Grain Marketing & Nitrogen Top Ups – by Ben Curtis
- Consider your grain marketing position given the good prices currently being offered for this year and next year’s crop
- Plan your top-up nitrogen strategy
Grain Marketing Nag
Now is potentially a very important time to be having conversations with your grain marketer. If I had said to you at budget time that you could get $317 for APW wheat, many of you would have danced around the kitchen (I would have been up there with you). Actually, prices for barley are in the best ever 1% to 3% and wheat is in the top 15% of historic prices.
Last year, I heard many stories from growers who saw the good prices in July but just waited for a bit more.
Yes, the season is a difficult one for many, but you should still have a view of potential yield. This may well be lower than budget for some, but you can still consider selling grain this early on. I have quite a few clients who have sold up to 50% of budgeted production and their average price looks healthy. The hardest thing is determining production risk. However, at 50% of your current yield estimate the risk of having to wash out contracts is pretty low. It is worth the conversation with your grain marketer. While you are doing that, it might be worth considering looking at contracts for next year; some of these are pretty attractive too.
Nitrogen Top-ups if Your Yield Potential Improves
It is a hard year to determine how much investment in nitrogen you should make if you are considering top-ups.
It was this time last year that many growers locked the gate after applying their top-up nitrogen, which was calculated on a conservative yield estimate given that conditions were quite dry at the time. It is history now that the season and yield potential improved significantly for many, which left many wheat crops under supplied with nitrogen. This meant that both yield and protein were lower than potential.
Traditional practice is that nitrogen should be applied at or before tillering to maximise yield potential. Jeremy Curry from DPIRD has conducted trials looking at later applications of nitrogen and the effect on yield and protein. Last year, his preliminary trials showed that nitrogen applied at Z31 (stem elongation) still benefited yield as much as earlier applications, but also improved protein. With the later applications, protein increased from 7.5% to 9.5%. There has been similar work conducted with barley.
After stem elongation, there is likely to be less benefit to yield but still a benefit to protein. Applications at half flag emergence will still likely increase protein.
None of this work changes the economic argument of fertilising for yield. You will get the best return on investment by playing the season and topping up nitrogen to the rain limited yield potential. However, there appears to be a sweet spot where you can have it all and improve both yield and protein. If the season improves and yield potential rises then you can also apply even later nitrogen. This may well improve your quality, and although the economics of this are tighter, there could still be a benefit to your bottom line if you improve the grade you deliver into.
One year’s work isn’t enough to make any rules of thumb, but it says to me that we should still keep our options open later in the season.