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Milking the Weather – Seasonal and climate risk information for the dairy industry
Volume 13, Issue 4: Summer 2022–23
Welcome to our newsletter for summer 2022–23
In this edition:

1.Victorian seasonal climate summary (spring 2022) and outlook (summer 202223

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

3. Managing the season ahead season – summer 202223

4.Victorian Dairying Areas Seasonal Soil Moisture Condition Assessment – spring 2022 review and summer 2022–23 update

5. Receiving Milking the Weather e-newsletter

Victorian seasonal climate summary (spring) and outlook (summer 2022–23)

Adapted from:

In a nutshell
  • Spring was much wetter than average across most of the state with large parts of northern and western Victoria having their wettest spring on record. For Victoria overall it was also the highest spring rain amount ever documented since recording of rainfall events began in 1900 (over 120 years ago).
  • Maximum temperatures were mostly below average and minimum temperatures were mostly above average across Victoria this last spring.
  • The ENSO outlook currently remains at La Niña increasing the chance of above average Victorian summer rainfall. SAM is currently near neutral in this second week of December and showing signs of continuing back up into the positive direction.
  • Although it appears that La Niña is starting to breakdown due to current sea surface temperature anomalies and signs of weakening trade winds, those record high temperatures in the Coral Sea are going to keep it warm for some time, providing a moisture source for possible rain.
  • The SOI after being strongly positive over the first half of last spring with a value around +20, plummeted over the second half part to +4. Currently the 30-day SOI value is sitting back at +8.1 with signs of it heading in an upwards direction.
  •  The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria shows likely wetter rainfall and neutral forecasts for temperature in this current summer with a likely exception of the north-east part of the state experiencing cooler temperatures.
Rainfall, temperature and soil moisture summaries and outlooks

Featured in this section is last spring’s summary of Victoria’s key rainfall, temperature and soil moisture trends and some key outlook comments for this current summer.

Referring to last spring’s rainfall deciles map below; precipitation was highest on record across most of the dairying areas in the Murray–Darling Basin area of Victoria down through to the west coast around the Central Highlands and the great south coast west of Warrnambool. Dairying areas throughout most of Gippsland and the south-west of the state were very much above average (decile 10) and above average (decile 8-9). Those dairying areas with spring rainfall deciles of 10 and above (highest on record), experienced significant flooding and subsequent harvesting delays.

Map showing Victorian rainfall deciles for spring 2022

In September, rainfall was above average across most of the state's north. October rainfall was the highest for any month since records began in 1900, whilst November rainfall was the fifth highest on record for that month.

Latest seasonal rainfall decile maps 

Latest seasonal rainfall total maps  

Soil moisture

Looking at the Australian Water Outlook (AWO) modelled soil moisture deciles for the end of spring as shown in the map below, it remains wetter and unsurprisingly in the highest one per cent of years in many locations. Contrasting this with the plant available water from the soil probe network, moisture remains high over most of the state, and has barely moved from saturated south of the divide. 

The BoM Australian Water Outlook (AWO) on 29 November 2022, indicated all of Victoria wetter than normal, with much of north of the Divide in the wettest one per cent of years. The majority of Agriculture Victoria’s network of 30 Soil Moisture Monitoring probes at the end of spring were sitting on saturated, with just six probes less than this. 

For a detailed update of the key recent spring soil moisture levels for the dryland dairy farm sites at Yarram in South Gippsland and a summary of key soil moisture trends for both the Jancourt dryland dairy site in South-West Victoria and the Longwarry one in West Gippsland, refer to the soil moisture assessment article, which appears later in this edition of Milking the Weather.

Victoria Map displaying root zone soil moisture for 29 Nov 2022

Latest Victorian soil moisture map

Maximum temperatures
As shown in the map of Victoria below, overall daytime temperatures during last spring, were mostly very much below average (decile 1) in the northern half of the state except for the south-east corner and most of the southern half which were below average (decile 2–3) where they were below average over most of the state. This trend included most of the dairying regions. Generally, along the coastline of the state maximum temperatures were average.  November was a very cold month, with decile one temperatures over much of the state and two to four degrees cooler north of the Great Dividing Ranges.

Maximum temperature decile map of Victoria for spring2022

Minimum temperatures
The minimum temperature map below highlights that last spring’s night-time temperature deciles for most of Victoria were above average (decile 8-9) with the south-west corner, encompassing most of the south-west dairying region, being very much above average (decile 10).  During November, it was cooler by nought to two degrees and ranked decile two to three in the Mallee and north east, and it was a bit warmer down in the south-west corner.

Map of Victoria showing minimum temperature deciles for spring 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

The focus in this edition is on how these drivers behaved and influenced rainfall events over last spring and how they may affect this current summer. Website addresses to access the latest maps and graphs related to each of these drivers are also provided.

If you haven’t done so already, test out the seasonal forecast tool, which displays longer-term rainfall records for locations you wish to select as interactive maps and indicate how these climate drivers such as ENSO and the IOD have influenced seasonal rainfall in the past.

