WA’s winter harvest gloom lifts for grain farmers

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Perenjori farmer Angela Dring, with her sons Reuben, 13, and Jackson, 15, is looking forward to a better harvest.
Camera IconPerenjori farmer Angela Dring, with her sons Reuben, 13, and Jackson, 15, is looking forward to a better harvest. Credit: Justine Rowe

WA’s grain farmers are on track to harvest an above-average crop this year, defying earlier expectations of dire yields given the exceptionally dry start to the growing season.

The Grain Industry Association of WA is now forecasting WA’s 2017-18 grain crop at 13.48 million tonnes, up by almost 10 per cent on estimates a month earlier. This smashes the industry group’s July prediction that the season could deliver as little as 10 million tonnes.

Co-operative Bulk Handling’s average grain received over each of the past five years is 12 million tonnes, which includes last year’s record-breaking 16.6 million tonne delivery.

GIWA estimates on top of CBH’s receivals, about a further one million tonnes each year is sold through other means or kept on farms.

GIWA Crop Report author Michael Lamond said as the harvest continued towards the finish line, farmers were finding most paddocks were yielding more than expected.

The impact of generous late rains in September and October’s mild temperatures combined to push yields to above average in many areas.

The recovery in the season has led to a massive rebound in confidence among WA farmers, according to Rabobank, which conducts a quarterly survey on rural confidence.

Rabobank WA regional manager Crawford Taylor said there was a real sense of relief for many grain growers who had been fearing the worst mid season.

He said consistent rainfall in most cropping areas since August meant in some parts the crops had undergone a complete turnaround, causing the season to recover in the final stage.

Mr Lamond said even farmers in the drier north and north-east of the Wheatbelt, have done better than expected.

“While many of these farmers won’t hit above average or make a profit this year, the negative impact has been far less than expected,” he said.

Roger and Angela Dring, who farm near Perenjori, said their 2017 had been a rollercoaster ride. Their hopes were boosted after receiving plentiful summer rains earlier in the year, which helps store moisture in the soil.

But just receiving a few millimetres in April, May and June meant their expectations of a good year soon dwindled.

The Drings sprayed out some canola paddocks to control for weeds, but cereals went on to yield better than expected after more favourable conditions from mid year.

“We will still have a mediocre harvest, but there was a stage when things were looking far more dire,” Mrs Dring said.

“That’s part and parcel of farming. We’re grateful to have something to harvest and very aware there’s others doing worse than us.”

CBH said about 9.22 million tonnes had been received by Friday, when the harvest was estimated at 78 per cent complete.

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