HARVEST 2023-24: WA harvest set to be all but finished by Christmas on the back of low yields and sunny skies
WA’s grain harvest has reached the halfway point and and is set to by all but finished by the end of December.
If realised, it would be one of the earliest end dates in recent years and comes on the back of low yields, an early start and the large volume of high-capacity machinery being used on WA farms after two record crops.
The forecast — contained in the Grain Industry Association of WA’s November crop report — predicts a harvest end “several weeks earlier than normal” after an early start and tepid yields.
Nearly half of WA’s grain harvest is complete, with the State’s biggest grain handler CBH Group reporting nearly 7 million tonnes in its network of upcountry bins by care of business on Monday, November 20.
The State’s grain harvest forecast has been slashed a nearly 500,000 tonnes during the past month, with GIWA’s November estimate now at about 14.5Mt — down on the October forecast of 14.95Mt.
CBH chief operations officer Mick Daw said CBH expected to receive about 13.7Mt of that.
The rest is expected to have been delivered outside of the CBH Group system to grain handling competitor Bunge, retained on farm, or sold through private contracts.
“With 6.9 million tonnes in the system to date, we’re now at the halfway mark for harvest at CBH,” Mr Daw said.
“Recent wet weather has slowed down harvest for some, but by many accounts harvest is still expected to wrap up in December for the majority of growers.”
A short, sharp finish to the growing season — due to a lack of rain and hot conditions —meant many farmers started harvest earlier than usual with the first delivery to CBH’s Yuna bin on September 27.
This has been combined with the year’s lower crop yields, good harvest conditions, and high-capacity machinery bought after consecutive record grain harvests of 26Mt in 2022-23 and 24Mt in 2021-22.
GIWA crop report author Mike Lamond, an agronomist at York, said tonnages were below expectations and well below average across the State.
He said most farmers had been powering on with harvest until isolated showers during the past two weeks forced some to pull up stumps.
“While there have been some surprises in better-than-expected grain quality, yields have mostly been a little lower than expected,” Mr Lamond said.
“This trend is likely to continue as more crop comes off in the southern regions.
“The majority of wheat crops have suffered from the hot, dry finish and grain yields have been coming in lower than anticipated at the start of harvest.”
Mr Lamond said early-sown crops had outyielded later-sown crops “by a fair margin” after a lack of spring rain shortened the growing season and severely-limited potential of late-emerging crops.
Describing some harvest results as “really, really sad”, Mr Lamond said some farming areas in the North Eastern Wheatbelt had received less than 150mm of rain for the year.
“Areas of heavy country that have only received 120mm for the year are reporting figures like 200kg/ha for canola, 300kg/ha for lupins, 500kg/ha for wheat and 800kg/ha for barley,” he said.
“Overall, expectations were low, so the end result is about what was expected.”
The harvest results come after an exceptionally dry April to October period, with thunderstorms delivering isolated falls of more than 40mm across some parts of the grain belt.
An El Nino event established in the Pacific Ocean is likely to persist into Autumn next year, suppressing rainfall across the western parts of WA in summer.
GERALDTON PORT ZONE
CBH Group’s Geraldton Port Zone is expected to pull up stumps first, with a mid-December end date the “earliest finish in memory” after a disappointing season For farmers in that area.
Mr Lamond said the upside was many were expected to head to the coast and spend time fishing.
“Overall yields are lower than expected, even given that commentators have been painting a pretty grim picture for the zone for the past few months,” he said,
The Zone passed the 1.2Mt mark for the season, with potential to hit 1.4Mt — well down on last year’s 4Mt record.
While farmers have been steaming along with a tepid harvest, wet weather last week slowed harvest across the southern part of the Zone before a series of harvest bans due to hot forecasts and high wind speeds.
Mr Daw said sites across the zone were starting to cut back hours as required, with the Geraldton Grain Terminal, Moonyoonooka and Narngulu now closing at 8pm and not opening on Sundays.
ALBANY PORT ZONE
In the south of the State, farmers in the Albany Port Zone have “put the breaks on harvest” after recent rainfall but are still expected to be finished in time for Christmas.
Mr Lamond said those that didn’t seed in the first 10 days of April had discovered yields were “way down’ — creating a “disaster” for those in an area with a high cost of production.
“Yields are below expected so far due to the dry finish to the season,” he said.
“Harvest will get fully underway once crops dry out from the recent rain and within the next few weeks, there will be a better idea of how things will finish up in the region.”
Wagin farmer Bryan Kilpatrick was approaching the halfway mark of his harvest this week after starting on October 29 — the first harvest start date in his time on the farm.
“The crops were ready before we were ready because of the hot and dry finish,” he said.
“Cereals were ready to go before canola, so we started with barley and then went onto canola.
“Yields have been better than expected and we have been pleasantly surprised... for 260mm of growing season rain, we haven’t had a lot but it all just came at the right time.”
Wet weather has slowed harvest efforts, with some farmers in the south of the Port Zone receiving rain for several days and others in the north receiving thunderstorms and hail that damaged crops.
Mr Daw said all CBH was considering extending its receival site hours across the Zone as the weather warmed up.
ESPERANCE PORT ZONE
Harvest is about two thirds of the way through in the Esperance Port Zone, with some farmers running smaller programs near Salmon Gums already finished harvesting and 1.46Mt of grain in the CBH system.
Cool temperatures have impacted harvest progress, with most farmers moving onto wheat and canola and barley receivals tapering down. Very little tonnages of pulses have been harvested this season.
Mr Lamond said some farmers had regretted swathing this year, with high winds blowing stacks around paddocks and meaning farmers were unable to pick up all of the grain available in the paddocks.
Mr Daw said most growers expected to wrap up harvest second week of December, based on the anticipation of a clear run ahead.
KWINANA NORTH ZONE
Farmers’ “flying” harvest efforts have also slowed a little during the past two weeks, with storms dumping between 10-50mm on some properties. Despite this, the Zone’s harvest is more than 60 per cent complete.
Mr Lamond said any rain delays so far had been less than two days, with farmers finding barley was the “standout” crop this year.
Screenings for cereals have so far been low, with “exceptional” grain quality across the Zone.
More than 320,000 tonnes was delivered into the CBH network in the seven days to Monday, November 20, bringing year-to-date receival totals to nearly 1.5Mt.
Mr Daw said wheat is the main commodity being received, with small amounts of barley and canola still being received.
KWINANA SOUTH ZONE
Rain and hail events across the Zone paused some harvest programs, with a “long way to go” before farmers finish their programs.
Mr Lamond said while barley yields had been “exceptional”, most growers were finding their wheat crops were yielding less than expected after dry conditions combined with frost.
Mr Daw said wheat was quickly cementing itself as the major receival across the Zone so far, while barley was still coming in consistently and canola deliveries were slowing down.
More than 65 per cent of the wheat received were making higher protein grades on the back of good conditions.
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