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Milking the Weather – Seasonal and climate risk information for the dairy industry
Volume 13, Issue 1: Autumn 2022
Welcome to our newsletter for autumn 2022
In this edition:

1. Victorian seasonal climate summary summer 2021–22 review  and autumn 2022 update

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

3. Managing the season ahead season  autumn 2022

4. Victorian Dairying Areas Seasonal Soil Moisture Condition Assessment – summer 2021–22 summary and autumn 2022 update

5. Receiving Milking the Weather e-newsletter

Adapted from: (click on the two links below)

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM)

The Fast Break Newsletter (Vol 17: Issue 2 – 27 Feb 2022)

Victorian seasonal climate summary (summer 2021–22) and outlook (autumn 2022)
In a nutshell
  •  Night-time temperatures in the month of January were above average across the state.
  •  At the start of March 2022, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is neutral. It typically has little influence on global climate from December to April due to the influence of the monsoon.
  • The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) was positive for most of summer 2021–21 often leading to greater easterly flow into eastern parts of Victoria which usually provides moisture for the east, but less for the west of the state. Currently in early March it is starting to come back to neutral (normal) status.
  • The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is currently positive due to sea level pressure being higher at Tahiti and normal to lower over Darwin.The current situation with La Niña in the Pacific Ocean and the current positive Southern Annular Mode (SAM) are likely influencing the predicted ‘above median‘ rainfall outlooks.
  • The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria, shows likely wetter rainfall or neutral rainfall with hints of warmer temperature in the next three months (March, April and May). Refer to the table at the end of this climate summary and outlook article.The Indian Ocean Dipole will likely remain neutral for the coming months, which is consistent with its typical seasonal cycle.
Rainfall, temperature and soil moisture summaries and outlooks

Featured in this section is last summer’s (2021–22) round up of Victorian rainfall, temperature and soil moisture and some key outlook comments for this autumn (2022).

The Victorian rainfall deciles for the summer 2021–22 map below shows that ranges were mostly above average (decile 8–9) to very much above average (decile 10) for the eastern part of the state. They were mostly average (decile 4–7) for the rest of the state with significant areas along the South Australian and south-western borders,  with north and south east of Melbourne being mostly below average (decile 2–3) to very much below average (decile 1).

Map showing Victorian rainfall deciles for summer 2021-22

The dairying areas of the Macalister Irrigation District (MID), East Gippsland and the Northern Irrigation Region (NIR) were amongst those areas recording above average summer rainfall (decile 8–9).

For most of the dairying areas in South Gippsland it was average (decile 4–7). In the major dairying areas in the south west of the state, summer rainfall was mostly below average (decile 2–3) with patches around Warrnambool and along the South Australian border being very much below average (decile 1).

Most of the dairying areas in West Gippsland also recorded below average summer rainfall (decile 2–3) with patches around Warragul recording much below average (decile 1) amounts.

Latest seasonal rainfall decile maps 

Latest seasonal rainfall total maps  

Maximum temperatures
As shown in the map below, summer 2021–22 daytime temperatures were average (maximum temperature decile 4–7) for the whole of the eastern third of Victoria apart from an area surrounding Bairnsdale in East Gippsland where they were below average at decile 2–3. The other two thirds of the state, had above average daytime tempertaures (maximum temperature decile 8–9) apart from an area in the north west between Ouyen, Rainbow, Rupanyup and Wycheeproof.

Map showing Victorian maximum temperature deciles for summer 2021-22.

Over December, most of the Mallee and Wimmera and a band surrounding Port Phillip Bay including a large part of the dairying area around West Gippsland had above average daytime temperatures (decile 8–9). The rest of the state was mostly average (maximum temperature decile 4–7).

During January, daytime termperatures in the western half of the state were very much above average (maximum temperature decile 10) which included daiying areas mostly in all of the south west. An above average day temperature band (maximum temperature decile 8–9) stretched from around Echuca at the NSW border right down to Foster in South Gippsland and some parts of West Gippsland. The eastern third of the state was average (maximum temperature decile 4–7).

Most of the state experienced average daytime temperatures (decile 4–7) for February. The exception was the eastern corner including most of the dairying areas of the north east, the MID and East Gippsland where below average daytime temperatures (decile 2–3) were experienced.

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

Minimum temperatures
The map below highlights that summer night-time temperatures were above average (decile 8–9) for most of Victoria. Two areas were exceptions with very much above average minimum temperatures (decile 10). One was along the middle section of South Australia encompassing the big and little dessert areas. The other was an area in the north east of the state stretching from Echuca through to the Errinundra in East Gipsland and encompassing much of the dairying area in the north east.

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

The whole of the state including all Victorian dairying regions had average night time temperatures (mininum temperature decile 4–7) for December, except for a small area along the South Australian border in the dessert region where minimum temperatures were below average (mininum temperature decile 2–3).

Night-time temperatures over January were the highest on record for most of the state. The north western corner above Ouyen and the eastern third of the state including a part of the NIR, all of North East Victorian, MID, East Gippsland and Central Gippsland dairying areas had very much above average night time temperatures (mininum temperature decile 10).

February night-time temperatures for most of Victoria were average (mininum temperature decile 4–7) except for two obvious areas. One being a noticeable strip along the whole of the south coast stretching from Nelson near the South Australian border, encompassing the dairying areas around Warrnambool to the those around Foster and Wilsons Promiitory in South Gippsland. The other being the eastern tip between the dairying areas around Orbost and the coastal fishing town of Mallacoota.

Individual Victorian maps of minimum temperature deciles for December 2021 and January and February 2022.

The map below highlights that summer night-time temperatures were above average (decile 8–9) for most of Victoria. Two areas were exceptions with very much above average minimum temperatures (decile 10). One was along the middle section of South Australia encompassing the big and little dessert areas. The other was an area in the north east of the state stretching from Echuca through to the Errinundra in East Gipsland and encompassing much of the dairying area in the north east.

Maximum and minimum temperature deciles and other temperature related maps  

Soil moisture

In the last week of November 2021, the BOM Australian Water Resources Assessment (AWRA) of modelled plant-available soil moisture indicated that water decile for pastures in Victoria were ranked drier at decile 2–3 in the north west of the state and North-Central Victoria. In central and east Gippsland, soils were ranked as wetter at decile 8–10.

Currently (as of 5 December 2021) in the northern part of Victoria’s dairying regions, the northern irrigated areas have mostly wetter soils (above average at decile 8–9 soil moisture), and the upper river valleys in the north east, have very wet soils (very much above average at decile 10 soil moisture).

