Forward this email | View in web browser
Milking the Weather – Seasonal and climate risk information for the dairy industry
Volume 13, Issue 3: Spring 2022
Welcome to our newsletter for spring 2022
In this edition:

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

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

3. Managing the season ahead season – spring 2022

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

5. Receiving Milking the Weather e-newsletter

Victorian seasonal climate summary (winter) and outlook (spring) 2022

Adapted from:

In a nutshell
  • Although winter rainfall overall was mostly average across the state, parts of Gippsland experienced flooding during early June and the first half of August.
  • The ENSO outlook continues to be at La Niña ALERT with a current predicted 70 per cent chance (around three times the normal likelihood) of this event forming.
  • If SAM continues to remain mostly positive over the spring months of September, October, and November it can have a wetter influence over East Gippsland.
  •  After being strongly positive since May, the SOI fell steeply in July and briefly got into neutral territory but rebounded to stabilise at +10.6, a La Niña event favourable value.
  • The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria shows likely wetter rainfall and neutral forecasts for temperature in this current spring.
Rainfall, temperature and soil moisture summaries and outlooks

Featured in this section is last winter’s round up of Victorian rainfall, temperature and soil moisture and some key outlook comments for this current spring.

Victoria’s rainfall over winter 2022 was mostly average for the state of Victoria. On closer inspection, the Victorian rainfall deciles for the winter 2022 map below shows that this was true for the dairying areas of the Macalister Irrigation District, East Gippsland and most of West Gippsland, the north-east and the Northern Irrigation District, with a few notable exceptions.

These included dairying areas near and around Corryong in the north-east, Warrnambool in the south west and Foster in South Gippsland, where it was above average (decile 8-9), and near Moe and Traralgon where it was very much above average at decile 10.

Averaged across Victoria, rainfall was 0.3 per cent above the winter 1961–1990 mean of 205 mm and below average across the Mallee, and above average in South Gippsland. At a monthy breakdown level June had above average rainfall in South Gippsland, then a drier than average July particularly to the north-east and then a wet August across the state. The areas of Jindivick, Buln Buln, and Morwell where some dairy properties are located had their highest total winter rainfall for at least 20 years. In fact, parts of Gippsland experienced flooding during early June and the first half of August.

Map showing Victorian rainfall deciles for winter 2022

Latest seasonal rainfall decile maps 

Latest seasonal rainfall total maps  

Soil moisture

The BOM AWRA modelled soil moisture for pasture currently (8 September 2022) specifies that most Victorian major dairying areas have around average (decile 4–7) root zone soil moisture. The key exceptions relate to dairy farm regions in the south-west of the state and those between and around Foster and Yarram along the south-east Gippsland coastline, where it is much wetter at decile 8–9.

For a detailed update of the key recent winter soil moisture levels for the dryland dairy farm sites at Yarram and Longwarry in Gippsland and a summary of key soil moisture trends for the Jancourt site (in south-west Victoria) , refer to the soil moisture assessment article, which appears later in this edition of the Milking the Weather newsletter.

Victoria Map displaying root zone soil moisture for 8 September 2022

Latest Victorian soil moisture map

Maximum temperatures
As shown in the map of Victoria below, overall daytime temperatures during winter, were average (decile 4–7) over most of the state.

Averaged across Victoria, the mean maximum temperature was 13.18°C which was 0.15°C above the 1961–1990 mean. Daytime temperatures were above average from Melbourne to the Otways, below average in the far-west Wimmera, and average elsewhere encompassing most of Victoria’s dairying properties.

Maximum temperature decile map of Victoria for winter 2022

Minimum temperatures
The map below highlights that winter night-time temperatures were generally average (decile four to seven) in the northern dairying areas of the GMID, the north-east and in Central Gippsland. The south-west dairying region was warmer at decile eight to nine. The Victorian mean minimum temperature was 4.65°C, equating to 0.58°C above the mean.

Map of Victoria showing minimum temperature deciles for winter 2022.

Maximum and minimum temperature deciles and other temperature related maps  

Climate driver update

This section contains the latest update of key climate drivers of Victoria’s rainfall and 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).

Latest climate driver update 

In this edition, we focus on how these drivers behaved and influenced rainfall events over winter and how they may affect this spring. Website addresses to access the latest maps and graphs related to each of these drivers are also provided

Test out the seasonal forecast tool  if you haven’t done so already. It is a useful 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.

ENSO Outlook

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

The ENSO Outlook was at La Niña ALERT in the first week of September with a current predicted 70 per cent chance (around three times the normal likliehood) of this event forming. A La Niña ALERT is not a sure guarantee that La Niña will occur, rather it is an indication that most of the typical precursors of such an event are in place. La Niña conditions can increase the chance of above average spring and summer rainfall in Victoria, but not always.

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
Sustained changes in the difference between normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical western and eastern Indian Ocean are what characterise IOD events. Neutral to cooler than average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) persist in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Some atmospheric indicators, such as the Southern Oscillation Index and cloudiness near the Date Line, show a La Niña-like signal. Four of seven climate models surveyed by the Bureau suggest La Niña may return by early-to-mid spring.

