage, but it’s something that’s always in that back of our minds that it can happen. 

I keep an eye on the long-term weather forecasts pretty closely. Listening to Anthony Watkins (head of operational climate services at the BOM) the other day, he was saying they are planning for a wetter spring. So, I am keeping my fingers crossed that it is going to happen, and I won’t be having to rush in to irrigate but at the same time I’m hoping that we don’t have to endure spring flood conditions as the possible alternative.

Sexed semen proving worthwhile
The only culling we’ve done in the last three months is with cows that haven’t been in calf. Because of the wetter winter, we’ve just tried to cut back on our numbers where we needed to. We are currently milking just over 270 cows and we’ve got 40 cows left of the spring calving group to calve down. Most of them are joined to sexed semen.

We’ve had six bulls and got close to 60 heifer calves at the moment in this last lot and we really only need to keep 30 of the calves from this final group of calvers. We could sell off the 40 excess calves now, but we’ll wait and pick out the 40 to sell after the last cow has calved.

It’s been good using sexed semen as we haven’t had to worry much about bull calves. Also, it’s given us another income stream option with the way the prices are going ($1000 for heifer calves just a couple of weeks old) which pays for the premium cost on sexed semen well and truly!

Chris Nixon, Orbost, East Gippsland

When I last spoke with Chris six months ago in early March 2021, the cows’ grazing rotation had been slowed to 30 days to mitigate the risk of a potential dry autumn. Preparation for annual or permanent pasture, as part of a program to reduce kikuyu dominance, had begun. Selling any culled cows sooner rather than later was a priority while prices remained high. With hay sheds full and just having finished a bumper silage making season, seasonal risk for the next six months was covered. Now six months later at the start of the second week of September, Chis said:

Autumn milk production up
With 540 mm of rain received last autumn (2021) our milk production was up about 20 per cent overall on the previous year. This was despite having to dry off the main herd early.

Gains from early dry off
The reason why we dried off early was because it got so wet through May to the point that our pasture rotation was shot. Two thirds of the dairy river flats were under water and we’d lost all of the feed wedge we had accumulated since the start of the autumn. Of the milking herd of 481 cows, 368 pregnant cows were dried off in the third week of May because it was so wet.

Normally, that wouldn’t have happened until the middle of June. The benefit however was that it gave us a long dry period for the main milking herd whilst 115 carryovers were milked through winter, which included 40 autumn calvers.

A dry July in a wet winter
We had a very wet June and August and quite dry over most of July, which was lucky as we managed to rebuild a feed wedge over winter despite a lot of prolonged waterlogging. Due to very little rain over July, we actually had to pump water from the river to the dairy for washing and cleaning of milking equipment. This felt odd, as at the same time our river flats were under water.

Minimal milk fever and downer cows
At the start of this year’s calving period, we had 511 cows in total to calve down. Of those, 155 were heifers and 356 were cows. The heifers started calving around 6 July and the cows two weeks later.

Currently (end of first week of September) we have 50 of the main milking herd left to calve, five of those being heifers. When they’re done, we will be milking about 540 over spring which includes the 40 autumn calvers. The 70 or so, carryover cows will be dried off and sold in the next few weeks, most likely.

Milk production has been very good. We are currently doing 30 litres per cow on average.  But as you can imagine calving that many cows down in the last six weeks has been mayhem. Despite the chaos, calving went really well for us with minimal milk fever and very few downer cows.

Trialing sexed semen
Our heifers are artificially inseminated (AI) with dairy bull semen which we select based on ease of calving. In one of the AI rounds last mating season of 2020, one of the “easy calving bulls” as it turned out was not so easy calving, so we had a bit of trouble with some of the heifers at their calving time. The upshot of this experience is that this AI season we are going to use frozen sexed semen on our heifers and give that a go to try and get away from those calving troubles we had this current calving time.

Thank god for the feedpad
As a result of the early flood conditions, half of the river flats were under water, all winter. Since the end of July 2021, we’ve had over 200 mm of rain which includes the most recent 90 mm falling this last weekend (3 – 5 September). Just as the river flats were starting to dry out the feed wedge that we had started to build back up is now under pressure once again due to this latest inundation. We’d be in a hell of a mess without the feed pad. Thank god for the pad!

Minimal pugging issues
Regarding pugging issues, because we’ve been using the feed pad a lot, we’ve managed to keep the cattle out of the potential problematic paddocks. We had a couple of issues with pugging early on around the end of May and early June this year.

However, as we are keeping the herd on the feed pad longer than we normally would, which could be at least until mid to late September, pugging issues were and are still being kept to a minimum.