In central (including the MID) and east Gippsland dairying areas around Bairnsdale and Orbost, soils are ranked as mostly very wet (very much above average at decile 10).

The dairying areas of both South and West Gippsland in this first week of December 2021 pastures soils are mostly a mixture of average (decile 4–7) and wet (decile 8–9) moisture content.

Over in the dairying regions in the south west, including areas around Warrnambool, Port Campbell and Ballarat soils are currently ranked as mostly average (decile 4–7).

Map pertaining to 7 March 2022 showing Victorian  2021 modelled plant available water deciles for 10 to 100 centimetres soil depth.

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

Latest Victorian soil moisture map 

Climate driver update

In this section an update on key climate drivers of Victoria’s rainfall is presented in order of and including El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), Sea Surface temperatures in the Indian and Pacific Oceans (SST), Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and the Southern Tropical Ridge (STR).

In this edition, we focus on how these drivers behaved and influenced rainfall events over the summer just gone. Website addresses to access the latest maps and graphs related to each of these drivers are also provided.
Test out the seasonal forecast tool visit 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.

Seasonal Forecast Tool

El Niño–Southern Oscillation

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

The ENSO Outlook remains at LA Niña, with most atmospheric and oceanic indicators persisting at La Niña levels. Latest oceanic observations, along with most model outlooks, suggest this La Niña event is past its peak, with a return to neutral El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecast around the middle of autumn. This is consistent with the typical ENSO event life cycle.

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 Guage is Busted by clicking here

Indian Ocean Dipole
Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) events are driven by changes in the tropical Indian Ocean. Sustained changes in the difference between normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical western and eastern Indian Ocean are what characterise IOD events.

A negative IOD is a ‘wetter climate driver’ typically enhancing winter–spring rainfall in southern and eastern Australia. The accuracy of IOD forecasting is better over winter and spring.

 A negative IOD is typically associated with:

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

The IOD is currently slightly negative (currently -0.46°C as of 27 February 2022, just below the -0.4°C threshold) given the warming off Sumatra and normal water off the cost of Africa. Any other similarity to an actual -IOD is purely coincidental, as IOD formation is not possible when the northern wet season is active.

Sea surface temperature anomolies

The Equatorial Pacific Ocean remained cool over December 2021 and January 2022, with NINO3 and NINO3.4 values at -1.18oC and -0.73oC respectively (as of 27 January). At the end of January, the NINO 3.4 temperature was still in the threshold for La Niña but NINO 3 cooled further during the month. Ocean temperatures in the Coral Sea and the Timor Sea were both much warmer providing greater evaporation and cyclone formation potential. During the Australian summer the Indian Ocean Dipole is non-functional due to the activity of the monsoon.

Over February, the Equatorial Pacific Ocean warmed a small amount, with NINO3 and NINO3.4 values at -0.8oC and -0.7oC respectively (as of 27 February), indicating that the La Niña is quite weak currently. Ocean temperatures in the Coral Sea and the eastern Indian Ocean have been much warmer and providing greater evaporation potential. The Dipole Mode Index (DMI) is currently at -0.50oC (as of 25 February) which puts it above the -0.40oC threshold for a negative IOD. However, there is little atmospheric evidence of a -IOD forming in the current northern wet season.

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 here.

World map showing the  Pacific Ocean signs for El Niño or La Niña activity for 27 February 2022.

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

30 day Moving SOI Graph showing latest value over the last 2 years was +9.7 on 28 February 2022.

Over January the SOI plunged to neutral values after showing La Niña-like values early in January. At the end of January, it was +3.0. Also, over January trade winds in the Pacific increased, in keeping with the positive SOI and to be more aligned with a La Niña. Warmer water is being pushed further west into the Coral Sea. In the Indian Ocean, trade winds are behaving normally.

Over February the SOI has screamed up to positive values. On the last day of February, it was at +9.4. Pressure patterns around the equator have indeed come back to be more like La Niña.

Latest 30 Day Moving SOI map

Southern Annular Mode

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

The Southern Annular Mode (SAM) or Antarctic Oscillation (AAO) has spent all of its time since October 2021 either neutral or positive. Such behaviour is common in La Niña years. This historically leads to greater chances of higher summer rainfall in the eastern half of the state.Currently in early March it is starting to come back to neutral (normal) status.


Graph showing that currently in early March 2022 it is starting to come back to neutral (normal) position.

Latest SAM graph showing observed and GFS forecasts 

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

Over January the Sub Tropical Ridge of High Pressure (STR) was at a much lower than normal position (refer to mean sea level pressure map above). Normal summer positioning would be centred over Melbourne, but the more southward shift of high pressure over Tasmania (in this lower than normal position) is typical of a positive SAM / La Niña pattern.

Effectively this brings tropical air closer to Victoria with more chance for storm instability and fewer extremes of temperature. Up-to-date versions of mean sea level pressure maps like the one below showing sea level pressure (mb) 30-day mean for Saturday 29 January to Sunday 27 February 2022, can be found here

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

At the end of February, the sub-tropical ridge of high pressure over Victoria was stronger particularly around the south of Victoria, inhibiting the storm fronts and lows from crossing the state being forced under Tasmania. Pressure is higher at Tahiti and normal to lower over Darwin which is why the SOI is currently positive. Up-to-date versions of the air pressure anomoly map (as below) depicting sea level pressure (mb) 30-day anomaly for Saturday 29 January to Sunday 27 February 2022 can be found here

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

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

The assessment of twelve climate models for Victoria, shows likely wetter rainfall or neutral rainfall with hints of warmer temperature in the next three months (March, April and May). Refer to the table below.

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

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

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

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Farmers managing seasonal risk successfully –March 2022 farmer case studies

Maria Rose, Dairy Extension Officer, Agriculture Victoria 

This time we catch up with two of our regular case study farmers Kevin Fitzsimmons (left) from Merrigum in the Northern Irrigation Region and Chris Nixon (middle) from Orbost in East Gippsland (middle), and welcome our newest case study farm owner, John (right) Versteden from Longwarry in West Gippsland. 

Left to right: Kevin Fitzsimmons, Chris Nixon & John Versteden

From Kevin and Chris we’ll find out about how they faired in the season(s) since we last spoke to them in terms of whether things went according to plan or not and what actions they did or didnn’t take and why. For Kevin those comments will relate to last summer and for Chris they’ll relate to both last spring and summer.

