Harvest starts but big dry takes toll

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
The first grain delivery of the 2019-20 harvest rolls through the Port of Geraldton.
Camera IconThe first grain delivery of the 2019-20 harvest rolls through the Port of Geraldton. Credit: CBH

WA grain farmers have started to bin what is pegged to be their smallest harvest in six years, with the first load — 50 tonnes of GM-canola — delivered to CBH’s Geraldton Port terminal on Monday.

While the Mullewa-grown GM-canola delivery hasn’t opened the floodgates for early-season deliveries, it has kickstarted what CBH expects to be a “steady trickle” during the next few weeks.

CBH Geraldton Port Zone manager Duncan Gray was on-site when the truck rolled through the Port of Geraldton at about 11am on Monday.

He said the zone usually received its first canola delivery between October 4 and 11 each year.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


“I had a direct call from the grower to organise the delivery, we try to get growers to give us a few days notice to get organised,” Mr Gray said.

“We are preparing for a well below average crop (in the Geraldton Port Zone) of between 1.3 to 1.6 million tonnes... but talking to growers, they just don’t know their yields.

“There will be crops in the north and east (of the Geraldton Port Zone) that won’t be harvested.

“People want to get this harvest over and done with, and move on with next year.”

Mr Gray said the first delivery had tested with surprisingly high quality after a long, dry growing season across WA’s grain growing areas.

The canola will be stored in CBH’s Geraldton Port terminal silos until it is bought by a customer and shipped.

Grain Industry Association of WA’s September crop report downsized its August forecast of 13.7 million tonnes by 1.2 tonnes, to 12.5 million tonnes.

If realised, it would be WA’s smallest harvest since 2012-13, at 10.18 million tonnes, and comes just 12 months after the state delivered its second-biggest but most valuable crop on record in 2018-19.

At 17.2 million tonnes, 16.4 of which was delivered to CBH, last year’s harvest was worth a record $7.5 billion on the back of record grain prices.

Grain Industry Association of WA is expected to release its next crop report and updated forecast on October 18.

Crop report author Michael Lamond said hopes of an average season for WA grain growers after August rainfall had “been dashed” after warm, dry conditions and frost.

CBH is busily preparing its sites for harvest harvest after dry conditions leave many growers looking to the skies for a finishing rain.

Just the Port of Geraldton was open for grain deliveries by Tuesday, but Mr Gray said other sites were expected to open next week, hinting that Northampton, Carnamah and Mingenew could be next off the rank.

CBH is nearing completion of its biggest storage upgrade program in history, with 700,000 tonnes of additional storage set to be added to its network by harvest.

It marks the second phase in a plan to install 1.45 million tonnes of new permanent storage in two years, after 650,000 tonnes were installed ahead of the last harvest.

Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Neil Bennett said it was likely to be warm and hot across WA’s northern grain growing areas for the remainder of the week.

“It is going to be very dry this week, with no real sign of rain in significant grain growing areas,” Mr Bennett said.

“There is a weak front expected down in the south west on Friday, there may be some more showers but it will be south coastal rather than getting into the Wheatbelt.

“From Friday through the weekend, there may be showers smaller than 5mm but it is very unlikely to reach inwards from the South West.”

“There is nothing to suggest there is going to be a turnaround in the next few weeks.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails