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Milking the Weather – Seasonal and climate risk information for the dairy industry
Volume 13, Issue 2: Winter 2022
Welcome to our newsletter for winter 2022
In this edition:

1. Victorian seasonal climate summary (autumn) and outlook (winter 2022)

2. Farmers managing seasonal risk successfully – June 2022 farmer case studies

3. Managing the season ahead season – winter 2022

4. Victorian Dairying Areas Seasonal Soil Moisture Condition Assessment – autumn review and winter update 2022

5. Receiving Milking the Weather e-newsletter

Adapted from: (click on the three links below)

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM)

The Fast Break Newsletter (Vol 17: Issue 5 – 26 May 2022)

The Very Fast Break Victoria (8 June 2022)

Victorian seasonal climate summary (last autumn) and outlook (this winter) 2022
In a nutshell
  • Autumn was mostly wetter than average for large areas in the state's north and east, but drier than average in much of Victoria's south-west.
  • The ENSO Outlook remains at LA NIÑA as the event continues to slowly weaken.
  • The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) or Antarctic Oscillation (AAO) spent May mainly weakly positive and is now currently at neutral position.
  • The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remains at La Niña levels, but trade wind strength weakened over May compared to earlier in the year.
  • The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria, shows likely wetter rainfall and a split between neutral or likely warmer temperatures for the current winter months of June, July and August. Refer to the table at the end of this climate summary and outlook article.
Rainfall, temperature and soil moisture summaries and outlooks

Featured in this section is last autumn’s (2022) round up of Victorian rainfall, temperature and soil moisture data and some key outlook comments for this winter.

Autumn was mostly wetter than average for large areas in the state's north and east, but drier than average in much of Victoria's south-west. On closer inspection, the Victorian rainfall deciles for the autumn 2022 map below shows that rainfall ranged from very much above average (decile 10) in the north-western part of the state and sections of far east Gippsland to below average (decile 2–3) with a small area very much below average (decile 1) between Casterton and Ballarat, in the south-west.

Map showing Victorian rainfall deciles for summer 2021-22

Dairy areas over in the south-west of the state had mostly below average (decile 2–3) to average (decile 4–7) autumn rainfall. In the north of the state, it was mostly above average (decile 8–9) around the Northern Irrigation Region (NIR) and average (decile 4–7) on north-east dairying areas. Over in Gippsland rainfall was mostly above average (decile 8–9) in the dairying areas of Macalister Irrigation District (MID) in Central Gippsland and around Bairnsdale and Orbost in East Gippsland. Dairying areas in south and west Gippsland had mostly below average (decile 2–3) to average (decile 4–7) autumn rain.

Latest seasonal rainfall decile maps 

Latest seasonal rainfall total maps  

Soil Moisture
The BOM AWRA modelled soil moisture for pasture deciles currently indicates that the north-west, north central Victoria and Central Gippsland are ranked wetter from decile eight to ten. Dairying areas in south-west Victoria and West Gippsland are ranked drier at decile one to three. Comparing this with the Agriculture Victoria, Perennial Pasture Systems, Riverine Plains, Dookie Land Management and Wallup Ag groups soil probe network, a number of northern paddocks have full soil moisture, and others are getting close to capacity.

Some of the previously drier probes both in the south-west of the state and in West Gippsland (including those located on dairying properties at Jancourt in the south-west and at Yarram and Longwarry in Gippsland) made significant increases. For an update on these dairy properties, featuring the key recent soil moisture level observations and insights for winter at Yarram and a summary of key soil moisture trends for the Jancourt site in South-West Victoria and the Longwarry site in Gippsland, refer to the soil moisture assessment article which appears later in this newsletter.

Victoria Map displaying root zone soil moisture for 6 June 2022

Latest Victorian soil moisture map

Maximum temperatures
As shown in the map of Victoria below, daytime temperatures over autumn overall, were average (decile 4–7) over most of the state and warmer than average (decile 8–9) in much of southern Victoria and in the state's north-west.

Maximum temperature decile map of Victoria for autumn 2022

Taking a closer look over the individual autumn months for the state’s major dairying areas, daytime temperatures in the first month of autumn (March) were average (decile 3–7) for all major dairying areas except for parts of south and west Gippsland. In April, dairying areas in most of south and west Gippsland and the south-west had above average maximum temperatures (decile 8–9). All major dairying areas (south-west, north-east, northern irrigation region and Gippsland (which consists of the MID plus central, south, west and east Gippsland) experienced average (decile 4–7) daytime temperatures over May.

Individual maps of Victoria showing maximum temperature deciles for the months of December 2021, January 2022 and February 2022and August 2021.

Minimum temperatures
The map below highlights that autumn night-time temperatures were very much above average (decile 10) for the whole of Victoria.

Map of Victoria showing minimum temperature deciles for December 2021 January and February 2022.

At a monthly level, minimum temperatures were very much above average (decile 10) for all of Gippsland dairying areas and most of western Victoria and mostly above average (decile 4–7) in the dairying regions of the northern part of the state in March. All major dairying areas over April, also had very much above average minimum autumn temperatures (decile 10) except for an area between Echuca and Bendigo, where they were the highest on record. In March, over the last month of May, minimum temperatures were mostly average in the southern half of Victoria including dairying areas from the western districts right across to most of Gippsland, except for Bairnsdale and further east. During May, the major dairying areas in the northern half of the state experienced above average (decile 8–9) except for an area around Benalla which had average (decile 4–7) minimum temperatures.