In introducing John we get a feel for how after arriving in Longwarry close to forty years ago with a background in the building industry, he got to the point where he considered their dairy enterprise to be in a stable operating phase and why it continues to be, from a combined planning and risk mitigation perspective.

Updates from all three include:

  •  key risk management strategies they have planned this autumn, and
  •  their anticipated risk level and related mitigation strategies for winter.
Kevin Fitzsimmons, Merrigum, Northern Irrigation Region

Three months back in early December 2021 when we spoke with Kevin, he’d just come out of a dream spring with minimal disruption to hay production season and plenty of irrigation water.
Early autumn feed was guaranteed thanks to the new irrigation system being in full swing. He had enough nitrogen fertiliser on hand bought before the price skyrocketed. They were about to put on-heat detection collars on all milking cows, so better heat detection would give them even more confidence in using sexed semen over the whole milking herd. In the first week of autumn 2022, Kevin had this to say:

Cows milking well despite a patchy summer
Last summer turned out pretty much as we had planned. We bought all our budgeted water at the start of the 2021–22 season (as we usually do) and were able to keep the water up to the pastures on a regular basis.

Consequently, we had really good pasture growth all the way through summer resulting in the cows milking really well. Although we didn’t get many really hot days, it’s been a lot more humid summer than normal, but I wouldn't say we've had more rain either.

Storms did come through, but you had to be under a cloud to get any rain. It’s been a fairly dry summer for us overall as rainfall events were pretty patchy, with only the odd millimetre of rain here and only the one localised storm event bringing 40 mm. However, we had no dramas as we were able to just keep irrigating.

Using every drop
The irrigation system continues to work brilliantly well. Over the summer we were able to recycle every drop of water particularly after that one 40 mm rain event which resulted in runoff from paddocks that we had watered before it. So not one drop of water leaves the farm now, and I can send it to any part of the farm that I like.

Importance of kicking off autumn growth early
Currently, we haven’t even got halfway through our water allocation yet. We’ll start kicking off watering our annual pastures next week (second week of March 2022), because up until now it’s probably been too hot of a night time. As I like to see the nights a bit cooler, the plan is to oversow our annual pasture with shaftel and ryegrass, followed by a watering (if required).

Our risk management mitigation strategies for this autumn is pretty much as we've done in the past. We try to set ourselves up and get our autumn pastures kicked off as early as possible. This time around it was obviously a little bit earlier due to the availability of cheaper water this milking season. Our overall aim is to get autumn pastures going  quickly  so we can get a good wedge of feed in front of the herd of the best quality possible.

Adequate hay and silage reserves
We didn’t feed much hay or silage over summer. It was only enough to put a bit of fibre into their diet and that's all – it’s not a huge part of their diet. We’ve still got plenty of hay, due to having so much good quality pasture over the whole of summer.

Double win from barley over wheat
Currently the milking herd is getting a couple of kilos less of grain, so around six to seven kilograms per cow. We have changed over to barley since harvest and that's purely because wheat has become very expensive.

With a $70 or 80 price difference between wheat and barley, we changed over from wheat to barley approximately two months ago. There was no noticeable drop off in production per cow. We have struggled with our milking herd’s fat test this season. Since switching to barley, our fat test has improved. Overall, our total solids per cow have actually increased – so a double win there!

Plenty of good quality grass
We have had plenty of grass all the way through the 2021–2022 season so far and still have plenty grass of good quality. We've just dried off all our autumn calving cows and they are now on the out block that we're leasing.

Our cows per hectare I guess is fairly light on which has meant we were able to push our rotation out and build up a bit more of a feed wedge from now until the next lot start calving around the second week of April.

Watching water markets for next season's best price
We haven't bought any more water since that huge parcel we got at the start of summer at the price we were comfortable with at the time. Probably it has dropped about $10 to 15 per megalitre at most.

We are still keeping an eye on the water market, as we do all the time and we’ve just had some rain yesterday (1 March), another 15 mm. They are talking more rain for the remainder of this week, and that may affect the water markets.

What we're basically looking at now in regard to buying in more water is purely speculative. We've got enough for this season, so we're now looking to buy water to carry over for next year. The thing we've got to be careful of is, we can only carry so much over and then it goes into what they call a spillable account, which is at risk. You can lose a percentage of it depending on if the  catchment (Lake Eildon spills).

So, we’ve just got to watch the market and also the storage and see how it goes. The only reason we will be buying water now is to carry over for next season and that will give us the confidence to keep all our pasture going next year.

Minimal nitrogen required
As we’ve had plenty of pasture feed for the cows, having only needed to use a very small amount of the nitrogen fertiliser we have on hand. We’ve still got enough that we can strategically use over  autumn and into winter to make sure that we've got enough of feed wedge in front to get us past winter.

Changed pasture management strategy
The three paddocks on the home farm that we had earmarked for laser grading last month (February) are now likely to be done in the next week or so (first or second week of March 2022). That will still work for us.

We are not going to put it into permanent pasture, it’ll go into annuals. That decision was made simply because of the way this last summer worked out with having plenty of pasture to water and the extra water to use to do so. We’re hoping to have that laser grading all done by middle of March, to give us  plenty of time to get all three paddocks sown and watered in time for good growth before we get into winter.

Heat detection collars a huge success
We put heat detection collars on the whole milking herd, a month ago. It was a big job, but they are all on and we started joining yesterday which gives us a month to identify a pattern of the cows and their movement and things like that because it takes a while for the computer program software to work out what's normal and what's not.

Yesterday (24 February), we joined 19 cows which we've never done that many in one day before without using synchronizing drugs. Our AI technician said that there's probably only one that had a question mark on it. He said all the others were definitely on heat.

Having heat detection collars will provide us with a huge saving in time and stress. In the past, if we weren't getting that many cows, i.e. low submission rate, obviously we weren’t getting all cows in calf. So, if we can improve on that in just in one day, like we just did, that's enormous. We are using sexed semen on all of the milking herd, because of that, we feel a lot more confident using it.

Early detection of acidosis
A huge bonus of the collars we are using for heat detection is we can also pick up cow health aspects like rumination (we got that program put in as an extra) and that program picks up any that are just sitting down for longer periods and not eating. So, we can pick up any potentially sick cows a lot quicker and have done so already.

We had about six cases of acidosis that we picked up since all cows were fitted with the detection collars, around six to seven weeks ago, about the time we changed over the grains from wheat to barley and I was still trying to get the ration right and this may have upset a few of them. The detection collars alerted us as to those cows. So, we kept them near the dairy on a diet of only hay and within in a week they were fine and no treatment was required and they are now back on track again.