High culling rates bring rewards
We are into our second year of having heifers as part of our very tight calving pattern regime. Like I said earlier, here we are six weeks into calving and we’ve only got 50 cows of the total 510 cows to calve. Only five of those are heifers.

The advantage of our high culling rate based on fertility, mastitis (three strikes and they’re out) and lameness, is that we are getting this tight calving pattern due to removal of the less productive cows. An added bonus is that our BMCC these days is running between 60,000 to 80,000 which is pretty low and our associated antibiotic use has dropped dramatically.

Prolonged wet increases feet issues
We’ve had a bit of trouble with feet issues including lameness over the last four months especially because of the prolonged wet conditions keeping the cows’ feet soft. Around ten per cent of the herd have been affected since late May 2021. We treat only the very lame ones with short acting penicillin, luckily that has been a practice we can keep to a bare minimum. At the moment there is not much else we can do as it is difficult to get on top of the lameness issues when the laneways are so wet long term because of continual inundation and waterlogging.

Sowing of annuals delayed
Due of the latest flooding event last weekend on our swamp country and lower river flats, it will be six to eight weeks from now (being the 6 September) before we can get on it to sow anything.

As a result of prolonged water inundation, our strategy has changed from the usual oversowing of annuals in the autumn to now sowing a mixed species of summer crop. This will include millet, sorghum, turnips, chicory, lucerne, and shaftel clover all in the same mix.

Strong feed position
Our feed position is quite strong at the end of the first week of spring. We have only used half of our cereal hay that we made last summer. We still have lots of grass and maize silage also from last year (2021). We will have our normal 30 hectares of maize for silage on the turn out block (which is on high country) this coming harvest season, so I am in a good position if it’s going to be a difficult year for making silage.

Making the most of high cattle prices
I haven’t sold any chopper cows in the last three months. I’m keeping them on my turn out block to clean them up a bit and make them look nice and presentable to sell in a few weeks for potentially an even better price than it is now. We will be making sure that we are not joining any carry over cows, so those 70 or so in number, will be definitely sold by the end of the current spring.

Further flooding risks
Our biggest risk this spring and possibly summer as well, is ongoing flooding over our lower river flats. Once the temperature of water laying on pasture is above 15 degrees Celsius it kills off all the grass underneath it. As a result, the grass essentially bakes into a smelly mess. We don’t exactly know when we will be able to get onto this country and the later it is, the harder it is to get something productive out of sowing crops etc.

Trifecta of the half century
The trifecta situation of the strong milk price, high cattle prices and a great growing season is a monumental upside to our current waterlogging issues. It is highly unusual for all three to be so strong all at the same time. I’ve never seen in it in my lifetime.

Long-term weather forecasters are predicting that we can expect good rain events right up until Christmas time. Even if our pastures get baked as I talked about earlier, I am not really worried given both milk and cattle prices are currently strong. We should be making the most of that while we can!

Hans van Wees, Tinamba, Macalister Irrigation District

When I last spoke with Hans six months ago in early March 2021, almond hulls were once again an economical milker feed option and water security was favourable. Given pastures were getting pretty dry, priority was on doing the sums to work out what the most financially viable water and bought-in fodder options were to best manage the autumn ahead. This time at the start of spring 2021, Hans commented:

A dry start to autumn
Autumn was very dry to start with and we were getting worried that water security might be an issue. But then it was perfect after that as it rained with adequate and timely rain events from early April onwards. The overall result was a pretty good autumn, rainfall wise, so we didn’t have to buy any extra temporary water as our low reliability water allocation was increased. We bought almond hulls at $140/tonne and we bought some oaten hay for the dry cows and springers to ensure we had adequate supplementary feed throughout autumn.

Very wet winter
Winter was very wet, particularly at the start with the one event on 14 June when we received 140 mm of rain, which made conditions extremely wet.

As the welfare of our cattle is our first priority, we dried the whole herd off over the next three days. Normally we would dry the herd off in batches with the last one dried off by the end of June. Essentially the whole herd got an extra two weeks added to their drying off period. 

No lame cows or destroyed laneways
The outcome of that decision to dry off early and quickly was that an estimated $70,000 of milk income loss but we had no destroyed laneways and no lame cows and we saved wear and tear on their feet and body condition.

Also, last season’s milkers are in very good condition (body score wise) from the longer dry spell, so we might get a milk production benefit this season.

Agistment assists to minimise pugging
We had a little bit of pugging damage over winter – but nothing too serious. To reduce damage to dairy pastures, we agisted 200 cows, which was around 20 per cent of the milking herd,  away from the property for six weeks. Those cows were back on the property on the 22 July when most pastures had dried out adequately.

