Tale of two seasons: Northern growers give up hope of any harvest

Grant TaylorThe West Australian

Almost a third of farmers in WA’s northern Wheatbelt are facing a disastrous season and are not expecting to harvest a crop as the State heads for a below-average season because of the dry start to winter.

The Grain Industry Association of WA’s July Crop Report has estimated the size of this year’s harvest at between 10 million and 12 million tonnes, well down on the record 16.6 million tonnes last year.

Association spokesman Michael Lamond said the 2017 estimate was an average year for most farmers.

But those in the north, where just 20 per cent of normal rainfall had been received, were facing a “disaster”.

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“About 30 per cent of the whole Geraldton port zone farmers will not be harvesting anything and the rest will probably only get seed,” Mr Lamond said.

“Even if they got good soaking rains now, it is really just too late for the north.”

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Other forecasters had predicted the WA harvest could drop to as low as eight million tonnes this year — the smallest since 2011.

But Mr Lamond said rain in the past fortnight across central and southern areas had come just in time for many farmers, effectively saving their seasons.

“It is disastrous and very dramatic for those in the north, but it is not all doom and gloom everywhere else,” Mr Lamond said.

“Things have turned around a lot.

“Where it was really grim pretty much everywhere a couple of weeks ago, it is not now.”

Mr Lamond said farmers would also benefit this year from higher grain prices, which have surged in recent months because of poor seasons in Europe and other parts of the world.

“Where (wheat) was $220 a tonne at the start of the year, it is now $300,” he said.

“The reduction in yields will be offset by the increase in prices.”

The Esperance port zone was one of the few strong performing areas in the State, with many farmers expecting an above-average season.

That will come as a relief for farmers who were hit hard by frosts last year, which were estimated to have wiped out as much as two million tonnes of grain.

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