Anticipated winter management risks
Autumn wise we feel like we’ve got everything covered. Currently our potential risk elementgoing into next winter is the usual one of it getting too wet.

It’s always harder to feed and milk cows if you are ploughing through mud (for person and beast) which we can’t always avoid. We’ve got our feed pad set up and we’ve used that over the last six years now and that’s been great. We put the feed pad in after the 2016 wet season, and we've used it every year since.

That strategy has certainly saved our pastures as we haven't had any damage occurring on our pastures over winter (or it’s been extremely minimal). So, we will keep using the feed pad over future winters as required.

Another key management strategy for next winter is to make sure all our tracks are up to date maintenance wise before it hits. This is likely to include putting on some more gravel, so they are up to coping with the fair pounding, they get if a winter is continually wet.

Hopeful of enough pasture over the next six months
As I said earlier, those three extra paddocks getting laser graded will be sown to annual pastures, so we'll hopefully have enough autumn pasture overall to keep the cows going through both autumn and all of winter.

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Chris Nixon, Orbost, East Gippsland

The last time we spoke with Chris was six months ago at the start of last spring, he was about to start trialing sexed semen on the heifers, the feed pad proved its worth once again and lameness issues were more prevalent due to ongoing wet conditions plus further flood risks were anticipated. When I spoke to Chris in the last week of February he reflected on:

A wet spring and summer
Last spring was very wet. We had to feed silage right up until early January because of how wet it was. Early summer was very, very wet as well. We had a third of our river flat under water which made the grazing rotation very tricky as it's only dried out in the last month. In fact, we've had no rain in the last month whatsoever.

We were fortunate enough that we could graze all our hill country at the same time. The hills have performed admirably this year. So remarkably overall, our production is up about ten per cent. The kikuyu has gone ballistic and our biggest hassle with all this is the fact that managing the grass growth has become a real issue.

The best year in thirty
We just didn't have enough cows for the amount of grass that we grew over spring and summer. To that end we've been topping everything ferociously trying to keep some semblance of quality in the grass and the pastures. It’s certainly been the greenest summer I’ve ever seen here which has greatly contributed to it being without a doubt the best year I've ever had in my 30 odd years of farming life.

Oversowing strategy going forward
We’ve had to start feeding silage again, as this last month has surprisingly been very dry. The weather bureau is predicting above average rains from now until winter. So, we are getting our autumn application of fertilizer (conventional and
biological types) underway over the next month or so.

We’ve started working up country to sow down permanent pasture about nine hectares all up, so not much. And then we start over sowing on the kikuyu paddocks with annual rye grass just to get enough winter and early spring feed on the kikuyu paddocks that we haven't sprayed out.

Early dry off pays off
Drying the cows off up to three weeks earlier than usual because of the incredibly wet winter we had, allowed cows to gain a little condition and rest paddocks and laneways from milking traffic over that time. As mentioned earlier our production is up 10 per cent despite the very wet conditions, so I put that mostly down to well rested cows in good body score condition.

The silage paradox
We didn't make any silage as we had lots of standing grass of milker quality feed. But paradoxically we used our stored silage and fed it over the whole time right through spring until early January as well.

The issue was that some paddocks had a mountain of grass and some paddocks were under water. This was becase there were some paddocks on the river flats that were very wet due to water innundation and others on the hill country that were very dry in comparison.

We did this to try and keep a balanced feed ration over the different grass paddocks, which meant we had a lot of surpluss standing grass in some areas which needed topping. To maintain pasture qualilty for future grazing rotations, we topped all paddocks as soon as they came of them. Most of the topping was done with machinery, but on some of the very hilly country which is inaccessable to machinery we put the heifers out instead.

Minimal milk fever
Compared to last year we’ve had very little milk fever. Our transition feeding approach this year worked well. We lost a couple of cows for various reasons but we didn't have the losses at calving time that we have had in the past (last year in particular) and our milk fever cases this year were minimal.

Coping with excessive amounts of pasture
We ended up milking about 520 cows through the peak of last spring. That included 70 carryover cows and surprise surprise, because of our wonderful season, we are still currently milking some of them. They were identified and given access to the mop up bulls rather than being artificially inseminated. So, they won’t come into the herd next milking season. This tactic has given us a little bit of flexibility with our numbers to cope with the excessive amounts of pasture, but at the same time we are still focusing on maintaining maximum pressure on fertility.

We have no intention of keeping carry over cows into the next milking production season that kicks off in July. To that end, as I’ve mentioned in previous updates, we run what we call a ‘last chance’ culling list. So three strikes and those carry over cows are on the next truck out and sold. So as soon as any of them reach three cases in total of mastitis, bloat, lameness or infertility for example they are out!

Year seven of improving cow herd fertility
We have 220 heifers to come into the herd next milking season. So come next spring, we can afford to lose quite a few cows for one reason or another. We got into some bad habits keeping joining carryovers which happened over a long period of time so we don't expect a miraculous recovery in bringing the fertility of the whole herd up. It's a slow process, but we are into year seven of it this year and making inroads.

The current whole herd was pregnancy tested last night (24 February) , so I haven’t got the results back yet. This includes all heifers and those we used sexed semen on. I don't have pregnancy test data yet to know whether our joining has been a much better joining this year than other years.
It's still too early to tell as we are waiting on results.  However, we think our current joining program is going well as we’ve not seen very many bullying cows or telling signs around the place.

Feed pad continues to ensure minimal pugging
The feed pad has been a wonderful addition as it has directly contributed to keeping pugging in all paddocks to an absolute minimum. However, because everything got so wet, the dirt base underneath the Geohex matting collapsed a little bit where the silage cart was running due to the weight of it leaving a couple of ruts, and the matting has lifted a little bit where the cart was running. 

That’s more to do with it being on a very low wet peat country where the feed pad was built than durability of the matting. We planned to fix this issue over summer but due to the continuous rain events we are currently using the feedpad to maintain minimal pasture pugging issues over the whole of the farm, which is of much greater benefit to us. To understand how wet it’s been, our normal annual (January to December) rainfall is about 800 mm and last year (2021) it was 1210 mm. So that’s around 50 per cent above our normal annual rainfall.

Antibiotic use continues to be minimal
We are sitting around a respectable 100,000 at the moment with our Bulk Milk Cell Count; treating the odd cow here and there and we are not running a constant second herd like we have in the past. So, our antibiotic use has continued to remain much lower than in previous years. We do lose a few cows out of the system every year due to our strict culling strategy (three strikes and they’re out), but that is counteracted by the fact that we have big numbers of heifers coming in every year, so we can afford to lose a few cows through the season.