ENSO Outlook


Click here for more information about La Niña conditions or if you would like to hear Agriculture Victoria Seasonal Risk Agronomist Dale Grey explain it in the La Niña episode of My Rain Gauge is Busted podcast series, tune into the podcast here.

Latest ENSO updates

The ENSO Outlook continues to be at La Niña, potentially increasing the chance of above average Victorian summer rainfall.  Sea Surface Temperatures in the tropical Pacific remain near La Niña thresholds but have warmed slightly compared to values in mid-November.

Warm sub-surface temperature anomalies have continued to extend eastwards from the western Pacific since then. The majority of climate models predict a return to neutral ENSO in January or February 2023. La Niña conditions increase the chance of above average summer rainfall in northern and eastern Australia.

Sea surface temperature anomalies

As readers are mostly likely aware, sustained changes in the difference between normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical western and eastern Indian Ocean are what characterise IOD events.

Regarding sea surface temperature anomalies occurring at the end of spring (as shown in the following map image), the Central Pacific at NINO 3.4 was at 0.62°C, which relates to a weak La Niña pattern. The trade winds have also been weakening, matched by the SOI plummeting over the last half of spring, with pressures at Darwin and Tahiti now normal at the start of this current summer. Although it appears that La Niña is starting to breakdown, those record warm temperatures in the Coral Sea are going to stay warm for some time which will continue to supply a moisture source for possible rain.


Map of the world showing sea surface temperature anomalies 28 November2022

For more information on how sea surface temperatures (the key to the world’s rainfall stage) are measured, how relevant maps are created and how to read them, check out these sites

Latest SST maps  

Latest NINO 3.4 SST Index graphs

Agriculture Victoria's eLearn – how to read a SSTA map 

Southern Oscillation Index
The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) as many readers will be aware, gives an indication of the development and intensity of El Niño or La Niña events in the Pacific Ocean, calculated by using the pressure differences between Tahiti and Darwin. Sustained negative SOI values of less than negative seven (-7) show a possible shift to El Niño events. Sustained positive values of the SOI above positive seven (+7) typically indicate La Niña. Values for SOI between +7 and −7 generally indicate neutral conditions.

Current 30 Day Moving SOI map on the left indicating that it's value was +8.1 on 5 December 2022

After being strongly positive over the first half of spring around +20, the 30-day Moving SOI value plummeted over the second half to +4. Currently (on 5 December 2022) its value is sitting back up at +8.1 with signs of heading in an upwards direction.

Latest 30-Day Moving SOI map


Southern Annular Mode

The Southern Annular Mode (SAM), also referred to as the Antarctic Oscillation (AAO) 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 strong westerly winds is 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 9 August to 6 Dec 2022

The SAM after being negative for the last half of October, started in November with weak negativity, but then had a large positive burst for the first half of that month. Currently (6 December) it is near neutral. In summer, a positive SAM historically leads to a wetter eastern half of Victoria and western coastal areas, with stronger easterly winds. The Bureau of Meteorology and NOAA both predict the SAM to return to positive over the rest of December. 

Based on historical events, should SAM become more positive over the rest of this summer, it could lead to wetter conditions with stronger easterly winds in the eastern half of Victoria and along its western coastal areas.

Latest SAM graph showing observed and GFS forecasts

The Sub-Tropical Ridge
The Sub-Tropical Ridge of High Pressure (STR) due to its location and behavioural traits, has a dominant influence on the climate of Australia particularly in winter. During our summer it tends to (but not always) sit over southern Australia bringing dry weather to Victoria as a direct result. The STR as most will be aware, is a belt of high-pressure systems that circles the southern hemisphere’s midlatitudes in the region of the earth’s globe between about 23°S and 66°S.

Mean sea level pressure map for 31 October to 29 November 2022

In the past 30 days, whilst the STR has sat at a normal spring position over Adelaide as shown in the mean sea level pressure map on the left, it is still yet to make a move further south to its normal summer position, centred over Melbourne.

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

Referring to the air pressure anomalies map on the right, the STR at the end of last spring was much lower than normal over south-eastern Australia. Our continent remained sandwiched between large high-pressure systems over both Western Australia and New Zealand allowing moisture to easily flow down from the north. Given air pressures currently, in the second week of our summer, are no longer sitting low to our tropical north, we southerners should see some relief from the “moisture expressway” via the tropics that we experienced last spring.

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

Sea level anomaly map for 31 October to 29 November 2022

Modelled climate and ocean predictions for Victoria from November 2022 run models
The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria, shows likely wetter rainfall and neutral forecasts for temperature for the current summer months of December 2022 and January and February 2023. One exception is the likely cooler temperatures in the north east. A larger resolution version of the Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions from November 2022 run models for Victoria as appears in the table below, can be found here

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

Maria Rose, Dairy Extension Officer, Agriculture Victoria 

Image of the 3 case study farmers Hans van Wees (left) from Tinamba in 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).