Anticipating a low risk spring
Our current fodder on hand now, coming through winter is adequate to comfortably manage this spring and also summer given the long-term rain. I anticipate a low-risk spring overall especially given the 70 mm of rain we received this weekend just gone (3 – 5 September).

This most recent rain event did make pastures quite damp but we were able to keep pugging issues minimal by offering larger paddock areas for grazing. If we do, however, get severe flood events over the rest of spring and even in summer (which is not impossible) then we might have to purchase some additional hay to cope with that.

Managing the season ahead – spring 2021

David Shambrook, Agriculture Victoria Dairy Services, Leongatha


  • The Bureau of Meteorology forecast for spring, issued on the 2 September, suggests that spring (September to November) rainfall is likely to be above average for Victoria. The day and night temperatures are predicted to be warmer than average. The negative Indian Ocean Dipole is forecast to continue for spring, and large parts of the eastern tropical Indian ocean are warmer than average.  This can favour above average rainfall for parts of Australia. The prediction of above average rainfall may pose some issues for those that already have wet soils coming out of winter.
  • Similar to last year, much of the state’s winter rainfall was either average or slightly below.  Parts of East Gippsland have again received some good rain in the past few weeks to fill the soil profile.  So now most soils have good moisture levels going into spring. Those with drier soil profiles will need to keep getting rain for growth to occur, but most areas may need to manage grazing, so pastures are not damaged by pugging if it does get too wet. 
  • Grain availability is good but prices have risen over recent months and are higher than this time last year. In south-east Australia, the expected grain harvest is tracking along well and if one or two good rain events occur over September then average to above average yields may be achieved. Some cheaper lucerne hay is available in the South West but buying non-rain-affected vetch hay appears to be better value for a high protein type hay. 
  • Some areas like parts of Gippsland and South West Victoria have had to use more of their stored fodder reserves to help reduce the damage to pastures over winter as animals had to be kept away from waterlogged soils.
  • Gippsland irrigators are facing a good start to the irrigation season with Lake Glenmaggie already at 96 per cent capacity and high reliability water shares at 100 per cent. There is a high chance that with some more good rain events, some spill water may become available too.
  • Northern Victorian irrigation storages look promising with good soil moisture in the catchments of both the Murray and Goulburn systems, leading to good inflows into the main storages. As such, the prediction of above average spring rain may lead to an increased risk of spill, in particular the Hume.
  • The high levels of moisture in the soil coming into spring will assist with overland flow and runoff into on farm storages with large rain events. Consequently, most on-farm storages should be at or near full by the end of spring, if the expected higher rainfall occurs.
  • A strong milk price combined with a promising start to this spring should see milk production improve on last year provided it doesn’t get too wet. Cash flows should also remain at or near last year’s levels.
A herd of dairy cows grazing spring pasture.

Factors favoring an average spring
The current forecast favors good spring pasture production with high soil moisture availability, predicted above average rainfall, and warmer days and nights. However, in some areas with already wet soils in parts of Gippsland and the South West, waterlogging may reduce pasture growth. Those with ideal soil moisture conditions now will be planning to make the most of the expected rainfall.

Fertiliser application
Reports of high fertiliser prices and difficulty in getting products like DAP and MAP are making it even more critical to make sure you get the best response from what you are able to apply. 
Also, soil moisture levels throughout much of the dairying areas of Victoria, at the end of winter, are mostly at or above those levels we saw the same time last year. This is the result of some significant rain events we have had over winter. 

Some farmers have resorted to aerial application of fertilisers in order to avoid damaging paddocks with machinery and to generate more pasture growth. Obviously this strategy increases the cost of any pasture response you are able to get. So, what sort of nitrogen response can be achieved? 

Nitrogen fertiliser could be used to generate some quick growth, particularly for silage making. The cheapest source being Urea at around $900 per tonne (ex GST, spreading and freight) or $1.96 per kg N.

The expected spring pasture responses from applying nitrogen fertiliser varies between 15 to 25 kg DM per kg N. Even if you allow for wastage when being grazed, this produces pasture costing around 10 c/kg DM, which is still very competitive compared to buying-in extra fodder or grain.

Given that, and responses to any applied nitrogen is dependent on moisture, temperature, and the amount of existing pasture, a tool on the VRO website has been produced to assist with assessing the economics of the responses you may get.

VRO Dairy Nitrogen Fertiliser Tool

Pasture and crop management – preparation/management?
Spring is normally a time when pastures can get out of control if they are not kept leafy and are not constantly grazed to four to six cm post graze levels. This usually requires judgement as to when some paddocks can be dropped out ready for silage making and later on, hay making. This will become tricky this year for many, as pugged and flooded paddocks may have reduced productivity and will push out the time that pasture growth exceeds stock requirements on the farm.