Trialing probiotics
This milking season, we have trialled feeding probiotics (MILO) in the dairy all season. Anecdotally, it looks like it does reduce the incidence of lameness in the herd, while we’re feeding it as our incidence of lameness went up when we stopped feeding it. I'm not sure whether the cost is outweighing the benefit at this stage – it’s very expensive. For the moment we are still feeding this probiotic in the dairy at this stage because of lameness issues.

Changes to oversowing plan
We were going to do a spring oversowing program for the wet low country which never happened  because it was too wet for too long. It's only dried out in the last couple of weeks and so there's no point sowing a summer crop mix (consisting of millet sorghum, turnip, sunflower & clover seed) in early February over the majority of the farm.

We did however actually end up sowing three paddocks with the summer crop mix annuals last spring, but that only amounted to nine hectares in total), because they were the only ones we could get onto in time. So, the change of plan this autumn is that we will now sow down those three paddocks to permanent pasture and all other padocks on the flats will be oversown with an annual ryegrass to boost winter and early spring production.

Best maize crop ever
Our maize crop is being harvested next week (first week of March). It is without a doubt the best maize crop I’ve ever grown. It's an absolute cracker, so I'm looking forward to seeing that go into the silage bunker here on the home dairy property.
Inside and outside hay storage

We did manage to harvest 400 bales of hay from the hill country in December. Some might call it hay, some might call it something else! So, we filled up our hay shed again with around half of it and the rest (around 200 bales) has been stored outside. It’s really just rough pasture that we like to feed to our dry cows, so this batch will be perfect for that. To protect the excess hay we had to store outside as a four-layered stack from the rain, we just run a strip of plastic over the top layer, which we attach tyers to with string acting as weights to stop the wind blowing the plastic off. We've done that plenty of times in the past and it's a cheap hay shed.

Young stock looking good
The young stock (rising 12 months and rising two year olds) look fantastic. Both lots have grown out really well this year because they probably have had more green grass in their diet than they have in most other years because of the wet summer. So it’s been easy to make sure they're fully fed and growing properly.

Luck on our side
We were fortunate on our flood country this time not to get that black smelly mess of pasture develop that normally comes from water lying on that country and it getting above 15 degrees and baking into a black smelly mess and I have no idea why. We also were lucky we missed out on the army worm infestations that occurred in other parts of the valley – again I am not sure why. Maybe its our voodoo juice (bioilogical based fertilisers)!

Our three key risks over the next six months
One key risk we've identified this year that been building up over the last few years is related to our cooling system in the dairy not being adequate. We are now struggling to get milk cold enough under the permitted guidelines to meet quality standards.

To counter that we're actually changing the milk cooling system from the direct expansion system that we have at the moment to a chilled water glycol system. The key problem is that it will take six months to get the unit. But the copper infrastructure is already in. We did this earlier as the price of copper is said to be go up 40 per cent in the next few months to have it ready for installation.

So, when the time comes for its arrival, we’ll hit the ground running and have saved money on the copper to help offset the huge cost of the new glycol cooling system. I guess an additional risk is that it will take longer than six months to get here.

The second risk will be if this wonderful wet summer continues on into autumn and winter and we end up slopping around in mud like we have for the last six months and we get an onslaught of lameness issues.

The third and last risk will be whether the uncertainty of politics overseas starts affecting milk and related product prices because of supply chain constraints and just general indecision. So, whether that puts downward pressure on the market. It is unfortunately a key risk which we can do nothing about, other than deal with it the best way we can through adequate risk management planning and ride the waves the best way we can!

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John Versteden, Longwarry, West Gippsland

John Versteden and his wife Lyn moved to Longwarry close to forty years ago in 1984 with a background in the building industry. At that time, they were on wages and then progressed to a 50/50 share farm situation building the capacity of a 100 cow farm on 100 hectares to one carrying around 350 cows. Then in the mid-nineties they took on a second farm and built the milking herd up to 1200 by the late nineties.Those arrangements moved from share farming to leasing opportunities, and then in 2002 they purchased what is the original home farm.

By 2016 they expanded that farm by purchasing three neighbouring properties totaling around 200 hectares and are currently pretty settled on about a 700 cow milking herd and consider their dairy enterprise to be in a stable operating phase for the last six to seven years.

When I caught up with John towards the end of February 2022, it was the first time I chatted with him about how he deals with climate risk, during which time he shared the following.

Ten per cent empty rate in nine weeks
We calve our current milking herd of around 700 cows from the middle of July to the middle of September. We used to use calving induction and like many others we don’t anymore because it’s now been banned. We have actually found a more effective way to get better in-calf rates using selenium (following blood test results). Currently we now end up with only a ten per cent empty rate for that period of nine weeks.

Great opportunity to purchase lease block
Our run-off block is about 25 kilometres away. We’ve actually just purchased that because we had been leasing it and with the owners putting it on the market as we couldn’t forgo that great opportunity. The reason we purchased it was due to its really good fit for our business and we couldn’t find another comparable lease opportunity.

The decision to buy it was probably more about protecting our dairying business than anything else. We turn  all the heifers out there and in the past we've produced most of our bought in fodder because the home farm runs at about four cows to the hectare, which can be a bit of a challenge when the seasons are not with you.

Lowest pasture consumption for 10 years
The purchase of that lease block is part of our key risk management strategy, I suppose. It gives us a bit of a safety net. Surprisingly this year hasn't been great for us to be honest. I mean, it's been a challenging spring and I think we'll probably have the lowest pasture consumption this year that we've had for 10 years.

Because the spring was so wet we actually didn't grow the feed and we never got to a point where we caught up as it went from wet to really dry pretty quickly. I’d be surprised if we might consume eight tonne this year but at four cows a hectare that’s not enough. We usually aim for 12. Our best is 13, our average is about 10.5 to 11 tonnes direct harvest (grazing without processing).

Seven hundred is our sweet spot
I think the business is in a pretty stable phase at the moment and there's got to be a good reason for it to expand further. And I think as I mentioned earlier that we were milking 1200 cows back in the nineties and  that was probably pretty out there at the time. I've had a taste of what running a couple of farms looks like to accommodate large milking cow numbers and I don't think it's something that's sustainable.

It’s pretty challenging and you get burnt out. It's just too much and I think we've always done the humans resources thing pretty well. But you can't expect staff to be able to do everything that you feel like needs to be done. And you just run yourself ragged. So yeah, I think 700 to me is a stable number. It's foreseeable it'll be sustainable for another 10 to 20 years I think.