At the start of a new summer, this time we hear from Hans van Wees (left) from Tinamba in 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).

In this catch up with Hans (MID, Gippsland), Craig (South-West Victoria) and Brett (North-East Victoria), six months since the last time, we find out what’s specific and relevant to them about:

  • how both the 2022 winter and spring turned out for them on their particular properties
  • the key issues they had to deal with and the related successes and curve balls
  • challenges related to the last six months being continually wet and or any other difficult climatic conditions faced
  • the key risk management strategies they have planned for this summer
  • their anticipated risk level and related mitigation strategies beyond this summer
  • any new relevant projects or plans on the horizon – their related concerns, epiphanies and or expectations, timetable of priority seasonal risk-related activities (climate, other risk management issues, including biosecurity approaches and their health etc.).
Hans van Wees, Tinamba, Macalister Irrigation District, Gippsland

When I last spoke with Hans in early June 2022 at the start of last winter, a prolonged previous wet spring resulted in lost milk production having to be recouped. They were very pleased with the value they were getting from installing soil moisture monitoring gear and re-using their effluent. The support country had bounced back, and they’d locked in their grain prices until the end of this financial year to mitigate anticipated risks of unpredictable grain prices. Now at the start of summer 2022–23, Hans shared the following.

A fairly easy winter
Winter wasn’t too bad. We managed to keep the cows at home with no pasture damage with fairly good utilisation of supplementary feed. It was essentially an average winter but mild, both rainfall and frost intensity wise. We got off pretty lightly flooding wise so far – there have been no major events to cause us too much grief. 

We made sure that we dried the cows off in their proper condition score (4.5 to 5 minimum) before turning them out of the dairy. We also ensured that we had enough fodder and pasture cover for calving as that is usually the main issue we need to mitigate. It was what most would call a fairly easy winter as we were able work within our feed budget so there were no major disasters. Although the cows calved slightly slower than expected, we never ran short of grass.

Not such a good spring overall
Spring started off really well providing mild conditions, but eight weeks in it was just wet and cold; we had muddy tracks and the grass was not growing well enough for the milk production to be where it should be.

Consequently, we were unable to avoid a little bit of pugging damage, which wasn’t too bad but the cows didn’t really reach their peak in milk production. They sat at about 0.1 to 0.2 kgs of milk solids below normal. Given it was too wet to put on nitrogen strategically at the right time probably didn’t help. All these issues were the economic impacts of last spring’s weather for us!

Joining program had a slow start
To start with we had a higher number of non-cycling cows last 10 days of October and the middle of November, which I think was mostly due to the weather conditions. Just wetter, I think. We did have about 30 per cent of the herd that were non-cycling cows, which I put down to the lack of sunshine, lack of warmth, pugging damage and all that stuff. We treated the non-cycling cows with a CEDA program.

However, through persistence, now at day 31 of our joining program, we are back on track – every cow has been joined – and some have obviously returned, which is normal and we are looking pretty good at the moment.

Irrigation management approach to maintain pasture quality
Despite us expecting a wetter than normal summer, we are currently irrigating at the moment (1 December) as it is quite dry. We are trying to maintain pasture quality which is pretty hard going as it has gone from very wet to quite dry in a very short time, presenting us with a lot of problems in maintaining feed quality.

We are currently making sure that all our drains are clean (sprayed out) so that the water can get away at the quickest rate possible if we get more rain. We are still irrigating and fertilising as normal. You can’t stop farming if they say it’s going to be wet, you just have to keep going.

Organise your herd’s fibre and supplementary needs now
I think for both autumn and winter if you haven’t got your fibre source and supplements organised now at the very start of summer, then you are in deep trouble. There is none available from the Western District or from northern Victoria if you were planning on buying it in, because of all the continual flood conditions they have been experiencing over the last six months especially. So, because of this situation we are making a real effort to grow more supplementary home-grown feed and locking in canola meal and working on wheat at the moment just waiting for confirmation of price.

For home feed we’ve planted just grass. We made our silage a little earlier, which was the first week of November to get the better quality.  Hence, we are hoping to get a second cut of better quality as a direct result for hay or silage depending on what rain comes our way at the crucial harvesting times. We’ve already made close to one tonne DM per cow of supplement to feed at home which amounts to around 850 tonnes.

Skimping on nitrogen actually costs money
Since we had a couple of wet and cold spring seasons in a row, it certainly showed and confirmed that it is easier to farm in a dry year than a wet year. Last year we cut back on nitrogen, and I think that turned out to be a mistake in the end. So, this year we are going back to maintaining our normal application amount – roughly 150 units of nitrogen per hectare.

As a result of not applying nitrogen for the last six months we are convinced that this was a large factor in lost production, which cost us more financially than we saved in reduced nitrogen fertiliser cost.

Don’t wait for rain
I anticipate this summer that we will experience the same kind of extreme weather – so we could have dry spells followed by wet spells again. We just have to stay in the mindset of when our soils are dry that we just can’t wait for the rain! We will make sure that we irrigate according to schedules and SMM readings and go for it. We find that since we have installed our SMM gear we are irrigating way more effectively.