Regarding sea surface temperature anomalies at the end of winter (as shown in the following map image), the Central Pacific at NINO 3.4 has cooled rapidly to -0.79oC. This reading is very close to the La Niña threshold of -0.8oC and happened on the back of much cooler water developing at depth and much stronger easterly trade winds to upwell it. Cloud patterns and pressure patterns are also La Niña-like in behaviour. A third late developing La Niña in a row looks very possible.

Map of the world showing sea surface temperature anomalies 30 August 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. Sustained positive values of the SOI above +7 typically indicate La Niña. Values between +7 and −7 generally indicate neutral conditions.

Current 30 Day Moving SOI map on the left for 9 September 2022 indicating that it is still positive at the start of September 2022ound +9.4.

After being strongly positive since May, the SOI fell steeply in July and briefly got into neutral territory but rebounded to stabilise at +10.6 (at 24 August 2022), at a La Niña favourable value. Pressure patterns around the Equator were behaving like La Niña.The current 30 Day Moving SOI map on the left for 9 September 2022 indicates a latest 30 day value still around +9.4.

Latest 30 Day Moving SOI map

Southern Annular Mode

The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) or Antarctic Oscillation (AAO) 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) and is also associated with storms and cold fronts that move from west to east, bringing rainfall to southern Australia including Victoria.

Graph of Southern Annular Mode observations from 12 May to 8 September 2022

SAM spent August in negative values at the start of the month but is likely to finish in strong positive territory as we continue into spring. Post winter, SAM has a more variable effect on Victoria’s spring climate.It is currently positive and predicted to stay positive for the next two weeks. If SAM continues to remain mostly positive over the spring months of September October and November it can have a wetter influence over parts of East Gippsland.

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, particularly in winter. During our summer it tends to sit over southern Australia, generally bringing dry weather.

Map of 30 day mean pressure map for 10 August to 08 September 2022

Currently the STR 30 day mean period for 10 August to 08 September 2022 (refer to pressure map on the left)  the STR sits in a more northward position than normal allowing fronts and lows to sweep across the state. 

Up-to-date versions of mean sea level pressure maps

Refering to the air pressure anomalies map on the right for the time period of 25 July to 23 August, the STR was lower over southern Australia with more storm systems passing by. The air pressure was also lower to our north, influenced by the negative IOD and the developing La Nina. This made it much easier to drag moisture down. Currently (12 September) the air pressure is much higher. Up-to-date versions of anomoly sea level pressure maps

Sea level anomaly map

Modelled climate and ocean predictions for Victoria from August 2022 run models
The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria, shows likely wetter rainfall and neutral forecasts for temperature for the current spring months of September, October and November 2022. A larger resolution version of the Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions from August 2022 run models for Victoria as appears in the table below, can be found here

Table showing 12 Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions from August 2022 run models for Victoria
Farmers managing seasonal risk successfully – September 2022 farmer case studies

Maria Rose, Dairy Extension Officer, Agriculture Victoria 

Image of the 3 case study farmers Kevin Fitzsimmons from Merrigum in the Northern Irrigation Region (left), Chris Nixon from Orbost in East Gippsland (middle) and John Versteden from Longwarry in West Gippsland (right)

This time around at the start of spring 2002, we hear from our Milking the Weather case study farmers Kevin Fitzsimmons from Merrigum in the Northern Irrigation Region (left), Chris Nixon from Orbost in East Gippsland (middle) and John Versteden from Longwarry in West Gippsland (right).

It’s been six months since we caught up with all three, and we’ll be hearing from each of them about:

  • how last winter and autumn panned out
  • changed and or new strategies applied over these two seasons and why
  • the key risk management strategies they have planned for this spring
  • their anticipated risk level and related mitigation strategies beyond this spring.
Kevin Fitzsimmons, Merrigum, Northern Irrigation Region

The last time I spoke with Kevin, it was the first week of autumn 2022. At that time, he was just about to start watering annual pastures, hay and silage reserves were adequate, joining had just started and track maintenance was high on the autumn job list. In the first week of spring 2022, here’s what Kevin had to say.

A dream run
It’s been a dream run for the last 12 months. We couldn’t have ordered better seasons for maximum pasture growth really!

Laser graded paddocks a success
As far as what we had planned for last autumn, the three paddocks we earmarked for laser grading were done back in the first half of March and they were sown down and watered by the end of March. We got three grazings of good quality feed from them through the winter and we fertilised them as well after each grazing.

We’ve now shut those paddocks and expect that they will produce some good quality shaftel and rye hay.

Purchasing paddocks next door
I didn’t mention this the last time we spoke six months back as we hadn’t got it over the line. We were negotiating with our neighbour to buy part of his farm, and that basically happened the week after we last spoke.

Our new land purchase consists of 120 acres of annual pasture and we watered that back in the second week of autumn. We put a track in virtually straight away to get access and also connected our water pipe infrastructure for stock water.

