RAIN has failed to meet crop demands across most of the state, forcing some farmers to make the call whether they cut crops for hay or gamble on a grain finish.
Agriculture Victoria's latest Soil Moisture Monitoring Report confirms the clenched grip the positive IOD conditions are having on Victoria, as the start of spring reflects "textbook" dry conditions.
Agriculture Victoria seasonal risk agronomist Dale Grey said soils were drying out in the north due to high plant water use, with the state's grain production expected to take a hit.
"Everywhere at the moment is rapidly using soil moisture," he said.
"There are some areas down to low levels, (up to) 10 per cent, with crops sucking them dry.
"These crops are getting close to the end of their maturity, so they won't hit the wall."
Swathes of Victorian regions have used more than half of their soil moisture reserves in the past month, while pockets of West Gippsland remain damp.
Of the 17 SMM cropping sites, 13 have fallen below 40 per cent in the past four weeks, including eight sites that had plummeted below 25 per cent.
In isolated parts of the Mallee - in particular, Patchewollock and Hopetoun - some growers were cutting crops for hay as a result of frost damage.
"Some paddocks that started the season with no stored moisture had crops that displayed signs of stress during September, particularly on heavy soil types," he said.
"Some have been cut for hay with lower grain prospects."
Many cropping probes in the north are using significant water, with Youanmite dropping from 53 per cent to zero per cent and Brim from 64 per cent to 10 per cent in four weeks.
In the south-west, crops are starting to use deep soil moisture reserves as rainfall is not meeting crop demands.
"They're going to need spring rainfall to finish those crops without yield loss," he said.
"Central Victoria and the north-east have crops that had high water demands this spring and have consumed most of the residual moisture following below-average August and September rainfall and low soil moisture reserves."
Moisture stress is also behind an increase in cereal crops being cut for hay from Kerang to Cobram, which Mr Grey said was also motivated by the dairy market which was "keen on fodder".
Frost and weather conditions in these regions has contributed to Agriculture Victoria's forecast of below average grain production, based on lower than average production in parts of the north-west, north-central and north-east Victoria.
However, this was balanced against some average to better crops across parts of the Wimmera and south-west.
"There's some good yield potentials still out there, but with the recent drier patch things have slipped a bit and we'll be needing some decent finishing rain soon," he said.
Mr Grey said early spring rainfall delayed signs of moisture stress in northern country crops but limited to no rain since had depleted moisture reserves.
However, at this stage hay cutting wasn't being considered by most farmers.
The Mallee had dried out quickly with a below-average rainfall for August and September.
Yield potential in the northern Mallee had fallen as the region grew on the limited deep residual soil moisture reserves deposited in summer.
Areas of the southern Mallee and north-east Wimmera, which received large falls in December 2018, report 25 to 40 per cent moisture with fantastic looking crops that should finish well.
In livestock grazing regions, a lack of spring rainfall had strained soil moisture which had fallen from 100 per cent to 30 to 70 per cent in the past four weeks.
"It is a slightly delayed position to last spring," Mr Grey said.
"Water use in the higher rainfall pasture areas was higher in September in 2018 putting graziers in a better position this year.
"Without further rain there will be a good spring flush of grass but that will stop when the water runs out.
"There may not be extended grazing into late spring or the opportunity for second cuts of silage or late hay."
Moyston, Lake Bolac and Paradise are the only pasture probes to have significantly used water for the month, dropping from 80 per cent to 33 per cent, from 90 per cent to 43 per cent, and 78 per cent to 24 per cent, respectively.
Giffard West and Central Gippsland continue to experience a dry year with the region failing to reach a full moisture profile in winter before falling from 48 per cent to 31 per cent in a month.