We did however discover that from the three lots of soil moisture probes installed, the first two (one section of the farm each) were great but the third lot (consisting of two other sections on the farm) feels like a waste of time and money at the moment. All three lots were installed by the same company but the third lot that we are not happy with was installed by a different person to the first two lots. Jakob my business partner is chasing down the person who installed the last lot and getting him to reinstall that section again properly. We anticipate that this situation once rectified, will result in performance that will be as good as the other two jobs.

Reclaiming thirty hectares for young stock
When I last spoke with you at the start of winter, I mentioned that the support country was just starting to bounce back. We probably picked up another 30 hectares of good grazing for our young stock (first year milkers) in this last six months through reclaiming this support country where we used to grow crops and putting in new pastures, stock water supply and fencing. It’s got tremendous growth on it now on the first day of this summer. 

Forward buying grain pays off
The milk price is fantastic this year. We locked a lot of our fodder costs in six months back, so we’ve certainly seen the benefits from that combination of events money wise. And we’ve used that strategy again as in having already started to lock-in grain for the rest of this milking season.

Making the most of effluent and soil testing
As part of our annual commitment, we got soil tests done recently on quite a few paddocks (including ones that had liquid effluent recently applied) and as a result we had lime and gypsum spread, which made a hell of a difference to pasture growth too. We found out a few interesting things from this last lot of soil tests; some country won’t need any phosphate or potash and other country just needs lime and gypsum. So, we have saved a lot of money on fertiliser from the combination of using effluent and getting soil tests done annually.  Furthermore, we are in the process of organising a contractor to empty the solids and sludge out of our effluent ponds this summer to extract as well as cart it to and spread it on areas that we can’t with our limited machinery and equipment.

Focus on home grown fodder
Our key mitigation strategy over this summer and beyond is to make sure we have enough of our own home-grown fodder to minimise what we buy-in. Our overall aim is to carry forward as fodder reserves for as many months as possible!

Retiring from dairy farming
I’m retiring from milking cows at the end of June 2023. I had one hip replacement last year (2022) and getting another one done next year, hopefully around March 2023.

The exit strategy in place as Jakob the owner of the whole dairy farm business is currently going through the process of organising a smooth transition of an incumbent replacement meant to start by February next year at the latest which gives the four months to put changes in place. Currently Jakob and I are just sorting out making sure that feed reserves are up to date. Basically, all will go ahead as usual until the end June when full handover will have taken place.

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Craig Dwyer, Bullaharre, South-West Victoria

When I spoke with Craig previously at the start of last winter, he had just come out of the driest January to May ever experienced.  As a consequence, their autumn over sowing/renovation and summer cropping program due to lack of timely rain was not at the stage of providing the feed quantity and quality as they hoped.  A business partner arrangement to assist with work life balance and less involvement in herd management to concentrate on feed management had begun. Six months later in the second week of December, Craig had literally just finished a mammoth 10 days in a row of making silage and here’s what he had to say this time around the start of summer.

Constant wet conditions
Late winter and spring were both atrocious in my opinion. We got very wet at the end of winter and there was no spring as winter just kind of went pretty much until the start of December for us. It was dull, wet and miserable just about every day. We just haven’t had a pause in the continual wet weather conditions to get some quality silage off, up until the last 10 days.

Spring/early summer mayhem
Just two Thursdays ago (tail end of November) we had the helicopter flying around putting fertiliser on for the third time and then seven days later we were madly cutting silage. Also, just yesterday (11 December) we’ve managed to finish putting our first crop in amongst constantly working ten days in a row to get 800 bales (approximately 264 tonnes DM) of silage done as well. That’s kind of how mad this spring season and the start of summer has been on our farm.   We were as wet as we have ever been at the start of November for the entire year.

Enough fodder reserves   
I am quietly confident that we have got enough fodder reserves up our sleeve to get us through this coming summer, particularly given what we harvested as silage in the last 10 days. We’ve got enough on hand and what we made should get us through until the end of next winter. 

Generally, we try to aim for three bales (or one tonne DM) of our home-grown silage per milker and 100 extra bales (33 tonne DM) for our young stock. We’ve probably fallen short of that by 100 bales (or 33 tonne) and the quality is probably not exactly what we need as we would normally be making hay by now (11 December) but we only finished making silage. We’ve had to burn the candle at both ends to try and get this year’s silage done and get the crops in. One crop is in so far and we aim to get another two in just to keep that home-grown fodder contribution up and to make up our current estimated shortfall.

Maintaining fertiliser application rates
Using a helicopter to apply fertiliser on the severely wet paddocks has helped us to stay off the paddocks with machinery until we can actually do so without damaging the pasture and soil. We kept up our fertiliser application rates as normal, so we didn’t skimp despite its continuing rising prices. To reduce potential additional renovation costs to fix up paddocks we would have badly damaged through applying fertiliser using land-based equipment, we did engage a helicopter service three times to get the fertiliser out on our wettest country to keep it growing as best we possibly could.