We know we can manage that high stocking rate well. But I think people would say that's a high risk type of farming system. I would actually argue the reverse. I think there's got to be an impetus for the business to grow to whatever the next phase is. 

Minimising feed wastage is the goal
We have a concrete area to help us deal with wet conditions so that we can actually feed on the concrete and then the cows go back to mud if need be. It's more about minimising feed wastage than anything.

The issue is when it gets wet, and they get hungry they start walking and that's what we want to avoid. So, if we can stop them being hungry and they have to go to mud, that's fine. They'll just go there and relax.

Our biggest challenge year
Season variability has always been our biggest challenge. And it hasn't changed. I mean, I think back to1996, it was our biggest challenge year. I think we've had some pretty tough years and the toughest ones weren’t within the last 10 to 15 years, they were within the last thirty.

I still vividly remember 1996 It was the one year that we never made a profit in our whole time dairying. Yeah, and it was probably the one point where it nearly took us out of the industry, because it was that tough. We had annual rainfall in three months and then it didn't rain and the price was low and it was just the perfect storm and we were pretty naïve at the time with cows getting stuck in the mud and getting tractors bogged every day.

Our business was at a vulnerable point from a whole lot of perspectives, which we didn’t fully comprehend at the time – it was disheartening. Most people around here remember 1996. It was just a horrible year but we learnt a lot about farming and also about ourselves in that year.  

In two different climates
It’s being cognisant of how you manage the seasons that’s important for me and I think I mentioned earlier that the lease block is part of that risk mitigation. There are other methods that we've used before to do that.

The fact that our lease block is 25 kilometres away is actually part of that, because it's in a different climate over there. So, it grows feed when the other doesn’t. Whereas if you got a lease block next door it's same-same. If you have got a problem at home you have one on the lease block as well.

Planning and risk mitigation go hand in hand
I consider that a lot of the risk mitigation is actually just prior planning. We always budget on our average days of feeding silage over summer which is probably 100 days. But that can vary from 150 to almost nothing.

So, it’s about what does 150 look like, as nothing isn’t a problem, but the 150 is. It’s not only about having fodder to get through the 150 days of summer every year, but it's actually about having enough that if your average is 100 days of summer to make sure that you actually have enough for at least 120 so you can start building up a bit of a reserve.

And then you’ve got to do the economics around that. Like some people would say we just have to have two years of silage sitting in the pit. Well, that's a lot of money as you have borrowing cost on top of the processing and growing costs  (from the farm’s overdraft account at the least). It’s important to do the numbers and ask if that’s the best way to use your money? 

Rather than building up a reserve using borrowed money you might be better off to go out in the marketplace at the appropriate time, so not when everybody else does. I believe it’s about how you spread that risk.

Aiming high enough to take the fall
Moving forward as March fast approaches, we've just ordered this year's renovation seed, to make sure that we've got the pastures set up in the autumn to achieve their maximum going forward.

We don't know what the winter or spring is going to do to us, but actually, you’ve got to set yourself up that so that it's going to be great and if it's not great, then if the worst case scenario eventuates, you’re still going to be OK. If you don't set yourself up to be great, you'll never be great!

If you set yourself up to try and harvest 14 tonnes of grass andnd every time we get a bad weather event and it comes back to 12.5 or 11.5 or whatever that's fine, but if you don't set yourself up for 14 in the first place, you’ve got no hope. If you only set yourself up for eight you’ll only achieve eight at best.

Going too early can be risky
I guess the key thing front of mind for us at the moment as summer finishes and autumn starts is making sure that most of our pasture renovation doesn’t begin before mid-March. We have in the past probably started earlier than that, but I think once again we've had some pretty dry autumns and the risk of going too early is a bit dicey. You can get a one inch or two inch thunderstorm and then get nothing for the next six weeks, and then you finish up losing a large percentage of the seed you planted.

So, it’s about going a bit later, but not too late to minimize that risk. We will probably start dropping seed (drilled or power harrowed in) mid-March again this year, aiming to get at least 70 per cent of that done by the end of March.

We estimate we will use about four tonne of Matrix perennial rye grass seed.

Treated seed is preferred
We will use Matrix ryegrass at about 25 kilos per hectare (power harrowing). We’ve done trials of putting more in but they only thin themselves out in the first three months anyway. We usually spend about $500/hectare if we're doing a full renovation, and we used to apply the seed with power harrows because the paddocks have been smashed about.

But my preference now is for drilling. Probably five years ago, I would have said I'll never drill again because of the issues with putting a new seedling into an established pasture that's got bugs and things in it.

So all seed now goes in treated, and that's been a game changer. I wouldn't put seed in the ground without it being treated now, particularly in an environment where you know you're going into an existing pasture to top it up and it's going to have bugs in it (good bugs too but mostly bad ones that will likely wipe out you’re your rye grass).

Some of those bad bugs can absolutely cause massive destruction if weather conditions are in their favour. I’ve gone for the drilling option as it is also considerably cheaper – approximately $250-300/ha with 15-20kgs seed depending on the density of the existing pasture.

Aim for the absolute best result
For me, it is about making sure that I know I am going to spend 40 grand on seed and another 40 grand putting it in the ground, so I am actually wanting to get the maximum benefit.

It’s also about starting the season so as to set yourself up for the absolute best result. That starts in March, which everything else revolves around. We've got a calving pad, so we'll get that cleaned off in the next couple of weeks too.

Also, the effluent ponds are getting emptied and all that happens before the seed goes in the ground. It’s about the process, a planned process and you know the process might get delayed by a week or two, but as long as you stick to the process. 

Changing our winter of cows’ strategy
Cow numbers are pretty much set in stone and dry off dates and all that won't change. How we winter the cows this year will change a little bit. We'll probably keep most of them home. Because when I said we bought the runoff block we only bought 400 acres, not 600, so it's a little bit smaller.

We usually dry our cows off in two batches, so there's usually those that calve in the first three weeks and then we milk the rest for another three weeks and then dry them off. So, I’m hoping the second lot will be able to go to the runoff block because they will be the ones that will give us the most grief.

The first week's not too bad and generally during June we're not too wet, so we might have one or two sacrifice paddocks that the cows live in and get sent on concrete and through the shed, but we know that works for us and  minimises the costly risk of pugging.