Access to new paddocks pays off
Having immediate access to the new paddocks, really helped us through autumn and winter as it gave us a lot of extra feed by increasing our rotation and took a lot of pressure off the cows and us. So, when any rain did come (June was wet with weekly showers, July was dry, and August was again wet with weekly showers) we were able to move the milking herd around the farm with minimal drama.

It’s a pretty rough track as we had to get it in quick, so we didn’t have time to put gravel down, just a dirt track. We plan to redo it this summer for improved accessibility and effectiveness.

Lesser quality hay not an issue
We’ve still got over 1000 rolls of hay left at the start of autumn. It’s not good quality but we’ve been able to give the milking herd enough good quality grass once we’d taken possession of that 120 acres next door.

So, it’s more a bit of fibre to fill them up on those cold and wet days. They’ve been eating all the hay we are giving them and they are milking well.

Making hay or silage?
We’ve sown 150 acres of wheat which we plan to cut for hay and that’s looking absolutely magnificent. We are probably actually going to make much more hay than usual.

We are still watching the weather and the talk is a La Niña event over spring so that could play havoc with the hay making, which means we may have to make silage as well. We just have to see what opportunities present themselves!

A debt reduction strategy
Despite predictions of La Niña continuing, we’ve probably got in the back of our minds, that if we end up with drier conditions going forward, we want to be prepared by building up good quality reserves of feed now. We have the opportunity to purchase approximately 120 acres of wheat and vetch that is right beside us.

Although it would be nice to reduce the debt on the purchase of the new block sooner rather than later, I feel a timelier debt reduction strategy is to be prepared with enough high quality feed to mitigate another prolonged drought when bought-in fodder gets very expensive again.

That way, we’d have a head start by not having to find the extra money to buy more expensive feed; instead it could go towards paying of the land purchase debt then.

Hedging our bets on purchasing water
We didn’t buy any more water in the last six months as we still had more than enough water to finish the season off and still have some to carry over for the next season. We were worried about the water going into a spillable account and the risk of losing it.

We have got around 130 MLs in that spillable account that’s quarantined basically until they announce that there is no risk of a spill. With Lake Eildon at around 94 per cent currently, they’re saying there is a 20 per cent chance of it spilling, so we could lose part of that water.

We decided back then that there was a heightened risk if we did buy another 100 or 200 MLs even thought it was only $30/ML at the time that it would end up in the spillable account and we could lose it.

Our strategy paid off as we had enough water to get us through until now, and the price of water at the start of the season is pretty cheap anyway if we do need to buy more in.

Minimal track issues despite wet winter
The tracks held up really well over winter. Obviously because we had to act quickly with a makeshift track into the new block, all we had time for was to get some dirt down to get access to it. So, we’ve had to manage that rough track on really wet days so that cows weren’t having to go into that section.

Luckily, each time the rain came, within a few days it dried out enough and they could go back to those new paddocks and not cause any concerning pugging issues.

It was just a management thing we had to get around. We had other areas that we could put the cows into over those times. It’s only in that new part where we have to upgrade tracks – everything else is pretty good.

Minimising a spring flood risk
We could still get a flood this spring – and what that could potentially do to our hay season, who knows? As already flagged, constant rain events create a bit of havoc with hay making and silage options needing to be considered.

As far as irrigation goes, we’re already three weeks into the irrigation season and we don’t even look like we need to turn the pump on at this stage. We’ve been getting 10 and 15 mm each week and they’re forecasting more rain next week. Every thing is firing up and kicking along nicely. 

As far as floods go, we don’t have any control over that. All we can do is ensure we keep up with what we can do. We sprayed out all our drains to control the weeds so if we do get a huge amount of water flow down them, it’s going to get off quickly.

Our recycle dams are empty – that’s going to take some pressure off if we do get a fair bit of rain. Everything we can do we’ve done and obviously the nature of the weather is in the lap of the gods really.

Mitigating pugging issues
Pugging is always a risk. Now at the start of spring with days getting warmer, even if we do get an inch or two of rain, it’s going to dry out that much quicker.

So, it’s not going to stay continuously wet. It’s just a matter of how long or how much rain we get and if any water is going to be laying around on paddocks for any extended period of time.

With the additional land next door, we can easily move the cows around the farm and we’ve got the feed pad and can feed them hay on it if we need to. If it gets really bad they can stay there overnight and we’d just put them down the paddock during the day.

But I don’t think it will come to that as we’ve got a number of pugging mitigation options. I am confident we’ve got enough area now that we can move the cows around easily enough – we can give them a bigger area too going into spring I guess rather than confining them to a smaller paddock which they will tend to pug up a lot quicker.

Summer management strategies
Summer, I think is pretty well covered with the water we’ve carried over. Also, we are going to buy the vetch/wheat crop from the neighbour and that will end up as silage, providing us with good quality milker feed that we can feed out in the summer. We should be able to irrigate our pastures all the way through with plenty of water in the system. Going forward it looks like it’s going to be a great season with fantastic milk prices; everything is lined up well and hopefully we can make some money and inroads into paying off some debt!