Lime application on track
The paddocks on around half of the farm we did manage to lime over winter and spring as I indicated six months back, I am pleased to report that it has definitely made a difference, well to my eye anyway. It definitely looks a lot healthier given the stressful wet conditions those paddocks have been under. Hence, we still plan tackle the other half of the farm with applying lime as planned this autumn.

We have silage but of lesser quality
We haven’t cut as much silage as we would’ve liked because the growth rates have been so slow leading right up to the start of December. Also, when we did get the opportunity to get onto paddocks for harvesting, the pasture quality wasn’t where we would’ve like it to have been for making silage. Despite this, we’ve made the best of the situation we had in front of us.

A likely very tight hay market
We can’t see ourselves going to the hay market because we reckon, we’ve got enough stored up over the last two or three years that we should be right given we have silage as well.  We most certainly don’t need the extra stress of playing in what is likely to be a very tight hay market given the floods up north particularly. 

The irony of needing more rain imminently
Although it’s been a challenge thus far dealing with the prolonged wet conditions, ironically however, as silly as it sounds, we are hopeful that the next week (heading into the third one for December) that we get a little bit of rain as forecasted. This is so that we can get some urea out to try and keep the pastures that we just finished cutting for silage up and running again.

Major pasture renovation required next autumn
With some of the more waterlogged pastures it is going to be a challenge in the autumn because they are going to need major renovation. This is mainly as some the pasture died because it was just too wet for too long and it got wet feet. On the other paddocks where pastures haven’t died due to prolonged waterlogging effects, there is enough pugging damage that warrants some form or renovation, too. So, I am expecting a sizeable renovation cost come March and April next year.

Hoping for a magic St Paddy’s Day 2023
The biggest challenge we are going to have with autumn renovating is if we don’t get a break –  we do need an autumn break –  but we need it to dry out through February. If I could dial in exactly what I wanted, we need a dry January-February to firm paddocks up again from their wet and waterlogged states, and then we need an adequate rain event (after adequate drying out time) around St Patricks Day mid next March, that would be magic.

Mitigation strategy if next autumn is poor
Our mitigation strategy on this farm, if autumn next year is late or non-existent, is that we are still planting summer crops in this first half of December to try and tide over having to use as much silage through that January-February-March period. If we have to feed it to the dry cows in March and April instead, then so be it!  This is our strategy to prolong the silage use in case we don’t get that timely autumn break. We will still try to make a small amount of hay but we will try and grab more of useable excess pasture for silage than we normally would if we can.  

Timely forage crop choice
The crop we are using this time is a forage turnip and rape hybrid cultivar called Pasja. As I understand, I should be able to plant 12 hectares of it and the cows will be able to graze it with four to six weeks and it is meant to be a high performer. The only catch is that it does go bitter if it’s not grazed correctly and often enough, and as result the cows won’t eat it. The reason we are using Pasja is due to its rapid early growth, which particularly suits our current dilemma because we are fast running out of time to turn our usual cropping paddocks back into pasture come March-April next year. We are hoping to get at least two grazings off it prior to March and aiming to maintain its quality through not letting it reach the flowering stage, so it is still palatable enough for the milkers.

Topdressing of perennial ryegrass
The prolonged wintery conditions through spring will contribute to increased autumn renovation costs.

We will have to top dress approximately one third of the farm with a 15 kg/ha top dressing of perennial ryegrass seed just to fatten that pasture back up to where it needs to be given the waterlogging and pugging damage.

Six months of wet
I haven’t gone through all our records in recent times to check if it has actually been the wettest winter or spring for us on record. Our average annual rainfall is around 850 – 900 mm per year and we have already exceeded the 1,000 mm precipitation mark with still three weeks of the year to go. We were very dry in the first half of the year, and we’ve been very wet continuously for the last six months. I suspect our rainfall is probably up there with or perhaps higher than, a really wet year we had back in the nineties and probably back prior to that.

Next phase of business partnership
All aspects have been going well as we expected with our farm business partners. So, we are just about to go into the next phase where they start purchasing our herd from 1 April 2023. Arrangements are continuing to progress nicely from both parties’ perspectives.

Profit margin squeeze
We are currently paying around $600 per tonne for our crushed grain mix. With elevated fertiliser prices as well, it’s kind of lucky that the milk price has been up around that $10 mark. This means that we are still making a buck, but the margins are getting squeezed by the higher input price.

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Brett Findlay, Toowong Upper, North-East Victoria

Last time in Brett’s update provided at the start of June he highlighted that autumn had kicked off nicely with early rain back in April and pasture growth was good for both April and May. The decision to grow and graze chicory had unfortunately resulted in many milk fever cases and the loss of several cows. Despite this unforeseen set back, calving had gone smoothly otherwise. Now in the first week of December 2022, let’s find out how things panned out for him over last winter and spring. 