Individual Victorian maps of minimum temperature deciles for March April & May 2022.

Maximum and minimum temperature deciles and other temperature related maps  

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).

In particular in this edition, we focus on how these drivers behaved and influenced rainfall events over the autumn just gone and how they may affect this winter. For the Bureau of Meteorolgy’s latest update on climate drivers, click here

Also, a useful seasonal forecast 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

El Niño–Southern Oscillation

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

The ENSO Outlook remains at LA NIÑA as the event continues to slowly weaken. Tropical sea surface temperatures over the western half of the Pacific Ocean have warmed over the past fortnight and waters under the surface of the tropical Pacific continue to support further surface warming. The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remains at La Niña levels but trade wind strength has weakened over May compared to earlier in the year.

Latest ENSO updates

For more information about La Niña conditions click here, or let Dale Grey, seasonal risk agronomist with Agriculture Victoria, explain it in the La Niña episode of My Rain Gauge is Busted podcast here

Sea surface temperature anomalies
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 characterize IOD events. Looking at the sea surface temperature anomalies, the NINO 3.4 region has warmed recently to be -0.58 degrees Celcius, more neutral than La Niña. The undersea has also warmed, indicating that once again this La Niña could be on the demise (refer to the map below and the position of the blue arrows). In contrast the atmosphere to the north of Australia is still strongly La Niña-like with low pressure and a positive SOI, but the trade winds have been behaving closer to normal over May. The Indian Ocean went into -IOD territory two weeks ago and the Dipole Mode Index is currently -0.39 degrees Celcius just at the threshold of -0.4 degrees Celcius. Stronger westerly trade winds have been blowing into Sumatra, helping to warm up this region. Pressure and cloud patterns in the last week have looked more -IOD-like, but it’s still too early to tell whether this is the real deal. All models surveyed predict a -IOD for this year’s growing season.

Map of the world showing sea surface temperature anomalies on 1 June 2022

Sea surface temperatures are the key to the world’s rainfall. For more information on how they are measured, maps created and how to read them, check out Agriculture Victoria’s eLearn

Latest SST maps  

Latest NINO 3.4 SST Index graphs

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 show a possible shift to El Niño events.

The 30-day Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) remained strongly positive through May. It’s value ending 5 June 2022, was +18.6, whilst the 90-day SOI value was +17.4. The 30-day SOI remains firmly at La Niña levels despite dropping several points compared to the middle of May. The 90-day value also continues to be typical of La Niña. Pressure patterns around the equator are behaving very much like La Niña with much lower pressure at Darwin and slightly higher pressure at Tahiti.

Sustained positive values of the SOI above +7 typically indicate La Niña while sustained negative values below -7 typically indicate El Niño. Values between +7 and -7 generally indicate neutral conditions.

The 30-day Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) for the 30 days ending 5 June 2022 was +18.6.

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 (important for delivery of rain in winter and summer) is also associated with storms and cold fronts that move from west to east, bringing rainfall to southern Australia including Victoria.

The SAM or Antarctic Oscillation (AAO) has spent May mainly weakly positive but with a dip to neutral and one current dip into significant negativity. Currently the SAM is neutral. The effect of SAM is more classical in the winter months, where a negative SAM would push fronts closer, and a positive SAM would pull them away from southern Victoria.

The SAM index is currently positive but is expected to return to neutral values for at least the next two weeks. When SAM is neutral has little influence on Australian rainfall. In the longer-term, SAM is tending slightly positive which could have a drying influence for parts of south-west and south-east Australia during winter.

Graph showing the Southern Annular Mode index values from 6th February to the 6 June 2022

Latest SAM graph showing observed and GFS forecasts 

The Sub-Tropical Ridge
The Sub Tropical Ridge of High Pressure (STR) is a belt of high-pressure systems that circles the southern hemisphere’s midlatitudes (the region of the globe between about 23°S and 66°S). It has a dominant influence on the climate of Australia. During our summer it tends to sit over southern Australia, generally bringing dry weather.

World map depicting sea level pressure (mb) 30-day mean for Saturday 29 January to Sunday 27 February 2022

In the past 30 days, the STR has returned to some more normal behaviour, having moved closer to the Bight. This is allowing the fronts through (refer to map above on the right), particularly in South-West Victoria. For much of May the overall positioning of the high had been blocking rain triggers from crossing the majority of the state (refer to the map above on the left).

Mean Sea Level Pressure Maps

May Air Pressure Anomaly map

The sub-tropical ridge of high pressure over Australia has been lower over most of the mainland and particularly in the tropics making moisture transport easier. Pressure over Victoria has also been lower, indicative of more passing fronts, lows general low-pressure troughs from the tropics. Pressure is higher at Tahiti and lower over Darwin which is why the SOI is positive, indicative of La Niña-like pressure conditions (refer to map on left).

Air Pressure Anomaly maps

Modelled climate and ocean predictions for Victoria from May 2022 run models

The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria, shows likely wetter rainfall and a split between neutral or likely warmer temperatures for the current winter months of June, July and August.

A larger resolution version of the Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions from February 2022 run models for Victoria as appears in the table below, can be found by clicking here.

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

A table of twelve modelled climate and ocean predictions for Victorian from February 2022 run models.