[Back to Top]

Chris Nixon, Orbost, East Gippsland

Six months ago Chris indicated it had been the best milking season he’d ever had in his 30 odd years of farming life, including having the biggest maize harvest. At that time he considered key anticipated risks to be saturated soil conditions continuing into autumn and winter, and also continuing input supply chain constraints. Now at the start of spring 2022, Chris shared the following insights.

Half of the flats still under water
We had just started oversowing our kikuyu paddocks with annual ryegrass the day after I spoke with you back in early March. I remember it started raining that day and it has barely stopped.

This year has been wetter again and more so than last year. So much so that the low swampy part of our farm has been completely underwater for the best part of the last six months and we still have a lot of water lying on the farm even though it’s the first week of September.

Standing feed situation got tight quickly
Continual flooding has affected about of half of our dairy flat area, but we have persevered with grazing it, the cows have been standing in water, which is not ideal as you can imagine.

We’ve been in a very tight feed situation particularly over this last winter as the abundance of standing feed we had in early autumn got consumed very quickly.

This is because the stocking rate went up accordingly on the hills so we ended up consuming all pasture that we had ahead of us. As it got so wet especially over winter, our latest end of season production was the same compared to last year, even though we were tracking about ten per cent ahead back in early March.

Dried off two weeks earlier
Given it got pretty tight with far less available standing feed, the milking cows lost a bit of nick so we dried them off early again. This time it was only a couple of weeks (end of May as opposed to mid June). The extra two weeks gives cows nearly a two month break again so that’s the upside on making that decision.

Improved empty rate
I am very pleased to say that our empty rate was 15 per cent which is a big improvement on last year’s 24 per cent. This meant we had 560 cows to calve down. We will also have 60 to 70 carry over cows which we do not join for the next season. That’s been our strategy regarding the future of empties in the herd for the last five years. It’s been a very successful one, so we are continuing on with it. Carryover cows are being culled now at the start of September to take advantage of high chopper cow price and allowing the calved cows the opportunity to get more grass into them for the month before joining.

The wet plays havoc on calves
We are seven weeks into calving at the moment and we have about 40 cows left to calve. So, our short sharp calving approach is working a treat. It has given us a lot of heifers this year. Over 250 in fact. However, on the downside calving wise, with the very trying wet circumstances, we did have an outbreak of salmonella in the poddies and we have lost a few (about 30). Because it was so wet, we couldn’t get the calves out of the shed as early as we would’ve liked. We think that the disease pressure just got too high for them as a direct result.

The agreed strategy going forward is that all calves will be vaccinated annually with  vaccination program with Bovilis S which protects against Salmonella strains Typhimurium and Dublin which were the ones that were identified at autopsy. For us, it’s a no brainer, the cost of that $7 to $8 far outweighs the value of the calves we lost. 

Feed pad needs a patch up
Also, to it being so wet, we’ve had a few issues with the feed pad. In a nutshell it’s collapsing and the Geohex surface is lifting.
We bought a new silage cart last year that’s a bit bigger and as a result the feed pad is a little too narrow to turn it around in. So, we are causing a bit of damage as we turn around to go to the other side. You fix one problem and you create another!

Because it remained so wet we never got the opportunity to repair the wheel track damage that was done and so further deepening of the silage cart’s wheel tracks has continued to compress and collapse the ground underneath.
We are hoping we’ll get to patch it up and make a few changes over this coming summer, that will see us through until we work out what is more cost effective regarding future wet seasons.

The main two options we consider are to leave the feed pad where it is and make it wider and a bit longer with more feeding troughs and put in more effective drainage or shift the location of it further up the hill and start from scratch.

Permanent pasture oversowing worked
The nine hectares of river flat that we sowed down to permanent pasture was a great success. We’ve been careful on the grazing management to just try and avoid pugging on the fresh pastures as they’ve been worked up and are therefore a lot softer under hoof.

As an aside, believe it or not where we oversowed the kikuyu and it went underwater earlier on, now that the water is coming off some of the paddocks, the ryegrass is still germinating. Don’t know if that’s normal or not but there’s certainly ryegrass coming up. And even with the paddocks on the hill country that we sacrificed over winter, the ryegrass has geminated and come up.

The trade off on not making silage
The only issue with not making silage last year was that we raided a lot of silage reserves from the beef farm. We got a very high milk price so we wanted to maximise on that this year.
So, my reserves of pasture silage are very low – still got plenty of maize silage.

At this stage at start of spring with cool overcast weather we are a long way away from making any silage at the moment – we are still feeding fodder heavily at the moment (about 8 tonnes of silage a day).

Getting through until silage harvest
I’ll have enough silage reserves until we make silage this spring. As you know I like plenty of reserves. To make pit silage is about $90 a tonne and to freight stuff in is about $150/tonne so I will continue to make a lot of home-grown silage.

I’ve still got last year’s lot of harvested maize silage plus about half a pit. We’ve probably got about 1,000 tonnes of maize silage on hand going forward, so I could get through quite comfortably before next harvest.

I’ll have to work out how to get more pasture silage into the system because our reserves are getting very low.