A lot of lame cows in June
When I last updated you all at the end of May a large fall of rain was in progress. As expected, this was bad news. The short days of winter here are shortened further by the surrounding hills and excess moisture creates fog, further reducing drying sunlight. If the ground gets wet early, it usually stays wet. June continued to produce a lot of rain and conditions were miserable with wet, slushy tracks and lots of lame cows.

Half average rainfall in July
In July conditions turned around and we received about half the average monthly rainfall. This tended to arrive in a few relatively large falls rather than smaller, more regular ones and I found it difficult to find opportunities to apply nitrogen fertiliser. By the end of the month the ground and the tracks had dried out and I started to shorten the rotation length to avoid being caught out by the surge in growth at the start of spring.

Moderate flooding in August
However, conditions soon reversed, and August produced massive rainfall. Nearly 25 per cent of our average annual rainfall arrived during the month and we experienced moderate flooding. Luckily the slope here means flooding usually only lasts a few days before draining away but it leaves behind track and fence damage and pastures dirty with silt. Having struggled to find opportunities to put out nitrogen in July due to dryness, the ground quickly became too wet to contemplate spreading at all, with pools of standing water in any depression in the ground.

Another step closer back to a single calving
Our efforts to improve herd fertility have really paid off in recent years and we’ve been trying to move back to a single calving in autumn. We decided that we had reached the point where we could do this and had decided to sell our spring calvers while they were dry. The market had been flat, and we hadn’t seen any interest until the cows had already started to calve. The high milk price made us wonder if we were better to keep the cows and milk them, but we ended up with buyers standing in the paddock while floodwaters submerged a large portion of our flat country. We figured if there was a spring to be milking a few less cows, this was it. The cows sold well.

Reprieve over September for a well-earned vacation
September was less wet, but rainfall was still well above average. Usually, we plant a significant amount of summer crop during August/September, but we had no hope of doing so this year. We did manage to get away for a couple of weeks in Queensland during the month. This was the first time we had managed this for several years and it was most welcome.

More flooding creates havoc for silage plans
Apart from being wet, the weather seems to have been cold, or perhaps colder than what we’ve become used to. Having lost both our main tractor operators in the past year, I was reluctant to try and make silage in early October in cold conditions where the going would be slow and difficult. I thought we would be better to buy-in some forage, which we don’t usually do. Then late October produced massive rainfall which produced more flooding.

Some of the paddocks we had banked for silage had to be fed off as we were cut off from grazing most of the farm for several days. The massive widespread flooding across many areas also rendered my buying-in of silage plan impractical due to cost and availability.

Better silage weather over November
We finally saw some better silage-making weather during November. I taught one of our milkers how to ted and rake and Chrisanya took on driving the baler. By this time pasture quality was well on the wane so I decided to wilt the grass for two days rather than the usual one to make it easier and quicker to handle, since high quality was unachievable. Fortunately, we still have a reasonable stock of silage left from last year because we have ended up making about a quarter of our usual yield and of fairly poor quality.

Wettest year in 30 years of farming
Milk production has been below average for several reasons. Reducing cow numbers has had some impact but pasture supply and quality has had much more. We have swung wildly from struggling to stay on top of growth to struggling to find any pasture not underwater to having pasture that was too dirty or rank for the cows to eat but in paddocks that were too wet to get a tractor in for topping. It has been the wettest and one of the most challenging seasons I’ve dealt with in 30 years of farming.

Choosing to sow annual ryegrass didn’t work for us
Another problem we struck was my choice of ryegrass species. For many years I have largely avoided sowing annual ryegrass. Back in the days of the 30-30 project, the north-east partner farm was a hilly farm which should have been more suited to annual ryegrass than our country. Even here the yield of Annual versus Italian ryegrass was four versus six tonne of DM a year.

I always held the view that the extra cost for the Italian seed was a triviality compared to the extra yield and extended growing season. However, having sowed a lot of chicory and rape in early spring in recent years, it seemed a waste to sow Italian ryegrass into intended crop paddocks only to spray it out just as it got growing well.

This year I sowed these paddocks to annual ryegrass, so I had lower seed cost and more winter growth before cropping. Of course, the cropping was impossible so through spring we’ve had paddocks with a lot more seed head and stalk than they needed to. I’ve contemplated sowing some millet or sorghum into these paddocks, but I’m not going to for the usual reasons. They’d produce a bulk of low-quality feed when our feed demand is relatively low and delay sowing into paddocks where there is also likely to be a high level of trash. I’d rather get some cereal or Italian ryegrass and rape in early next year.

Swings in weather conditions
As I reflect at this time in early December, the weather seems to have changed significantly again. It was only a week or two ago I had to dig out a thermal t-shirt and winter shirt because two jumpers over my summer shirt wasn’t warm enough. Now we seem to have gone straight from late winter to early summer and now I’m thinking I should start up the centre pivot. This may have advantages, though.

Drier, warmer weather this summer will aid the croppers to salvage as much grain as possible after the carnage of the last few months. With so much potential forage lost, more and therefore somewhat cheaper grain will be in the dairy industry’s interest.

