WA harvest total slashed to 15 million tonnes as dry conditions continue to bite despite recent rains

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
A permanent pasture paddock in Mingenew has failed to grow.
Camera IconA permanent pasture paddock in Mingenew has failed to grow. Credit: Ben McTaggart/Ben McTaggart

More than one million tonnes has been slashed from the State’s harvest forecast as dry conditions wreak havoc on crops, with the 15Mt prediction a far cry from last year’s record 26Mt that pumped $10 billion into the WA economy.

The revised figure, contained in the Grain Industry Association of WA’s latest crop report, was nearly 1.5Mt down on the August forecast of 16.96Mt and nearly 40 per cent lower than last year’s bumper harvest.

While crops inland of Geraldton are nearly ready to harvest, CBH Group was yet to receive the first load of grain by September 25 — despite last year receiving the first delivery on September 26 and the year prior on September 22.

GIWA crop report author Michael Lamond, an agronomist at York, said the harvest forecast could have been much worse.

Widespread rain that delivered falls of between 1mm and 60mm to grain growing areas about September 13 halted what would have been a much more “dramatic slide in potential” in areas near Geraldton and improved prospects for those in WA’s south.

“Total estimated grain production for the upcoming harvest in WA has dropped by nearly 1.5Mt in a month,” he said.

“Rainfall in the dry areas of the State continued with the trend of light falls.

“While it was too late for many crops in the low rainfall regions of the Geraldton and Kwinana Port Zones, crops that were hanging on will benefit with a slight lift in potential and a significant lift in grain quality potential.

“For many growers, the rain has changed their prospects from a negative profit year to breakeven or slight profit.”

The crop report forecast a mixed bag of results across WA’s grain growing areas, with famers in the biggest geographical area — the Kwinana Port Zone — set to produce 6.48Mt.

Farmers in the Albany Port Zone, where it has in some parts been more damp than dry, were on track to harvest 4.12Mt.

Those in the Esperance Port Zone were on track to produce 3.10Mt and farmers in the Geraldton Port Zone the least at 1.79Mt.

The WA grain harvest is expected to include 8.5Mt of wheat, 3.94Mt of barley, 2.26Mt of canola,. 385,000t of oats, 350,000t of lupins and 64,000t of pulses.

Mr Lamond said the recent rainfall was simply too late for many farmers in the Geraldton Port Zone, who were dealt a further blow when wild winds of up to 100km/h decimated up to 50 per cent of what had grown in some paddocks.

Comparatively, paddocks closer to Perth and along the Great Eastern Highway have perked up after the rainfall came “in the nick of time” while crops in some areas further inland were expected to improve in quality but not tonnes.

Farmers in the Kwinana North East region are bracing for a “poor profit result”, Mr Lamond said.

“In a lot of cases, the rain has turned around a year to forget into one of breakeven or slight profit,” he said.

“In the very low rainfall areas of the region particularly around the fringes of the zone, crops had already been sprayed out or were too far gone to benefit from the rain.”

It’s been a better than average season for farmers in the Great Southern, where — despite a dry spell mid-winter and waterlogging in some areas — crops were generally on par with the last few excellent years.

A mixed bag of a season continues to play out near Esperance, with exceptional crops at Beaumont and crops going “backwards fast” in areas north west of Cascade and west of Salmon Gums and Grass Patch.

WA grain farmers have largely avoided frost this year, with isolated pockets near Varley and Hyden.

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