Good rains during Winter have kept soil moisture at favorable levels with crops in most areas of Victoria and Southern NSW doing well. However, planning for the unexpected can be helpful, so some growers are doing the sums on hay as an option if grain yields are impacted by unfavorable weather events.
The Bureau of Meteorology updated its seasonal outlook and is continuing to forecast a possible El Nino which is likely to impact September-October weather events.
Bureau of Meteorology: 15th August 2023 [http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/]
A dry Spring may impact grain yields hence the option for hay becomes more relevant.
Decision making & risk
|If Spring brings with it some unfavorable weather events, then to “cut or not to cut” may be a decision to make. Those that have access to either their own haymaking equipment or a capable contractor, may look to salvage the biomass and not risk the reduction to grain yield based on lack of moisture or heat stress at the back end of the season.
Ultimately the decision comes down to an assessment of the variables including weather outlook and its impact on grain yield potential. Intertwine this with each businesses own experience with hay and attitude towards risk. This will be the key determinate as to how each farm will forge a pathway towards more grain harvested or switching to more hay baled.
When is hay an option?
Demand for grain & hay locally and internationally will drive the fundamentals behind the prices, however making sure to weigh up the cost to harvest and ability to store either product effectively is important.
The following graph shows the breakeven yield for grain when compared to hay.
The assumptions for this comparison are:
- Crop stage is at a point where the only remaining cost for each crop is harvest/haymaking.
- Hay yield is assumed to be 5 tonne per hectare.
- Hay harvest and storage cost is $50 per tonne.
The grain breakeven yield becomes less as the difference between hay and grain price widens.
As a general guide, if grain yield drops below 50% of hay yield, then it becomes economic to consider hay. This will vary depending on estimated hay yield and quality of the hay.
If the hay price reaches $50/t higher than grain, then the extra cost of haymaking is covered, and hay becomes an attractive option.
When grain yield is less than 50% of hay yield, switching from grain to hay may provide a good economic outcome. However other factors such as markets for hay, availability of haymaking machinery or contractors, extra labour required for handle hay, available hay storage and attitude to risk of weather damage to either grain yield or hay quality, will be key factors to consider when making the ‘hay vs. grain’ decision.
Some farms are well set up and can swing to hay easily, others are not. If you think hay is an option, do some early planning now so you’re ready if needed.
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