Benefits of current fertiliser program
We are now into our third year of not using urea-based fertilisers. I believe that our fertiliser program is working as our farm is as green as all those using lots of nitrogen.

We changed to using a lot more of the regenerative type fertilisers. We put on fish kelp and pasture probiotics to help improve the fungal growth in soils, which in turn helped with the pasture. It’s expensive but it is slightly cheaper as you use a lot less.

We used to put out urea every six to eight weeks. Cow health wise, whilst we still only get a few lame cows, I’ve only had eight cases of mastitis this spring and my cell count is sitting at only 80,000.

That’s our strict culling program and everything else contributing to such success as well, but you’d have to say on the whole that something is going right regarding our current fertiliser program.

Heifer growth rates affected by the wet
Our yearling heifers due to the cold wet winter have struggled this year. We are coming up to joining in a few weeks of time and some will struggle to be big enough to cycle, I would suggest.

We’ve pumped silage into them. It’s been one of those years – very wet and the cattle over all age groups haven’t done as well as we would’ve liked.

Some of them are quite well grown in frame but there are a few that have struggled a bit. I am expecting to get a few more empties this year because they are just not quite well enough grown. We just struggled with them this year. We even had them running on our beef country this year at one stage trying to get grass into them. Here we are at the end of the first week in September and it’s like we are still in the middle of August, growth-rate wise.

New projects on hold
New projects are on hold, as completing ones already started is this milking season’s aim. With interest rates rising rapidly in the last five months and the talk of more in the coming ones, to minimise the financial pain, this year it’s a bit more about consolidation of finishing the projects we’ve started. The chill system in the dairy being the main one.

We ordered it around this time last year and it has finally arrived. So, it arrived late and was 20 per cent dearer. That will go in next week – it’s a huge job and capital outlay so I’ll be extremely glad when it goes in and is operational.

Biggest anticipated future climatic risk
Our biggest without a doubt is continued prolonged wet. We’ve had 18 months of continual waterlogging on the flats. We only need 5 mm of rain and everything is underwater again and we can only get tractors on the hill now without leaving trenches everywhere. So that’s our biggest climatic risk in the near future.

[Back to Top]

John Versteden, Longwarry, West Gippsland

When I spoke with John for the first time late February 2022, he indicated that a 700 cow milking herd was the “sweet spot” and minimising feed wastage was his uppermost goal. John considers that seasonable variability will always be the biggest challenge and to rise above it, planning and risk management go hand in hand. Six months on from this introduction, John shared the following observations.

Just enough reserves
When we last spoke we had planned for a not particularly good autumn. And that’s what happened! We didn’t really get an autumn break until we dried the cows off, which was probably the worst case scenario. I guess our coping strategies felt adequate as we had reasonable reserves of silage. We’ve still got 150 tonne sitting in reserve so we haven’t completely exhausted our reserves but that amount doesn’t go very far when you’ve got 700 cows.

This reserve is a combination of conserved fodder from the support area as well as purchased standing grass when appropriate opportunities present themselves. We try to replenish our fodder reserves sooner rather than later to mitigate the inevitable risk of being caught out having to pay a much higher price when everyone else is in the market place as well.

False autumn showers
In terms of our planned autumn resowing program, that four tonne of grass seed went in and all of that struck pretty well. I put it down to that we only use treated seed which has been treated with both pesticide and fungicide.

We ended up finishing sowing a little bit later than we anticipated. The weather just didn’t feel quite right. I think I initially indicated that we would have it in by the end of March, but it was more like the third week in April because weather conditions for sowing were feeling a bit ordinary. As it turned out, we’d had a couple of false showers early on that probably would’ve done us more harm than good, had we sown then.

Not one of our best autumns
To sum up our autumn, it was certainly not one of the best ones we’ve had. Probably doesn’t get much drier than what we had this last autumn. Even though the weather was pleasant, as it wasn’t a very hot period – it was just dry. Which sort of, when you have an operation that depends on growing grass, is a little disappointing.

Two sacrifice paddocks over winter
At the start of winter we sent as planned about 120 dry cows off to our runoff block which was less than we normally send. We kept the vast majority of the dry cows at home on basically two sacrifice paddocks that we’d planned on putting chicory in, in the spring.

So that was a strategic decision as they were two paddocks that we hoped would be dry enough to plant chicory by the end of September. I am not quite sure how we are going to go with that, we’ll just have to wait and see.

We ended up buying a bit more hay to get through winter because we didn’t really have a grass wedge of feed ahead of the cows when we dried off. We actually had to grow the grass to create that bank of feed ahead which was a bit of a challenge. But, we got there in the end.

Growing grass over winter was challenging
The first two weeks in June (at the start of our dry period) was absolutely horrible. It was really rainy nearly every day and we’d sort of gone from being really dry to really wet over two weeks.

But then those very wet conditions dissipated by the second half of June and then in the latter part of June, and most of July moisture levels were pretty good. However, we just didn’t grow a lot of grass in the winter overall because when it wasn’t so wet, any more growing conditions were too cold.