Care also needs to be taken when making silage from pugged paddocks, in order to avoid getting soil into the silage and contaminating it, leading to it being poorly fermented. This may mean leaving higher residuals during the mowing process.
Some will choose to use nitrogen to boost paddocks in order to bring forward the time of surplus pasture. If not, then the chances of making large amounts of silage and or hay may be reduced.

Alternatively, some may decide to renovate badly damaged paddocks by growing summer fodder crops to try and fill the feed gap before re-sowing in autumn. This opportunity may only be when the soils have dried sufficiently to allow machinery in to prepare the ground for the crop. Leading to late sowing options like millet or sorghum being the most suited to this situation.

In areas where the soil moisture is still high, it will be important to monitor the weather and modify grazing management to help reduce the incidence of pugging damage during rain events or waterlogged conditions. The use of on/off grazing, feed pads and supplementary feeding may also assist in managing this.

Agriculture Vicotria wet soil management information

Those areas where damage has already been done may require renovating through either rolling, over-sowing or being sown down to a crop.

It is important to be prepared early, so as not to miss the small window of opportunity when conditions are suitable for the renovation to be done.

Continue to identify which areas are the wettest and avoid grazing them where possible or for a short time only to reduce damage. 

Fodder and grain
With cereal grain selling from around $255 to $370 per tonne as fed (depending on locality and grain type), it would be wise to do some homework in sourcing your supply if you think your fodder storages are not going to cover your feed requirements through spring.

Barley grain is currently the cheapest which contains about 10 per cent moisture, so at $280 per tonne fresh weight, this equates to $311 per tonne of dry matter. Barley grain is about 12.0 MJ ME (of energy) or 2.6 c/MJ ME. With average quality silage being about 10.5 MJ ME (of energy) or valued at around 2.7 c/MJ ME, it is about break even with silage. It may be better to feed some grain, as the quality of some of the silage last year was lower. If you are worried about energy in the diet then there is still some maize grain, at around $340 per tonne or 37.8 c/kg DM, for 13.5 MJ ME (energy). This grain is more slowly digested than wheat and costs around 2.8 c/MJ ME.

Keep track of grain and fodder prices by referring to the Dairy Australia regular hay and grain reports. Dairy Australia industry grains report.

Lucerne hay is still expensive in Gippsland so many have turned to non-rain-affected vetch hay as an alternative for higher protein hays at around $290 per tonne. If energy and fibre are the main concern then cereal and pasture hays from $110 to 200 per tonne, depending on the type and location, are a good option.

If fibre and energy are the main requirement for stock, then these are well within reach to buy. There are three things to highlight here:

  • Firstly, it is most important to do your own calculations for your situation on a ‘feed consumed’ basis.
  • Secondly, is there still feed on hand? Will you need to fill a feed gap with grain or fodder or use nitrogen to make up for lost pasture production due to the wet conditions? What is the wastage for each option and the costs involved?
  • Thirdly, what are the amounts of fodder required to get through next summer to end of winter period? How much will I be able to make on-farm and how much may need to be bought-in?

Monitor pasture pests?
The prediction of a wetter and warmer spring could see pasture pests (e.g. red-legged earth mite, lucerne flea) continue to feed and do damage to pastures, especially if they are already present in pastures. Areas where pugged pastures are already a concern, any further loss of productivity through pest damage needs to be promptly responded to avoid the need for more feed having to be bought-in.

Watch for damage to any newly sown pasture areas as well. If pest damage is significant, then prompt control is required.

Dairy Australia pasture pests information

The rain through winter and early spring has continued to provide good inflows to the northern Victorian water storages. This has allowed the Goulburn system to currently have an allocation of 71 per cent of high reliability water shares and the Murray system, 57 per cent. This is higher than the same time last year and also with some soil moisture in the ground already. The Macalister system has 100 per cent high reliability allocated and with a similar levels of soil moisture already present.  

The prediction of better than average rainfall over spring should help with more inflows and increases the likelihood of spill water being available for the Macalister Irrigation District and higher water allocations in Northern Victoria. The need to irrigate in early spring will also be reduced. Website for availability of water for irrigation in Northern Victoria 

In southern Victoria, the availability of irrigation water is managed by Southern Rural Water.  Southern Rural Water Website

Plans for irrigation water requirements for the coming irrigation season should be considered and temporary water purchases budgeted for.

Stock and dairy shed water supply for non-irrigated farms
The rain through winter again saw some large rain events lead to many full or near full on farm water storages.  In fact, the large rain events have actually led to some dam bank and spillway damage  which will need to be repaired when the opportunity arises in late spring or summer. 