Enough fodder reserves over winter
I don’t think there is anything specific to worry about next winter as we've got reasonable reserves. Admittedly if it doesn't rain till June. they'll be tested, but I don't think that's going to be the case. If that was the case we've got enough fodder to get through until June, currently. Whether it's in the right form (like for us most of our fodder reserves are usually in the from of silage) is another question.

If we're dealing with wet conditions, silage is not an option for us because we're not geared up to handle it in such unfavourable conditions. So, then we’d have to look at buying in hay options. Currently there’s plenty of good quality hay at reasonable prices around, so I am not too worried.

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Managing the season ahead – autumn 2022

Richard Smith, Agriculture Victoria Dairy Services, Maffra


  • The Bureau of Meteorology forecast for the next three months suggests that rainfall over large parts of eastern Australia (including Victoria) is likely to be above the median. The current La Nina event is predicted to return to neutral conditions during mid-autumn. There is no clear indication of whether day temperatures will be higher or lower than normal.
  • Those with some available soil moisture in the soil profile due to the summer rain e.g., parts of Gippsland and some parts of North East Victoria, should continue to have pasture growth, particularly with an above median autumn rainfall outlook. Those with drier soils in South-West Victoria and South Gippsland will need to plan for the autumn break, when it arrives and be ready to make the most of it.
  • Grain availability is still good at this stage, however with the current situation in Europe, grain price could rapidly increase. Fodder availability is mixed and current flooding in southeast Queensland and northern NSW could impact on the price and availability.
  • Gippsland irrigators are looking at a promising autumn, due to good rain in December through January combined with Lake Glenmaggie being at 81.6 per cent capacity which is 23.6 per cent above the same time last year.
  • All Northern Victorian irrigation storages are at levels higher than last year. The prediction of above average summer rain will hopefully improve the situation and may reduce irrigation requirements.
  • Milk prices remain strong with some step-ups being announced. There could even be more movement in prices before the season ends.

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

Pasture and crops
For most of summer the weather has been warmer than average combined with above average rainfall across most regions of Victoria. However, from late January through February conditions became more humid before temperatures turned autumn like, but without the rain, which has left most areas with low soil moisture levels going into autumn proper.

The prediction by the BOM is for rainfall to be above median for the next three months with warmer nights for eastern Victoria and with normal temperatures in the south-west. This prospect could see pastures which are still green, but need a good rain to fill soil profiles, respond to provide some feed into winter. If the dry trend from late January continues, then the prospect of a late autumn break may be a reality.

To manage seasonal variability, making the most of the good years helps to reduce the impact of poor ones. The summer gone, has again been an example of those who received rain making the most of the pastures and feeding less from their fodder stores. Some continued to add to their on-farm fodder storages as well. Many reduced their grain inputs, even though its cost has come back even further from this time last year.

Protein type fodders are still expensive while on the other hand less demand for grass and cereal hay has seen them drop in price. Grain can still be used strategically in autumn with the home-grown summer crops and silage. The use of fertiliser and dairy effluent, containing nitrogen, on some of these crops could be important in keeping bought in feed costs down as well as building on what soil moisture exists.

In areas where the soil moisture is less than desired, it will be even more important to make sure that whatever pasture is left is kept in a state that it will recover when it rains. This could mean feeding more supplements or crops to protect it from being overgrazed by maintaining residuals of four to six centimetres.

Fertiliser application
Nitrogen fertiliser should only be used where you are confident that there is sufficient soil moisture for the crop or pasture to benefit and not lead to losses as ammonia. Those areas with some soil moisture already can benefit from a fertiliser application now but others will have to wait for the break.

Urea is still the cheapest source of nitrogen despite it currently being as high as $1475 per tonne (ex GST and freight) or $3.20 per kg N. However, you will need to be watchful that it is only used to boost paddocks that have adequate soil moisture and pasture density for the best results and to avoid losses. The expected mid to late autumn responses from nitrogen range from 10 to 15 kg DM per kg N.

Monitor the weather forecasts to make sure there is going to be enough rain to wash the fertiliser in but not wash it away (such as a storm), and that the temperatures are suitable to encourage uptake of nitrogen or other fertilisers that may be applied.

Don’t forget that your dairy effluent is a good source of nitrogen, particularly with ponds requiring to be emptied before the winter storage period. Early autumn is still a good time to irrigate this out onto pasture or actively growing crops. It is not recommended to be applied to young seedlings or to strike a crop as it has high nitrogen and potassium levels with possible salt content that can burn plants.

Responses to any applied nitrogen is dependent on moisture, temperature, timing of application in relation to grazing and the amount of existing pasture cover.

A tool on the Victorian Resources Online website has been produced to assist with the economics of the responses you may get. To find out more click here

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

Fodder and grain
Coming out of summer the wheat price has eased and is selling for around $325–370 per tonne, depending on locality and grade. However, the continued lower price of barley, at around $275 to $320 per tonne, makes it more economical to use in filling the feed gaps. It may pay to do some homework in sourcing your supply if you still think that your fodder storages are not going to cover your feed requirements going into winter. Barley grain contains about 10 per cent moisture so $305 per tonne fresh weight is about $338 per tonne of dry matter.

Feed-tested barley for the 2021–22 season is averaging 13.1 MJ ME of energy or 2.5 c/MJ ME. With average quality silage being about 10.5 MJ ME of energy or valued at around 2.7 c/MJ ME, barley is still a good proposition to fill the energy feed gap. 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 worried about protein in the diet, then canola meal is an option, selling at around $480 to 525 per tonne or $558 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 4.1 c/MJ ME.

It has been a mixed summer for pasture and silage, with producers in South-West Victoria and South Gippsland experiencing drier conditions. If you don’t think that the quality of your conserved fodder is suitable for milking cows, then some good quality fodder may need to be bought in such as lucerne or vetch hay. At around $330–550 per tonne it is still a very expensive option. Vetch hay with a similar protein content to lucerne may be more economic to feed.

The spring rain over the past two seasons has impacted the amount of good quality cereal hay. Prices are mixed at $170 to $230 per tonne depending on source, quality and location. Prices are likely to fluctuate as there has been early enquiries from those looking to secure feed allotments for winter. Remember to use feed tests to determine the quality of these feed sources.

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

There are three things to highlight here: 

  • First, is it only energy that is needed? For example, autumn is a time of year when protein and/or fibre may be needed if green pasture levels are low and still waiting for autumn rains.  High quality fibre or perhaps protein may be needed to balance the ration.
  • Secondly, there is a risk around each of the options: ‘What price will grain/hay be when I need it?’, 'What response to nitrogen will I get?’, and ‘What wastage will I get when feeding out?’, and ‘Can I pre-purchase any?’
  • Thirdly, it is important to do the numbers for your situation on a ‘feed consumed’ basis.