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Farmers managing seasonal risk successfully – June 2022 farmer case studies

Maria Rose, Dairy Extension Officer, Agriculture Victoria 


Out of our six case study farmers, we catch up this time, at the start of winter 2022 with Hans van Wees (left) from the Macalister Irrigation District in Gippsland, Craig Dwyer from Bullaharre in South-West Victoria (middle), and Brett Findlay from Towong Upper in North-East Victoria (right).

This time around from all three we find out about:

  • how the previous season(s) turned out for them. Those being, Hans’s 2021 spring, 2021–22 summer and last autumn, and for both Craig and Brett, their last summer and autumn
  • the key risk management strategies they have planned for this winter
  • their anticipated risk level and related mitigation strategies beyond this winter, and
  • any new relevant projects or plans on the horizon.
Hans van Wees, Tinamba, Macalister Irrigation District, Gippsland

When I last spoke with Hans in early September 2021 at the start of the previous spring, despite having come out of a very wet winter, they had minimal lame cows, destroyed paddocks or laneways. This was due to implementing two key strategies. The first, was drying the whole milking herd off by the end of June 2021, three weeks earlier than usual. Secondly, 20 per cent of the milking herd was agisted off the property for six weeks. Nine months later, in the first week of winter 2022, Hans shared the following remarks.

A prolonged wet spring
Last spring was very wet for us. These conditions persisted right through until middle of November 2021, resulting in a five per cent drop in annual milk production and causing big delays in harvesting. Our supplement oat crops on our support country came off two months late. It was a massive crop but of very poor quality. As we didn’t get our crops off until early December, we didn’t bother doing any summer cropping. We left the support area idle for a month and went straight into re-grassing it at the start of this last autumn just gone.

As a direct result of pasture conditions being very wet over spring, we used very little irrigation water last spring due to the prolonged wet. We couldn’t sell any, as like us nobody needed any which was of no major concern. Consequently, the biggest thing we worried about was another flood.

Recovering from this season’s milk drop
To get the five per cent of milk production loss back, we did nothing additionally. We just fed a small amount of grain (up to three kilograms as a maximum) so as not to change their diet too much over spring. We just ploughed along with what the wet threw at us. This milking season, we should get around the same annual milk production as last year. This is mostly due to drying the whole herd off early last year because of the very wet June and we are not expecting it to be as wet this current June.

Flood front entered from a different direction
As it continued to stay wet, the minor flood conditions we experienced in the middle of November over a fair portion of the farm that had not previously flooded, was the first flood since the SRW irrigation pipeline went in. So, on our property the flood front came in a different way/direction and was a bit slower in running off and subsiding. For future mitigation we did a bit of drainage work a month afterwards in this main area and a couple of other spots where we had never had inundation before.

An unusual summer
The summer was pretty average because of all the rain and pasture damage over spring. We had a lot of weeds come up as it was quite cool and so the growth rate of preferred pasture species was down. We did a bit of spraying of weeds – mostly broad acre spraying a few paddocks. We under sowed about 45 hectares. For us it was unusual as we were surprised how quickly it got very dry, after it had been so wet for a number of months. It was very hard to catch up on irrigations – for some reason the ground didn’t seem to respond like it usually does.

Then we also had to deal with facial eczema. We fed zinc for a while but there was no help from DA or anyone who usually provide reports. We usually get spore count information to guide us on management decisions around controlling facial eczema. However, this last summer we felt we were in the dark. Apparently spore counts were being done but they just weren’t published – not that we saw or heard about anyway, like we usually have for the last seven or so years.

Support country has bounced back
The prolonged wet conditions really knocked our support country around – we had something like 45 hectares of crops that we just couldn’t get off. However, now at the start of June, the support country is great as we managed to sow it all back into grass by the end of February 2022.

There is plenty of good quality grass on the support country which we are grazing off at the moment, at the start of June 2022. We are just waiting for a fencing contractor to finish off a couple of jobs. It really knocked our autumn around because of the quality of the silage was terrible. To rectify this, we fed a bit more grain and a bit of lucerne haylage we had on hand, and then we started feeding out that poorer quality newly made silage towards the end of lactation.

Recouping lost milk production
Over the autumn just gone which went well, we supplementary fed a bit more. We were a lot more aware of the moisture levels in our paddocks which has greatly contributed to recouping a bit of lost milk production; level pegging with last milking year as mentioned earlier. Also, the cows have managed to put on a bit of condition. The under sowing we did (mentioned earlier), successfully fixed most of the pasture damage that was caused over September until the middle of December 2021.

Soil Moisture Probes prove their worth
We put in four soil moisture probes in the last six months to represent what we are confident are the key different soil types over the farm. Therefore, we have paid a bit more attention after subsequent rainfall events on how wet it actually was when cows were going into the next paddock/grazing area. As a direct consequence, we’ve been a bit more conscious about on-farm monitoring of paddock condition. The soil moisture probes showed us that there was so much variation within the farm in how each of the various soil types dry out.

Young stock
The growth rates of young stock are a little bit behind target as there was just too much poor quality grass around. So, we are trying to offer them as much good quality pasture (which we have currently) as they can eat, as luckily now, there is a lot of it around now.

Risk mitigation strategies this winter
For us, the worst-case scenario is a big flood this current winter. It’s always possible particularly given that the ground is still wet and Glenmaggie Wier is still full. To mitigate this possibility, we’ve got our usual flood mitigation strategy planned –  take them off the home place and park them if we have to. Grazing wise we have enough pasture to milk the whole herd through until the end of June, before for our usual seasonal drying off to begin as long as the soil profile doesn’t get too much fuller this month.