Nitrogen and gibberellic acid trials
Over the last part of winter, we started playing around with gibberellic acid and nitrogen in combo to see if we could improve pasture growth and how it stacks up as a strategy given the current sustained high prices of nitrogen.

Normally we follow the cows with a 100 kg/ha of nitrogen just as a matter of course. We halved those rates this year and used double the recommended rate of gibberellic acid, using about 80 grams instead of 40. At this time (early September) current growth rates from the nitrogen-gibberellic acid combination are about equivalent to what we would normally have.

We are also doing a trial here of four different rates of nitrogen and five different rates of gibberellic acid to measure the benefits of gibberellic acid right through winter, spring and maybe even early summer.

The trial commenced in mid-May, with our first rains. It is 0.8 hectares in size consisting of 20 plots of 400 square metres each, located within the one paddock (2.8 ha). We took soil tests at the start and will again at completion. We are conducting the experiment with our own resources and some in kind support, consisting of pasture measurements at each grazing interval and drone footage to capture results visually. We’ve had two grazings on this experimental area to date.

Saving costs on effluent re-use application
We used a different contractor and method with our effluent re-use this year – a slurry tank this time rather than the umbilical system. The contractor using the slurry tank did a really good job.

I was a little bit concerned that they might do too much damage to paddocks’ entrances and laneways just because of the size of the equipment and constant pounding of the surface in repeated traffic areas but they didn’t actually break the surface anywhere.
We probably saved around $10,000 ( $25,000 compared with $15,000 essentially). That’s a 40 per cent saving, which is significant.

Lesson learnt about cheap hay
We bought some cheap hay to use as dry feed mostly because it was from the farm next door and we were going save a bit on cartage costs and it was convenient. However, as a  consequence, we probably stripped a bit of weight off the cows whilst they were dry, which wasn’t ideal. We probably would’ve been better off without it to be honest. It is what it is and even after 30 years you can still learn new lessons – well hopefully we did! If we were to winter the cows the way we did over this last one, we need to be sure that we buy-in better quality hay.

Balancing between pugging and grazing
There’s a lot of pugging currently which is not ideal but there is not a lot we can do about it happening as our aim is to make sure that we can hold a longer grazing rotation uppermost, so that we have grass ahead of the cows. The worst thing you can do is go fast when it is wet and then all of a sudden be out of feed and then you can’t get off the short rotation easily. So, we’ve actually bought a bit of vetch hay to help hold the rotation, because most of the herd is in milk now.

There’s only about 50 left of the 700 to calve and we are feeding a bit of vetch on the concrete just to try and limit the cows walking and to make sure they have enough feed when they get back to the paddock after milking and to hold the rotation. We are using about 1.2 tonne of the vetch hay per day. If things don’t change and or it gets even wetter, that amount might of vetch hay may have to increase.

Managing pastures and protecting them is paramount at this time of year. We know we are going to do some damage through pugging but we are trying to mitigate that risk as much as possible.

Sourcing standing pasture for contracted hay
We’ve started to put the feelers out for restocking our fodder reserves for this spring to gauge if there will be enough standing grass around for us to purchase and then organise for contractors to make that into pasture hay as we don’t grow it ourselves.

We try to do the best we can on our run-off block but it’s too small to provide all our needs. If we are lucky we might get 200 tonne off it but that falls way short of the 700 to 800 tonne we usually need. We’ll work with a couple of contractors to see what sort of grass is out there (to buy as standing feed) that they can source. Usually, the process of sourcing standing feed for hay with the hay making contractors we use happens quickly and cleanly.

That spring grown grass we purchase doesn’t have to cost a lot. We’ve done the numbers with our own lease block and quite often you can purchase that grass at a price pretty close to the same cost that you can grow it for yourself by the time you include the value of leasing and fertiliser applications etc.

I haven’t got anything locked in at this point in time but it is certainly front of mind for me to be touching base with potential contractors. We had this conversation with contractors three months ago just to sow that seed in their minds.

I need to touch base with them again soon to find out if they’ve been able to procure that standing feed for us with either their usual and or new clients, as that whole process to get to the end product of hay in our sheds will need to evolve in the next six weeks most likely.

If we end up having trouble procuring the amount of silage needed, we might have to go down the vetch hay path as an alternative which we’ve done before. We can do either or a combo, it really depends on what the relevant prices of each are.

Like usual, we will work that out on a cents/MJ of Energy comparison level to see where we actually sit at the time with the numbers. It’s about your feed budgets early enough to work out what you might need as a maximum and to make sure you’ve got enough procured by early in spring, because if you leave it to next autumn to wing it, you’ll finish up paying a lot more for a speciality product like good quality vetch in the autumn than you will in the previous spring.

Purchased fodder is feed tested
We usually can grow 200 tonne DM of silage and maybe 60–70 tonne DM pasture hay on our lease block. Generally, 100 tonne of that is kept at the lease block for heifers or dry cows to feed as required.

Any fodder requirements beyond what is grown needs to be purchased in at the appropriate time. Vetch hay is usually bought-in from north-west Victoria during the month of November. All standing silage purchased is in bulk (pit silage) and harvested around late October to early November. As any feed purchased we base both on quantity as well as quality, in addition to it being measured, we ensure it is feed tested.

