Year ends on a high

Trin SucklingThe West Australian
Chapman Valley grower Calvin Royce and his dog Buddy.
Camera IconChapman Valley grower Calvin Royce and his dog Buddy. Credit: Trin Suckling

Harvest is finishing on an unexpected high in the Mid West after a tumultuous year of seesawing yield estimates, sporadic rainfall and catastrophic weather events.

Geraldton Port Zone manager Duncan Gray’s grain estimate shifted 680,000 tonnes between his initial estimate in July to his final estimate in October.

“January rains put a lot of confidence in growers’ start to the season but, by mid-July, I thought we were looking down the barrel of drought years 2006 and 2007,” he said. “My initial estimate sat below 2006’s 420,000 tonnes. By the middle of August, I was at 500,000 tonnes. That was optimistic, there was no way in the world we would exceed that.”

Rains continued to fall throughout August and early September and again into October and November.

“In September, my estimate increased to 750,000 tonnes,” Mr Gray said. “But I feared the hot spells we generally experience through September only eventuating into two days, as the rain continued and we started harvest four weeks late.

“My final estimate closed at 1.1 million tonnes. We’re currently sitting at approximately 1.3 million tonnes and could end up at 1.5 million.”

Mr Gray said the season had also given farmers the opportunity to balance cost versus reward in a real-world situation.

“Many growers learnt they could still grow a crop on not much fertiliser, lowering inputs and questioning where this balance lies,” he said. “It is phenomenal. It’s been swings and roundabouts the whole season. Remembering we do have some growers who didn’t cart or have only had one or two loads, the majority are absolutely rapt.”

Chris Tonkin of Ten Tigers Grain Marketing noted significant differences in the season’s outcome throughout the Geraldton zone.

“It’s been an intriguing season and quite different compared to the rest of the State,” he said. “We had people considering not harvesting in the middle of the season; it’s remarkable ... where the season has got to.”

Mr Tonkin said averages for many growers improved on what was financially planned for three or four months ago and said the cooler finish significantly impacted on the cash value for many farmers’ final positions.

“The washouts in place in the middle of the season, which was stressful for many growers, have seen farmers actually finish with crop,” he said. “There are also some extremely good yields recorded in the Geraldton zone with over 3t/ha being achieved in a few areas.”

Chapman Valley farmer Calvin Royce cropped 300ha of canola, 1000ha of wheat and 200ha of lupins. He was reasonably satisfied with his yields, taking into account the poor start.

“Our earlier crops haven’t yielded so well but I have been pleasantly surprised with those we seeded later,” he said. “The cool end and late seasonal rainfalls have certainly helped them finish off.”

Despite grain prices remaining relatively dormant, Mr Royce was happy with the year’s outcome. “You’ve got to be happy to finish the year where we are, considering the way the season headed earlier in the year and where we initially thought we would end up,” he said.

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