In comparison because it was just so wet at the end of the May last year (2021), we dried the whole herd off three weeks earlier because it was too wet. So, here’s hoping, given we are past May 2022 that it doesn’t get too wet before the end of this current June. Although I am reminded that there was an upside to drying them off earlier in terms of much better for their welfare and also our welfare as well as we didn’t have to push cows through mud and the rain. That’s the trade-off between animal welfare and putting body weight on them whilst keeping our sanity. So, if it looks like a repeat of last June in the next week or so. I will not hesitate to dry them off early again.

Employment focus
Business management is mostly as usual especially regarding regular meetings with the farm owner Jakob Malmo and me as the manager doing most of the required physical work associated with that role. Given my recent hip replacement, Jakob has been involved a bit more in physical input for now, but changes are afoot in regard to our employment situation. We are currently focusing on employing a suitable person to take on senior farm management responsibilities so I can take it a little easier (and Jakob can take reprieve from current increased physical duties), because it’s getting harder for me to fulfill all physical responsibilities full time as I am getting older.

So, for us this winter finding a suitable person in that role is a key mitigation strategy that Jakob and I are keen to implement successfully as soon as possible given a new milking season is only a couple of months away. Although it is very hard to find relevant skilled labour at the moment, we are both very confident that the right person is out there.

Risks beyond this winter
Fertiliser and grain prices continuing to be very variable in an upward trajectory, is a key risk for us to deal with now and beyond this winter. Also, we have rising wage costs that have gone up 15 to 20 per cent. But on the plus side, milk prices we receive have also gone up so that certainly helps.

To mitigate these foreseen risks linked to an uncertain economic future, we’ve locked in our grain purchase price until the end of December so we are covered as best we can be for the next six months. After that we’ll see what the market does.

Effluent re-use pays off
Also, fertiliser use wise we have gradually been cutting back a bit on application rate (to ten units of Nitrogen per hectare) but more recently mostly due to a very wet last spring. We will continue to get soil tests done annually on the farm to monitor our ongoing nitrogen application as well as phosphate and potash requirements in line with annual seasonal conditions. We will continue to recirculate effluent over 85 per cent of our farm which we have been doing over the past five years as it makes a hell of a difference through savings costs on buying and applying the equivalent amount of nutrients in relevant commercial feritiliser.

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Craig Dwyer, Bullaharrwe, South-West Victoria

When I last spoke with Craig six months ago, the fodder on hand was considered adequate thanks to the recently built additional hay storage shed. Due to not being able to get onto paddocks late autumn like usual and having to sow summer harvest crops a month later, a shorter growing variety was high on the list. There was no immediate risk weather wise anticipated over summer 2021–22 and a larger oversowing program was planned for the coming autumn. On the first day of winter, Craig had this to say.

Late autumn break with less rain
This year’s autumn break was later than usual and also our overall rainfall was lacking. Our summer crops, therefore, weren’t quite as successful as I’d hoped. We only got two grazings off them and those paddocks were since sown down to oats and an annual rye grass with the intent to provide more feed over this winter just started.

The driest January to May in 21 years
When I checked the BOM rainfall figures this morning for both the previous autumn and summer, I confirmed that from January through to the end of May 2022 it has been as dry as we’ve been for 21 years. As last December wasn’t overly kind to us either, I can safely say that the lack of summer rainfall inhibited our summer crop growth. So essentially what we ended up with was much less than ideal growing conditions for summer crops. And there were many failed crops around the district!

Some success with mid-autumn sowing
The autumn oversowing/renovation program which consisted of sowing paddocks back into perennial grass seed took place in the last week in March and first week in April. We were always planning to plant a short growing variety of Hunter Rape which we did. It wasn’t as successful as we’d have liked – we did get something, but we just didn’t get heaps.

When the oversown pastures struck, they were getting stressed at some point due to moisture. It wasn’t stressed due to bugs or anything like that. It was just the lack of straight up moisture but most of it got through. Out of 180 acres of farm area it was a substantial outlay (around $30,000). I got quite nervous and worried a few times about whether it was going to make it and hang on, but we appeared to have got through.

More reliance on substitute feeds
In terms of where that puts us at the beginning of winter 2022, we do have a grass feed wedge but it’s probably nowhere near where we’d like it to be. This means we are going to be reliant on more substitute feeds (hay and silage or conserved fodder reserves) potentially this current winter and therefore possibly depleted of backup fodder reserves looking forward to next spring if it turns out not to be a fruitful one.

Lack of grass cover this winter
Luckily, I did purchase hay over the previous year (prior to Christmas 2021) just as a preventative insurance measure. This decision looks like it may well pay off, given where hay is going to end up with the south-west’s overall predicament of lack of grass cover this winter. Whilst there is some grass cover now being the first week of winter,when pasture growth starts to become more restricted, it’s just not heaps. This means we could be looking at more conserved fodder required, unless this winter is very kind to us.

Oat and annual ryegrass for early winter feed
We also sowed down some paddocks to oat and annual ryegrass to provide early winter feed, which the freshly calved cows have already grazed once. Also, we’ve just fertilised those oats last week and we are hopefully graze over that again in three to four weeks’ time depending on how cold things get.