Strong milk price helps inflationary factors
Last time I spoke about how I thought we might need to be cautious with inputs due to their high cost. However, the aggressive opening price “auction” environment soon pushed the milk price up in line with the increase in input prices and decisions on input use have not been affected by their cost.

Many of the disruptive and inflationary factors in our supply chains are still present, so I expect that 2023 will continue to present us with many challenges but a strong milk price gives dairy farmers some leeway to keep moving ahead.

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Managing the season ahead – summer 2022– 23

Richard Smith, Agriculture Victoria Dairy Services,Tatura


  • The Bureau of Meteorology forecast for the next three months (December 2022 – January 2023) suggests that large parts of Victoria are likely to experience above median rainfall, with maximum temperatures below the median.
  • Spring was the wettest on record for Victoria, so now most soils have good moisture levels going into summer. Areas in the north may need to manage grazing, so pastures are not damaged by pugging if it does get too wet.
  • Coming into summer prices are easing as harvesting picks up pace. However, rainfall is continuing to impact cropping and fodder management decisions, which is likely to impact availability in future seasons.
  • In areas of northern Victoria and in Gippsland famers have had to use more of their stored fodder reserves to help reduce the damage to pastures over spring as animals had to be kept away from waterlogged soils.
  • Gippsland irrigators have had a minimal demand for regulated water. The Macalister system allocation presently sits at 100 per cent high reliability allocated and Low Reliability Water Shares will be allocated from 15 December 2022 with soil moisture already present.
  • All northern Victorian irrigation systems are currently at 100 per cent HRWS. The risk of spill in the Murray, Goulburn and Campaspe systems will be updated on Monday 12 December. The next 2022/23 seasonal determination announcement will be released on Thursday 15 December.


Factors favouring an above average summer
The current forecast favours good summer pasture and crop production with higher-than-normal summer soil moisture availability and predicted above average rainfall. However, in north and central Victoria, waterlogging will have reduced pasture growth.

Pasture and crops
Spring saw significant flooding affected large areas of Victoria. With this spring, the wettest on record for Victoria (previous record 1992), this yielded an area average of 353.3 mm. The mean maximum temperature over spring was the sixth lowest on record for Victoria.

The prediction by the Bureau of Meteorology is the December to February rainfall forecast has above median rainfall (greater than 60 per cent chance) across eastern and central Victoria. For December, below median maximum temperatures are very likely (greater than 80 per cent chance), for most of Victoria. The December to February maximum temperatures forecast are likely to be below median for Victoria. However, the December to February minimum temperatures are likely to very likely (greater than 60 per cent to greater than 80 per cent chance) to be warmer than median for Victoria.

The predicted above average rainfall combined with lower maximum temperatures through summer may help generate some more pasture growth compared to a drier summer year, however, areas with high soil moisture may have pugging and pasture damage.

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, feedpad and supplementary feeding may assist in managing this.

More information on managing wet soils

Fertiliser application
With the availability of soil moisture nitrogen fertiliser could be used to generate some quick growth for green feed over summer. Urea is still the cheapest source of nitrogen at around $1400 per tonne (ex GST and freight) or $3.04 per kg N. The expected early summer responses from nitrogen range from 10 to 15 kg DM per kg N.

Some farmers have resorted to aerial application of some fertilisers to avoid damaging paddocks with machinery and to generate more pasture growth. Nitrogen prices are expected to continue to fluctuate.

The lower maximum temperatures combined with soil moisture and rainfall will encourage uptake of nitrogen or other fertilisers. However, storms may pose risks in washing away the application.

Responses to any applied nitrogen is dependent on moisture, temperature, and the amount of existing pasture. The VRO website has a calculator to assist with the economics of the responses you may get.

Fodder and grain
Coming into summer, prices are easing as harvesting picks up pace. This has led to wheat at $422-432 per tonne, depending on locality and grade. However, the continued lower price of barley, at around $370-380 per tonne, makes it more economic to use to assist filling 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 summer. Barley contains about 10 per cent moisture so $417 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 $527-537 per tonne or $591 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.

The high impact rainfall and flooding events significantly reduced spring hay production, with high protein hay shortages been seen widely, particular in vetch and lucerne. In the north, producers have resorted to making silage from paddocks that would have gone into hay. Whilst others are planting corn for chop silage and millet to meet their fodder requirements.

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. Lucerne is currently trading at around $408-447 per tonne; the price may increase as supplies are still low. Vetch hay is also in very short supply.

Demand for good quality cereal hay has remained strong with prices increasing at $220-267 per tonne depending on source, quality and location. Pasture hay is still increasing with prices at $175-227 per tonne.

These continuing seasonal conditions and ongoing rain will lead to a reduction in the quality of paddock dry feed which will put further pressure on demand for hay and silage.

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

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 the end of winter period. How much will I be able to make on farm and how much may need to be bought-in?

Agriculture Victoria continues to work closely with flood-affected farmers to understand the impacts and the full extent of damage and loss so we can ensure our assistance best meets their needs.