The prospect of even more rain through spring may also place more pressure on dams where they are already full and large quantities of water will need to spill over. Regular monitoring of the integrity of dam walls and the spillways will need to be carried out.

There should be no concerns for water shortages at this stage unless there are dam wall failures and lost capacity for water storage results.

Agriculture Victoria farm dam information

Victorian Dairying Areas Seasonal Soil Moisture Condition Assessment – winter review and spring update 2021

David Shambrook and Michele Jolliffe, Dairy Extensions Officers, Agriculture Victoria

Agriculture Victoria’s network of soil moisture probe sites that sit on a range of soil and pasture types across Victoria in dryland sites has expanded over the last seven years to over 30 in total. They greatly assist with making early decisions related to crop and pasture management decisions in the cropping, meat and wool grazing, and dairying industries. In spring 2017, three monitoring sites were established on dryland dairy farms in Jancourt (South West), Longwarry (West Gippsland) and Jack River near Yarram (South Gippsland). More recently four new dairy sites have been installed and are yet to be validated, at Koorooman and Foster in South Gippsland, Terang and Bessiebelle in the South West.

A monthly analysis of all monitoring sites is produced by Agriculture Victoria. It is available as an e-newsletter

Live interactive Soil Moisture Monitoring Dashboard 

Solar powered soil moisture monitoring site at Yarram Victoria.

In this update we feature a detailed update of the key recent soil moisture level observations from winter 2021 and relevant future insights for this spring for the Longwarry site with probes in a chicory and a perennial ryegrass paddock. A summary of key soil moisture trends for the perennial pasture paddock at Jancourt in South West Victoria is also be provided.

Longwarry Chicory and Longwarry Chicory and Longwarry perennial pasture, West Gippsland 

Soil Type: Brown Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam

The soil moisture levels in both Longwarry pasture types rose to 100 per cent after significant rainfall in early June, which delivered over 70 mm of rain. Consistent rain since then combined with the cooler winter weather has seen moisture remain at this level. Overall moisture is the same as this time last year which could cause issues with pugging if the predicted wetter spring forecast eventuates. Waterlogged soils also mean that pasture growth could be held back so it will be hoped that warm sunny days may assist with promoting growth between rain events.

Current and overall soil moisture (10 to 80 centimetres) data for the individual Longwarry perennial ryegrass mix pasture probe site as shown below.

Moisture Speedo for perennial ryegrass mix pasture probe (6 September 2021)

Moisture Speedo for perennial ryegrass mix pasture probe (6 September 2021)
Speedo graph for Longwarry perennial ryegrass mix pasture probe site.  Also showing current soil temperature and per cent moisture at 10 cm depth readings.
Graph showing last 12 month trend of soil moisture for every 10 cm from 0 to 80 cm for the Longwarry perennial pasture mix probe site.

Moisture Speedo for chicory probe (6 September 2021)

Moisture Speedo for chicory probe (6 September 2021)

For current and overall soil moisture (10 to 80 centimetres) data as shown above for the individual Longwarry chicory probe site, click here

Jancourt perennial ryegrass pasture, South West Victoria summary

Soil Type: Grey Dermosol Soil Texture: Clay Loam

A winter rainfall total of 298 mm, has seen a saturated soil profile from early June through to late August. Whilst it has been of benefit for farm dams, with most full across the region, many farmers have had a challenging winter, managing pasture allocations. Many farmers implemented on-off grazing strategies, used nitrogen strategically on areas that were not waterlogged, and used feedpads to minimise the pugging damage. Looking forward, the wet and cold soil will hold back spring pasture growth for some time yet until there is more warmth.

Moisture Speedo for Jancourt perennial pasture probe (6 September 2021)

Moisture Speedo for Jancourt perennial pasture probe (6 September 2021)

For current and overall, soil moisture (10 to 80 centimetres) data, as shown above, for the individual Jancourt pasture site in Agriculutre Victoria’s Agriculutre Victoria’s soil moisture monitoring dashboard click here

AgVic Talk podcasts featuring case study farmer Hans van Wees

Agriculture Victoria's podcast series AgVic talk is in its second run, continuing to deliver knowledge and information in a format that suits the way farmers and agricultural professionals work and live today. Eight episodes have already been aired in this current podcast series. Hans van Wees, featured in this edition of Milking the Weather is the final one our five current case study farmers to be interviewed for AgVic Talk. In an upcoming episode, Hans shares his insight on dairy share farming, drawing on his unique and positive experience with the one owner, Jakob Malmo, since 2007. You can listen to his story soon here 

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