Liming of acidic soils required
Results from late January/early February soil sampling indicated that our fertility was pretty reasonable across the farm. However, because of the wet winter, we had a lot of lime leaching so our soils have turned somewhat acidic. So, we’ve limed half the farm and we will lime the other half next autumn. It’s definitely a more targeted use of urea given current pricing.

Skimping on fertiliser not an option
No, we will not be skimping on feritiliser because if you don’t put it out you don’t grow it (the extra) and if you don’t grow it, you don’t get that extra back. We have a good baseline of nutrients on our paddocks overall. There are some certain areas of the farm that only need urea applications which is probably about twenty per cent of the farm, saving us on the need to put out extra fertiliser above maintenance level. Given current climate, that’s what we’ll do – we won’t be mining reserves but maintaining adequate levels.

Effluent gives pasture growth a boost
We put out all our effluent possible in the last week of February this year on about 50 acres and that gave us a good grass wedge coming into the start of April.

The lack of follow up rainfall didn’t boost that growth as much as we would have liked, however. But we are still happy to have grown and utilised that bit of extra feed. We had our liquid effluent sample tested and its equivalent to putting on pasture booster. So, it’s definitely a worthwhile exercise.

Anticipated winter risk
Given we are at the point of regularly finishing calving three weeks earlier (so before winter is likely to get really nasty) and it’s been going well. Now that it’s already cold and wet, with lesser kilograms of dry matter growing per day, it concerns me if we do get an old school (wet) winter like we did last year (2020/21).

Profit margin squeeze
We will definitely be using up some fodder reserves and so that’s my biggest concern moving forward into this winter. It’s not the fact that we won’t be able to feed the cows it’s a matter of what it’s going to cost to feed grain and use urea at elevated prices.

Our hay reserves were boosted earlier on so that we have enough for a wet winter, so I am not too concerned about that element. The milk price has obviously gone up too, but the input prices have gone up more, so the profit margin is probably going to be squeezed.

We just don’t have that home grown wedge in front of us as I mentioned earlier. If we get a kind winter those concerns will be alleviated a little but if we get a filthy winter, I’m going to have to up the inputs.

Given the amount of oversowing we’ve done in this autumn just gone, I would prefer not to be smashing those newly established pastures because that becomes an expensive exercise to continually sow perennials.

We’ve spent on a lot of money on seed and contractors for this pasture renovation, so I’d prefer not to be pugging those pastures and causing damage to them and then having to front another $30,000 again next autumn. But you can only play the cards in front of you risk management wise, we definitely have got to be able to manage what’s put in front of us weather wise.

We have to maintain that grass wedge as much as possible to try and get through until our goal date of 20 August before the better growing weather generally returns; hopefully we can see our way through to a promising harvest in the next spring.

Slowing down
My wife and I recently had a discussion around life work balance and that we do need some extra help to cope with hard winters in the future. As a direct result, we searched for a suitable business partner couple who were keen on focusing on dairy cow management and were successful. They started on 1 April 2022.

Both parties are expecting this first 12 months to be successful on a one third share farming arrangement.

After these 12 months we will then move to a 50–50 share farming arrangement with five years vendor financing into purchasing all our stock.

It doesn’t mean we are exiting the dairy industry, just that we won’t be managing the cows further down the track. But we will definitely be floating along in the background keeping the business running as close to peak as possible. Giving a young enthusiastic couple an opportunity similar to what we had 15 years ago, to progress in the dairy industry is very important to us!

Not at all related to embarking on this partnership venture, I actually suffered a heart attack about a week ago. This was not part of the grand plan, I assure you. So, I am on ultra-light duties at the moment and feeling confident that this business partnership we began in April is definitely the right way forward.

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Brett Findlay, Towong Upper, North-East Victoria

We last caught up with Brett at the start of summer 2020–21. Continued wet conditions over most of the previous winter and spring, with very few windows of favourable weather conditions for growing pasture and crops as well as having to fit around employing labour issues had kept Brett and Chrisanya on their toes. Six months on, at the start of winter here’s what Brett had to say.

Under the pump
By the start of last summer we were struggling to stay on top of prolific pasture growth caused by the continuing wet conditions. Shortage of labour limited our ability to make silage or top. Even running a 14-day rotation with the grain wound right back and no nitrogen fertiliser going in, residuals were higher than we’d like, and the cows’ behaviour was quite lethargic.

Settling into the upgraded old dairy
We had made the decision to upgrade our old walk-over teat sprayer to a wand type sprayer, but the installation included plastic leg spreaders on the platform. Once these went in, cow flow onto the platform got even more dire. Unfortunately, the yard project the previous summer had run out of time prior to a new backing gate getting made and the significant increase in price and difficulty getting materials didn’t encourage us to go ahead this season.

However, after a particularly frustrating milking, inspiration struck me. I ran a hot wire down one side of the yard and bought two bungee gate kits. I bolted the two bungee cords end-to-end and used the standard handle on one end and a different handle insulated with a pinlock fence insulator on the other. The standard end hooks to the hot wire and the insulated end hooks on the rail on the other side of the yard. The cups-off operator goes out into the yard to shift it up the yard. There is no doubt it is less convenient than a proper electrically powered $120,000+ gate, but for $300 worth of bits and a few hours work, it does a pretty reasonable job. The new wand sprayer works okay but took a bit of setting up to get it working to my satisfaction and it has the significant drawback of not spraying cows whose cups come off as they transit across the bridge.