Agriculture Victoria is providing support to farmers affected by the floods, delivering information and technical advice on managing the recovery process, and co-ordinating efforts with other organisations including the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) and other peak agricultural industry bodies, emergency management partner agencies, including Local Government, Catchment Management Authorities and numerous community organisations

For more information click here to visit the floods page on the Agriculture Victoria website.

To assist producers, Agriculture Victoria is hosting several biosecurity planning workshops and webinars over the next few months. Click here for details.  

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 Biosecurity 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 spring has continued to provide good inflows to the Victorian water storages.

At the start of December, Lake Glenmaggie was sitting at 90 per cent, with minimal demand for regulated water and allocation of 100 per cent high reliability. With Low Reliability Water Shares to be allocated from 15 December, with good soil moisture already present.

In northern Victoria, record inflows occurred during October at several storages. Water use as of 15 November was about 80 per cent lower than this time last year because of the wet conditions. The Murray, Broken and Campaspe systems have 100 per cent high-reliability water shares (HRWS) and 100 per cent low-reliability water shares (LRWS) allocated. The Goulburn and Loddon systems are at 100 per cent HWRS and 77 per cent LRWS.

The risk of spill in the Murray, Goulburn and Campaspe systems was last updated on Monday 12 December; the next 2022/23 seasonal determination announcement will be released on Thursday 15 December.

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

Irrigation allocations and outlooks for southern Victoria. This site relevant for southern Victoria, is managed by Southern Rural Water.

Irrigation allocations and outlooks for northern Victoria.This site is maintained by Goulburn Murray Water in accordance with Victorian water sharing rules.

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

Location-based seasonal forecasting tool

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.

This year’s Climate and Water Outlook issued by the Bureau of Meteorology

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Victorian dairying areas seasonal soil moisture condition assessment – spring 2022 review and summer 2022–23 update

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 dryland dairy farms in Jancourt (South-West Victoria), Longwarry (West Gippsland) and Jack River near Yarram (South Gippsland).  The installed probes measure adjacent soil moisture at each of these 30 monitoring sites (as the one depicted in the photo on the right) and are best described as capacitance types.

Photo of equipment at a typical Soil Moisture Monitoring Site, one of Agriculture Victoria's network of thirty locations.

Probes that are installed at each location 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 spring 2022, as well as relevant future insights for this summer for the Yarram site in the south east, monitoring a prairie grass paddock. A summary of key soil moisture trends for the Jancourt in South-West Victoria and the Longwarry site will also be provided.


Slower pasture growth as well as continual wet conditions has delayed silage harvest including general trafficability issues for many producers. Silage making only commenced in earnest mid-way for dairy farmers through November mostly in the eastern half of the state and for some dairying areas especially in the western part of the state its been as late as the first  or second week of December. Also, a number of sites reported lower quality pasture due to the leaching of nutrients. A wetter than average soil moisture monitoring outlook combined with above field capacity levels, means dairy farmers (like many other producers also) throughout Victoria are actively revisiting their summer forage plans.

Victorian soil moisture monitoring outlook

Monthly analysis of all monitoring sites

Live interactive Soil Moisture Monitoring Dashboard


Soil Type: Brown Sodosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam 

Yarram was typical of sites in south and west Gippsland, entering last spring at above field capacity. This remained the status with the above average rainfall which occurred during this period with September just below average and October and November showing well above average rainfall. With the rain gauge failing to record at the site, the rainfall total of the Madalya BOM site has been used and recorded 433.6 millimetres (September-November).

The Yarram district record limited/slowed pasture growth, delayed silage harvest and caused general trafficability issues for many producers. Silage making only commenced mid way though November. This was combined with sites reporting lower quality pastures due to the leaching of nutrients with the ongoing wet conditions.


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

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 December 2022 and also in the image below of two graphs showing soil moistrue trends of the priarie grass paddock at the Yarram site for the spring just gone.

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


Soil Type: Brown Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam

At the start of spring, this site was above field capacity, and the soil remained in this saturated state with the above average rainfall during spring. These soil conditions resulted in neighbouring districts recording limited/slowed pasture growth, delayed silage harvest and caused general trafficability issues for many producers. With silage making only started to be made mid-way through November. Sites are reporting lower quality pastures due to the leaching of nutrients because of the ongoing wet conditions.

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

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


Soil Type:Grey Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam

Continued above average rainfall in October and November, and average rainfall in September, resulted in a challenging spring for many South-West Victorian dairy farmers. Soils across the region have been at field capacity and saturated for most of spring, which has limited/slowed pasture growth, delayed silage harvest and caused general trafficability issues for many.

Those who have been successful in commencing silage harvest have experienced average yields and lower grade quality product at varying levels, depending on how wet the harvested paddocks were. Planting of  forage crops has finally commenced in earnest; however, sowing was held up due to the continued wet conditions with some farmers having to revisit their summer forage crop plans.

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 December 2022, click here.

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