What to do with the rain

In Blog by RCSLeave a Comment

Now that there have been some good falls about, with at least enough to grow some grass and add a bit to a very dry profile, the question is – what should we do now?

It’s apparent from the jump in stock prices that the green grass fever has started to impact the market. This is a point at which fear can influence emotions and decisions. E.g.

  • Will I be able to restock later?
  • Surely Australia has run out of stock to trade?
  • We need to get cashflow going again immediately
  • Should we gamble on a short summer crop?

Those and many others are all normal emotions, however, I think taking a deep breath in gratitude for the rain received and pausing to monitor and plan the reaction, will pay dividends.

Monitoring

Firstly, monitor the reaction in the paddock.

  • What is responding?
  • What is germinating?
  • What is the soil profile?
  • How dense is the pasture (eg some pastures are coming back but are thin)?
  • How much rain has gone in run off?
  • What is my running total?

Whether in cropping or grazing, a combination of running total rainfall and monitoring soil profiles will determine if the drought has broken. Running total needs to get back above average before a drought can be declared over.

Monitor pastures by looking “into” them, not across them. Long term dry can thin them out, which is not evident when we look “across” country.

Planning

If grazing, do a feed budget 4-6 weeks after a good break. That and your running total rainfall will determine your carrying capacity and then the stocking rate.

Plan for good rest periods. Pastures which have been well managed through the dry period will recover quickly. If not, the recovery period needs to be extended. E.g. 70-100 days.

As a general rule, let the recovery happen, trap as much sunlight and moisture as possible before restocking. Build some resilience back into the country.

If cropping, the short summer period may lend itself to a multi-species cover crop to conserve the moisture. Let things grow and stimulate the soil biology rather than nuke it. If there is follow up rain, there will be moisture for a winter crop. If not, don’t waste the current moisture by fallowing (70-80% of moisture from a summer fallow is lost).

While our emotions will be saying – “get back into business immediately!”, it will be beneficial to plan a way forward, based on the best information available.

It may be worth noting a few themes that have emerged in my 50+ years in management, extension and research.

  1. There will always be sellers. Don’t rush at the silly prices. They will settle.
  2. To paraphrase an old saying – the first rain does not a drought, break. In other words, while the rain has been nice, there will need to be a lot of follow-up to actually break the drought.
  3. There is not enough liquidity (money) to keep a market inflated with green grass fever.
  4. A drought has not broken until the running annual total rainfall is above average (except in extreme events) and the soil is holding water.
  5. Until a drought has broken, we should still stay in drought management mode, not drought recovery mode.
  6. Australia has not run out of stock in my lifetime. The phantom herd comes to the rescue.

May you make the best use of the rain you have had.

My sincere apologies if you are one of those who have missed out.



Author:

Dr Terry McCosker
Director, RCS

Terry McCosker