Summer weeds
Summer continued to produce prolific rainfall as we caught the tail end of the systems moving down the coast that produced such chaos further north. We only did two laps watering with the centre pivot, which was most welcome given prevailing fuel prices.

The rain diminished in late summer but as most of the herd was dry by this stage, growth was still difficult to control. Having already got a foothold in similar conditions the previous summer, weedy summer grass was a problem. We have been experimenting with a few paddocks of triannual hybrid ryegrass, which had grown very well through winter, but its lower summer activity left it very susceptible to summer weeds compared to perennial rye.

Some issues with chicory
By the time the herd began to calve in March, the weather had dried out and we had to introduce significant amounts of supplement to the diet as milker numbers grew and pasture growth slowed.

Our choices of calving paddocks are limited by the availability of shade in the hot weather. During spring the pasture in two of our regular choices was very poor and I made the call to sow them to chicory. Chrisanya was very dubious about this decision. Rightly so, as it turned out. While the chicory had been a boon for quality feed over late spring and summer, it is very good at extracting calcium from the soil and produces spectacularly bad milk fever in calving cows.

After two days on the chicory, we had milk fever cases for about 10 days afterwards and lost several cows. Otherwise calving went quite smoothly.

Timely rain
Given we had only about 70 heifers to bring in this autumn, I joined virtually every cow with four legs and a pulse last year, but a good result gave us about 430 starters and calving losses were quite low. We usually regard 380 at the peak as a good number and typically the pressure really mounts once numbers exceed 400. We were lucky enough to get about 50 mm of rain in early April, which kicked autumn along well and we were able to carry extra numbers to try and exploit the good milk price.

Tweaking nitrogen use
We had been frugal with our autumn fertiliser due to price, and I continued this with nitrogen applications, avoiding weedy parts of paddocks and tweaking the rate back a bit. While there are a number of factors involved, our protein test has been noticeably lower than normal this autumn, despite prolific clover growth. I have found in the past that nitrogen fertiliser use typically adds between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent to our protein test. The economics of using nitrogen through winter with low response rates look poor, but I will keep using it because I think knocking off will do more harm than the raw numbers suggest.

Good pasture growth in April and May
Mild and adequately damp conditions produced good pasture growth during April and May. Production was good but not spectacular, so we had a clean out of 38 lower producing cows during May, which took the pressure off without losing much total production. The sudden dive in temperature and significant rainfall at the start of June will no doubt do us few favours. Production has also taken a hit because we have run out of canola meal due to delivery problems with of our order for more.

Reducing our operation intensity
We are tending towards reducing the intensity of our operation. I have been more ruthless at picking out the cows that won’t be joined this year. We have 130 heifers available for each of the next two years, so we’ve got plenty of options. We are considering selling off our 50 odd spring calvers and milking 300–350 all autumn calvers next year. Labour is a huge factor – we are now down to two employees.

Strong opening milk prices
One thing very much in the industry’s favour currently are very strong opening prices. Our processor announced a price about 12 per cent higher than this year’s record high and is now conducting a review because they are worried it’s not competitive.

Remaining cautious
We haven’t been too concerned about analysing our marginal decisions for the last few years because we had comfortable margins and a good feel for what was profitable. Nonetheless, prices and costs have now both moved so radically upwards that we are checking the profitability of our marginal decision making more often. It looks like there is a profit to be made in the coming season, but we’ll need to be cautious.

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Managing the season ahead – winter 2022

Richard Smith, Agriculture Victoria Dairy Services, Maffra


  • The Bureau of Meteorology forecast for the next three months suggests that large parts of Victoria are likely to experience above median rainfall. However, South-West Victoria and South Gippsland expect to receive median or below median rainfall.
  • The predicted wetter than average rainfall for autumn did eventuate for much of Victoria. However, the south-west did miss good autumn rains. Much of Victoria has desired levels of soil moisture and will be looking to maintain and make the most of any rain that falls through winter.
  • Grain pricing and availability is still volatile, due to a combination of international and domestic issues. Fodder availability is a mixed situation, with cereal and vetch hay in high demand. Input costs (diesel and fertiliser) are continuing to impact cropping and fodder management decisions which is likely to impact availability in coming seasons.
  • Those areas that received some good autumn rains have been able to use nitrogen and supplements to build a pasture feed wedge before the cooler temperatures of winter hit. Winter fodder crops and new pasture establishment have also been possible.
  • For dairy farmers reliant on the MID, Murray and Goulburn irrigation supply systems, the number of irrigations required reduced this last autumn, due to adequate rainfall.
  • Milk prices remain strong with the opening prices announced around $8.53 per kg of milk solids.

Factors favouring this winter to be average
The factors that favour having average winter production of pasture is the presence of some soil moisture, and cooler days and nights with the good odds of rainfall being above the median over the next three months. The factors influencing poorer autumn pasture growth are the areas where there is low soil moisture content, a late autumn break and problems with weed infestations.

Pasture and crops
For most of autumn the weather was warmer than average with mean minimum temperatures higher than average across Victoria. Rainfall for most of the state was wetter than average. However, the south-west district was drier than average.

The prediction by the BOM is for above median temperatures with maximum and minimum temperatures likely to be warmer than median across southern and eastern Victoria. However North-West Victoria is expected to have below median maximum temperatures. Winter rainfall is likely to be above median for much of Victoria with the possibility of exceeding median is greater than 60 per cent.