Monitor stock health
The prediction of above average rainfall and warmer overnight temperatures over the autumn growing period could see facial eczema continue to be of a concern, particularly in the first half of the season. In areas in Gippsland, where it is known to have occurred before, continue to  monitor for symptoms and spore levels in pastures.

There is a spore monitoring service that has been set up by Dairy Australia to help avoid grazing pastures with high spore counts that may cause facial eczema, resulting in lost productivity and possible ongoing lifetime production impacts on cows.

Information on the monitoring and prevention of this disease can be found here

Cash flow an issue?
The continued higher milk prices will assist in generating a more promising cash flow situation. However, decisions will need to be made around how much to spend on grain, fodder, fertiliser and water (if irrigating) to generate milk production in each situation.

What options will give the best result for money spent and help to pay bills that may have been carried forward from the first part of the year. Those with higher debt, still recovering from previous events will be looking to see if feed costs can be reduced by sourcing lower cost feed, using more home-grown feed and using irrigation water wisely whilst maintaining production.

The warmer than average summer with occasional high rainfall events has seen, in most cases where the rainfall occurred, less irrigations being required. This comes on top of the first time in four years that irrigators in the northern Victoria systems have received a 100 per cent high reliability share allocation with the Murray system received 100 per cent low reliability water share allocation. The Macalister irrigation District also had a 100 per cent allocation of high reliability water.  

Irrigators may look at options to create an autumn break by using their water in late summer/early autumn to irrigate earlier than their normal practice or to irrigate larger areas of land than normal if allocation allows.  Alternatively, they may buy more temporary water to do this to maximise production while water is relatively cheap and available. These decisions need to be made in the light of their current water availability, current water prices, season outlook and allocation outlooks for next year. The prediction of better than median rainfall over autumn should continue to assist most irrigators.  

Availability and outlooks of water for irrigation in northern Victoria can be viewed online by referring to the link below. This site is maintained by Goulburn Murray Water in accordance with Victorian water sharing rules: In southern Victoria, Southern Rural Water manages a site where this information can be found:

Stock and dairy shed water supply for non-irrigated farms
Most dryland farm water storages should still have enough water going into autumn to get through to winter. With the expectation of an above median autumn, these water storage levels should at least hold their own until evaporation levels drop to winter type conditions.

There is still some time to check your dams for any possible leaks, this will be easy to see if some areas in the paddock remain green when the rest seems to be dry. Repairs can still be done before the middle of autumn

New location-based Bureau of Meteorology 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 as shown in the map below), it opens up to show the actual forecast model, runs for the next three months and where they sit across wettest (Decile 9-10) to driest (Decile 1-2).

This year’s climate outlook can be found here. 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. Click here for further information. 

Climate and water oultook Forecast Model map with current data related to for Ellinbank in Victoria.

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.  

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Victorian Dairying Areas Seasonal Soil Moisture Condition Assessment – summer 2021–22 review and autumn 2022 update

Richard Smith and Helen Chenoweth, Dairy Extension Officers, Agriculture Victoria

Agriculture Victoria’s network of soil moisture probe sites on a range of soil and pasture types across Victoria in dryland sites has expanded over the last seven years to over 30 in total. They greatly assist with making early decisions related to crop and pasture management decisions in the cropping, meat and wool grazing, and dairying industries. In spring 2017, three monitoring sites were established on dryland dairy farms in Jancourt (South West), Longwarry (West Gippsland) and Jack River near Yarram (South Gippsland). Four new dairy sites have been installed at Koorooman and Foster in South Gippsland, Terang and Bessiebelle in the South West. The Koorooman  and Foster sites have had an estimate of the water hold capacity completed and will be valadated in the coming months.

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.

In this article, we feature a detailed update of the key recent soil moisture level observations from summer 2022, as well as relevant future insights for autumn for the Longwarry site in the south east, monitoring a chicory paddock (refer to map below for this site's location).

A summary of key soil moisture trends for the perennial ryegrass pasture at Jancourt in the south west will also be provided.

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

Live interactive Soil Moisture Monitoring Dashboard


Partial map of Victoria  showing the location of Agriculture Victoria's Longwarry soil moisture probe monitoring site

Soil Type: Brown Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam 

The summer rainfall total (December–Feburary) of 60.8 millimeters, for Longwarry is just below the median for this area. The full soil profile observed at the beginning of December, was steadily drawn down as summer progressed due to the combination good pasture growth from the warmer days.

Rainfall in January (43.2 millimeters) did not meet pasture water requirments and could not arrest the drying trend.

Over Feburary the soil moisture stabilised and plateaued, as moisture had been drawn further down the soil profile towards the out of active root zone causing plant growth to reduce. This resulted in pastures becoming stunted and dormant across the west and south Gippsland over this period.

With soil temps averaging 21.8℃ going into March, combined with forecast above median autumn rains, provides opportunities for crops or plantings already in the ground to rapidy respond and provide growth if the rain eventuates.

Click here for current and overall soil moisture probe  data (10 to 80 centimetres depth) for Longwarry chicory and perennial pasture  shown in the following four images.  The first image below shows the moisture speedo data for 7 March 2022. The second through to the fourth images below depict graphs showing soil mosture trends over the last 12 months. 

Moisture Speedo for Longwarry, West Gippsland Chicory and Perennial Pasture  - 7 March 2022
First graph of soil moisture trends at the Longwarry site  over the last 12 months.
Second graph of soil moisture trends at the Longwarry site  over the last 12 months. Graph showing last 12 month trend of soil moisture for every 10 cm from 0 to 80 cm for the Jancourt perennial pasture mix probe site.
Third graph of soil moisture trends at the Longwarry site  over the last 12 months.


Soil Type: Grey Dermosol  Soil Texture: Clay Loam

The summer rainfall total (December–Feburary) of 73.6 millimetres.  This resulted in a relative normal soil profile for the time of the year. Soil dryness down the whole profile showed up in generally poorer summer crops and perennial pastures dormant across the region over this period with limited plant available water.

However, with soil temperatures still around 20℃ going into March, any early autumn rains will  benefit dry mattter production and permit any crops or plantings allready in the ground will leap out of the ground!

The image below shows the moisture speedo data for the Jancourt site on 3 March 2022. 


Moisture Speedo for Jancourt perennial pasture probe (03 March 2022) at Jancourt

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

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