[Back to Top]

Managing the season ahead – spring 2022

Richard Smith, Agriculture Victoria Dairy Services,Tatura


  • The Bureau of Meteorology forecast for the next three months suggests that large parts of Victoria are likely to experience above median rainfall, with cooler than median days.
  • Similar to last year, much of the state’s winter rainfall was average with decent rainfall finally occurring in August. 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 pricing and availability is relatively stable at the moment. However, input costs (diesel and fertiliser) and rainfall could see new season’s pricing fluctuate.
  • Areas of west and south Gippsland received above average rainfall and have had to use more of their stored fodder reserves. This was to help reduce the damage to pastures over winter, as animals had to be kept off waterlogged soils.
  • The higher 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.
  • Irrigators in the MID are having a good start to the irrigation season. Inflows to Lake Glenmaggie have been above average over the winter and the storage is currently sitting at 90.2 per cent, with 100 per cent high reliability allocation. Southern Rural Water have declared spill until 20 September, when they will review allocations.
  • In northern Victoria water storage levels are higher than this time last year with all major storages sitting above 95 per cent. Currently, seasonal allocation for 2022–23 is 100 per cent high reliability water-share for all systems.
  • 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.

Factors favouring an average spring
The current forecast favours good spring pasture production with high soil moisture availability, predicted above average rainfall, and median temperatures. Areas with already wet soils in parts of Gippsland and South-West Victoria may experience waterlogging reducing pasture growth. Those with ideal soil moisture conditions, now is the time to be planning to make the most of the expected rainfall.

Pasture and crops
After a dry July, a wet August occurred resulting in average winter rainfall for most of the state, with the exception of South Gippsland which experienced above-average rainfall and has consequently experienced waterlogged soils and some pugging damage. Both minimum and maximum temperatures were close to average over most of the state.

The prediction by the BOM for spring is for cooler than average days, with below-average maximum temperatures, however, minimum temperatures are generally likely to be warmer. Spring rainfall for the south-west and Gippsland has a moderate to high chance, more than 65 per cent, of above average rainfall for much of Victoria, for northern Victoria above median rainfall becomes very likely with a greater than 80 per cent chance.

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 and supplementary feeding, on a feedpad or stand-off area 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. Urea is still the cheapest source of nitrogen at around $1390 per tonne (ex GST and freight) or $3.02 per kg N. The expected spring pasture responses from applying nitrogen fertiliser varies between 15 to 25 kg DM per kg N. Even when 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.

Some farmers have resorted to aerial application of some fertilisers to avoid damaging paddocks with machinery and to generate more pasture growth. Urea prices have remained very high over winter, with prices expected to continue to fluctuate.

Responses to nitrogen applications is dependent on moisture, temperature, and grazing management. A handy tool on the Victorian Resources Online website has been produced to assist with the economic responses to applied nitrogen. 

Fodder and grain
Coming out of winter the grain market has been steady. Spot prices for wheat delivered depending on locality and grade of $387 to $397 per tonne, a decrease of $93 per tonne from the winter update. However, the continued lower price of barley, at around $342 to $352 per tonne, makes it more economic to use compared to wheat. It will pay to do some homework in sourcing your supply. Barley contains about 10 per cent moisture which equates to $385 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 $548 to $558 per tonne or $614 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 4.5 c/MJ ME.

Lucerne hay is currently trading around $417 to $450 per tonne and is expected to increase until new season crop becomes available as supplies are still low. Vetch hay with a similar protein content to lucerne is also in tight supply.

Demand for good quality cereal hay has remained strong with prices stable at $183 to $232 per tonne depending on source, quality and location. Grass hays have remained steady with prices at $152 to $207 per tonne.

Input costs (diesel and fertiliser) are continuing to impact cropping and fodder management decisions. As such, fertiliser application reduced the quantities of forage produced during late winter and will continue to impact supplies in early spring.

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

When feed budgeting there are three things to highlight :

  • 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 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?

Over recent months biosecurity has hit the headlines, with national and state biosecurity measures front and centre. To assist farmers Agriculture Victoria is hosting biosecurity planning workshops and webinars over the next few months, for details visit

Industry peak bodies are often the best resource for accessing biosecurity planning information, with the following sites providing biosecurity templates and tools:

Farm Biosecurity – property biosecuirty management planning resources

Farm Biosecurity – on-farm biosecurity plan template

Dairy Australia – EAD preparedness resources including farm biosecurity plan template

Integrity Systems LPA – on-farm biosecuirty management plan

Integrity Systems LPA – property visitor register template 

For more information visit the biosecurity page on the Agriculture Victoria website

For information and resources from Agriculture Victoria about foot-and-mouth disease click here

The rain through winter provided good inflows to the Victorian water storages. At the start of September, Lake Glenmaggie was sitting at 89.9 per cent, with MID presently sitting at 100 per cent high reliability allocated and spill granted until 20 September, and with significant soil moisture already present.