The exception to this is south-west Victoria and south Gippsland which are expected to receive median or below median rainfall.The projected warmer maximum temperatures through winter may help generate some more pasture growth compared to an average winter but could be counteracted by the occurrence of frosts or paddocks that are too wet.

In areas where the soil moisture is already high, it will be important to monitor the weather and modify grazing management to help reduce the incidence of pugging damage occurring during rain events or waterlogged conditions.

The use of on/off grazing, feed pads and supplementary feeding may assist in managing this.

More information on managing wet soils 

Fertiliser application
There may be opportunities to use nitrogen fertiliser to generate some quick growth. With urea is still the cheapest source of nitrogen at around $1450 per tonne (ex GST and freight) or $3.15 per kg N. The expected winter responses to nitrogen range from 5–10 kg DM per kg N. However, monitor the weather forecasts to make sure that there is not going to be too much rain, which could wash away most of what is applied, and that the temperatures are suitable to encourage uptake of the nitrogen or other fertilisers that are applied.

Urea prices have eased from autumn with increasing supply, with nitrogen prices expected to continue to soften into spring. Potash is currently priced at $1500 tonne; this price is expected to increase in the current months.

The predicted above median temperatures through winter may help to generate some more pasture compared to an average winter but could be counteracted by the occurrence of frosts.
Responses to any applied nitrogen is dependent on moisture, temperature and the amount of existing pasture so a tool on the VRO website has been produced to assist with the economics of the responses you may get. Click here to find out more. 

In areas where the soil moisture is lower than ideal, the prospect of above average rain, if it comes early in winter, may help alleviate the need to feed fodder supplements for a little longer.  If it doesn’t arrive early, then longer grazing rotations with increased levels of supplement will still need to be implemented until it arrives.

Fodder and grain
Coming out of autumn the grain market has been volatile. This volatility is due to international issues such as the situation in Ukraine, production concerns in the northern hemisphere growing regions, combining with domestic issues namely availability, wet weather in places and a shortage of road transport everywhere.

This has led to wheat at $480–490 per tonne, depending on locality and grade, an increase of $142 per tonne from the autumn update.

However, the continued lower price of barley, at around $435 to $445 per tonne, makes it more economic to use to assist filling the feed gaps. It will pay to do some homework in sourcing your supply if you still think that your fodder storages are not going to cover your feed requirements going into winter. Barley contains about 10 per cent moisture so $489 per tonne of dry matter.

Feed-tested barley for the 2021–22 season is averaging 13.1 MJ ME of energy or 3.7 c/MJ ME. If you are thinking of changing the type of grain fed based on availability or price, remember to check the calibration of your feeders to ensure the cows are getting the desired amount of grain.

If you are worried about protein in the diet, then canola meal can be added, which is selling at around $562 to $572 per tonne or $630 per tonne of dry matter. Feed-tested canola meal for the 2021–22 season is averaging 13.5 MJ ME of energy and 38.8 per cent crude protein or 4.6 c/MJ ME.

It has been a mixed autumn for pasture and silage, with producers in south-west experiencing drier conditions. Over autumn the fodder market has been slow however demand has increased recently. If you don’t think that the quality of your conserved fodder is suitable for the milking herd, then some good quality fodder may need to be bought in such as lucerne hay. At around $415–$447 per tonne, this is expected to increase as supplies are still low it is still a very expensive option. Vetch hay with a similar protein content to lucerne is in tight supply.

There has been strong demand for cereal hay with prices stable at $183 to $220 per tonne depending on source, quality and location. 

Prices for all hay types are continuing to fluctuate as farmers try to secure feed allotments for winter and the continued demand for hay across northern NSW and Queensland to flood recovery. Remember to use feed testing, if required, to determine the quality of these feed sources.

Input costs (diesel and fertiliser) are continuing to impact cropping and fodder management decisions. As such fertiliser application onto pasture will not be a priority, which will reduce quantities of spring pasture hay.

Keep track of grain and hay prices by referring to the Dairy Australia regular grain and hay reports

There are three things to highlight here: 

  • First, it is important to do the numbers 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? The expected wet winter could cause a possible shortfall in pasture growth if paddocks are waterlogged and need protecting from damage? Does extra feed need to be purchased?
  • Thirdly, is it only energy needed? For example, winter is a time of year when more fibre may be needed as green pasture levels increase and are lower in fibre.  High quality fibre or perhaps protein may be needed to balance the ration.

Monitor pasture pests
The prediction of warmer winter temperatures combined with some good rainfall events could see pasture pests such as red-legged earth mite, lucerne flea and cockchafers continue to feed and do damage to pastures. Especially if they are already present in pastures where the soil moisture levels are still low. These areas need to have the best possible responses to pasture growth with any rain events, and also not wanting pasture pests to damage them. Watch for damage to any newly sown pasture areas as well. If damage is assessed as being significant then prompt control will be required.

Dairy Australia page on pasture pests

At the end of May, Lake Glenmaggie was sitting at 61.9 per cent, this is an increase of 24.1 per cent over the same time as 2021.

To achieve this level SRW have been releasing water regularly to allow airspace in the storage heading into the winter months. In Northern Victoria Storage levels are higher than this time last year with Lake Hume and Lake Dartmouth sitting at over 90 per cent and Lake Eildon at 77 per cent, carryover is expected to be 900,000 megalitres each in the Murray and Goulburn systems.