Irrigation allocations and outlooks for southern Victoria

In northern Victoria, storage levels are higher than this time last year with Lake Hume sitting at 96 per cent, Lake Dartmouth sitting at over 99.22 per cent and Lake Eildon sits at 95.46 per cent. Seasonal determinations have been released with 100 per cent high reliability share allocation for all systems; the last time that all systems had 100 per cent high reliability share available at the start of September was in 1997–98.

The prediction of better than average rainfall over spring should help with more inflows and increases the likelihood of additional spill water being available for the Macalister Irrigation District and allocations of low reliability water share in northern Victoria. The need to irrigate in spring will also be reduced.

Irrigation allocations and outlooks for northern Victoria  

Image of the front page of the Location-based seasonal forecasting tool

Location-based seasonal forecasting tool
This year’s Climate and Water Outlook issued by the Bureau, includes a new feature. By clicking on the map and searching for your location (e.g., Ellinbank), it opens 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).  This tool has been developed under the Forewarned is Forearmed project which includes the Bureau, Agriculture Victoria, University of Melbourne and Dairy Australia as partners and is funded through the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment’s Rural R&D for Profit Program. 

[Back to Top]

Victorian dairying areas seasonal soil moisture condition assessment – winter review and spring 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 winter 2022, as well as relevant future insights for spring for the Yarram site in the South-East Victoria, 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 other areas in South Gippsland, and experienced well above average rainfall over winter. June brought above average rainfall, then a drier July, followed by a wet August. The rainfall reference used for the Yarram moisture probe site was the Madalya BOM site. It had a rainfall total (June to August) of 181.8 millimeters.

At the start of winter, the Jack River site had low to moderate moisture conditions down the soil profile. Rainfall through June caused rapid improvments, raising the moisture levels. There was a drying period during July as plant use combined with limited infiltration occurred. Then the site reached above field capacity in August, causing waterlogging and trafficability issues.

The forecast wetter than average spring combined with above field capacity levels, could result in silage and hay harvest pushed back towards later in spring to allow paddocks to become trafficable.

Current and overall soil moisture data for Yarram site on 6 September 2022

The forecast wetter than average spring combined with above field capacity levels, could result in silage and hay harvest pushed back towards later in spring to allow paddocks to become trafficable.  

Click here for current and overall soil moisture (10 to 80 centimetres) data  for the Yarram, probe site, as shown on the left for 6 September 2022. 

Two graphs showing soil moisture trends over winter 2022 for Yarram site


Soil Type: Brown Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam

The winter rainfall total (June to August) of 220.4 millimeters for Longwarry is above average for this area. The site displayed a pattern similar to that observed over the greater West Gippsland area. June had above average rainfall, then a drier July, followed by a wet August.
The forecast wetter than average spring combined with current above field capacity soil moisture levels, will likely result in silage and hay harvest pushed back to later in spring to allow paddocks to become trafficable. 

For current and overall soil moisture (10 to 80 centimetres) data  for the Longwarry chicory probe site in Agriculutre Victoria’s network of soil moisture monitoring probes as shown right for 6 September 2022 click here

Current and overall soil moisture data for Longwarry site on 6 September 2022


Soil Type:Grey Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam

Above average rainfall in June and August, with about average rainfall in July, has seen saturated soils and limited pasture growth in the eastern half of the region. The good pasture cover that many farms had as they entered into winter has now been utilised and slower growth rates have proven challenging for many. As we head into spring with soils at field capacity, silage and hay harvest may be commencing later than it has in the past few years due to lack of trafficability and pasture surplus.

The western half of the region had a drier start to winter, which has seen much better growing conditions and many farmers enjoying good pasture cover over most of winter. The western half of the region only just started to see many soil types reaching field capacity in August, unlike the eastern half of the region. Trafficability has only recently become an issue for many farms and planning is well under way for the silage and hay harvest. 

Current and overall soil moisture data for Jancourt site on 6 September 2022

For current and overall soil moisture data for the Jancourt pasture site in Agriculutre Victoria’s network of soil moisture monitoring probes as shown on the left for 6 September 2022, click here

[Back to Top]

Receiving Milking the Weather

The Milking the Weather newsletter provides seasonal and climate risk information for the dairy industry, four times per year (summer, autumn, winter and spring).

Information includes regional round ups for the previous season, seasonal climate outlook summaries, strategies on managing the season ahead and case studies on farmers managing climate risk successfully on their farms.

To subscribe to the Milking the Weather e-newsletter or request the latest edition in PDF format, Email: Maria Rose

© The State of Victoria Department of Jobs Precincts and Regions

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence. You are free to re-use the work under that licence, on the condition that you credit author. To view a copy of this licence, visit creative commons.

If you would like to receive this publication in an alternative format please telephone the Customer Service Centre on 136 186, or via the National Relay Service on 133 677

This publication may be of assistance to you, but the State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.


To provide feedback on the newsletter, request the latest edition in PDF format, or for assistance to subscribe/unsubscribe, please contact:

Maria Rose, Editor


Privacy | Email:

Agriculture Victoria

This newsletter is distributed by the Agriculture Victoria.