With the BOM forecasting above median rainfall, the 2022–23 seasonal determination outlooks indicate strong opening allocations for northern and southern irrigators are likely.

Irrigation allocations and outlooks for northern Victoria can be viewed online here. This site is maintained by Goulburn Murray Water in accordance with Victorian water sharing rules. In southern Victoria, Southern Rural Water manages a site where this information can be found here


Location-based seasonal forecasting tool
The Climate and Water Outlook issued by the Bureau of Meteorology, includes a new feature. By clicking on the map and searching for your location (e.g. Ellinbank), it opens up to show the actual forecast model runs for next three months and where they sit across driest (Decile 1-2) to wettest (Decile 9-10). 

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Victorian Dairying Areas Seasonal Soil Moisture Condition Assessment – autumn review and winter update 2022

Richard Smith and Michele Jolliffe, Dairy Extension Officers, Agriculture Victoria

Agriculture Victoria’s network of soil moisture probes on dryland sites greatly assist farmers with making early decisions related to crop and pasture management decisions in the cropping, meat and wool grazing, and dairying industries.

Currently there are 30 probes installed on a range of soil and pasture types across Victoria in dryland sites. Three of the more established sites are located on dryand dairy farms in Jancourt (South-West Victoria), Longwarry (West Gippsland) and Jack River near Yarram (South Gippsland).

Image on the right is of a solar powered soil moisture monitoring site located in Yarram Victoria

Solar powered soil moisture monitoring site at Yarram Victoria.

The installed probes measure adjacent soil moisture at each of these 30 monitoring sites and are best described as capacitance types. They are 80 centimetres long with eight internal sensors to provide soil water content values and temperature every 10 centimetres. Sites are best assessed individually as the different soil types means they cannot directly be compared to others. Also, these probes are useful in showing total soil moisture levels from estimated plant available water and relative movement/use of moisture down the profile.

In this article, we feature a detailed update of the key recent soil moisture level observations from autumn 2022, as well as relevant future insights for winter for the Yarram site in the south-east, monitoring a perennial ryegrass paddock. A summary of key soil moisture trends for the Jancourt in South-West Victoria and the Longwarry site will also be provided.

Monthly analysis of all monitoring sites 

Live interactive Soil Moisture Monitoring Dashboard


Soil Type: Brown Sodosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam 

Jack River was typical of those in south and west Gippsland over autumn with a rainfall total (March–May) of 172.6 millimeters; this is just above average for this area.

At the start of autumn, the Jack River site was dry with moisture only at depth. The sporadic rainfall though this period would cause brief improvements, raising the moisture levels in zones where the highest concentration of roots and plant accessibility. The plants would then rapidly consume the soil water as the growing conditions and soil temperatures were ideal.

Click here for current and overall soil moisture (10 to 80 centimetres) data for the Yarram probe site, as shown below. 

Moisture Speedo for Longwarry, West Gippsland Chicory and Perennial Pasture  - 7 March 2022

Moisture Speedo for chicory mix pasture probe, Yarram, South Gippsland on 3 June 2022

First graph of soil moisture trends at the Yarram site  over the last 12 months.
Second graph of soil moisture trends at the Yarram site  over the last 12 months. Graph showing last 12 month trend of soil moisture for every 10 cm from 0 to 80 cm for the Jancourt perennial pasture mix probe site.


Soil Type: Brown Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam

The autumn rainfall total (March–May) of 134.2 millimeters, for Longwarry is median for this area. The site displayed a similar to that observed over the greater West Gippsland area. A full soil profile observed at the beginning of December, was steady drawn down as summer progressed due to the combination of good pasture growth and rainfall not meeting the water requirements of the pasture.

Over April the soil moisture stabilised at 32 per cent and plateaued as moisture had been drawn further down the profile, out of active root zone causing plant growth to reduce. With no freely available water to the pasture, this resulted in slow pasture growth in West Gippsland.

The current soil profile is about 11 per cent higher than at similar date last year, and a above median rainfall outlook is predicted for West Gippsland. Winter rainfall will assist this area to capitalise on filling a profile and set themselves up for the spring growth. 

For current and overall soil moisture (10 to 80 centimetres) data for the Longwarry chicory probe site, as shown below for 3 June 2022, click here

Moisture Speedo for Longwarry perennial pasture probe on 6 June 2022

Moisture Speedo for Longwarry, West Gippsland perennial pasture probe,  on 3 June 2022


Soil Type:Grey Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam

Autumn across the south-west region has thrown up some challenges. The western half of the region received low rainfall totals through March, April, up until mid-May, with better rainfall totals in late May and the soil profile starting to fill. As a result, pasture growth rates have been lower than average.

There has been reports of some failed pasture establishment, which has seen paddocks resown later than normal. Pasture cover heading into winter in some areas is lower than many farmers would have liked, and some farmers have now entered into the hay market to bolster their stocks for winter.

The eastern half of the region had good rainfall in March, below average in April and above average in May. Farms have seen good pasture establishment and have been able to offer quality pasture to early calving cows. Many farms in this half of the region have been able to establish good pasture cover across their farms as they head into winter.

For current and overall, soil moisture data for the Jancourt pasture site as shown below for 2 June 2022, click here.

Moisture Speedo for Jancourt perennial pasture probe for 02 June 2022

Moisture Speedo for Jancourt, south-west Victoria, perennial pasture probe on 2 June 2022

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