Decade promises bumper yields

Claire TyrrellCountryman
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WA is eyeing a 20 million-tonne crop in the next decade, but seasonal conditions and the introduction of GM technology will dictate the size of the WA grain crop in the future, according to industry leaders.

Grains Industry Association of WA (GIWA) chairman Jon Slee said WA would exceed its current record of 16 million tonnes set in 2011-12 if current trends continued.

He said over the past five seasons WA's average grain production was about 11 million tonnes, but there was a high degree of variability in that period.

"If you go back 10 years ago and average would move around one million tonnes from one year to the next, whereas now we had 7 million tonnes one year to 16 million tonnes the next year."

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He said market segregations would be a huge challenge as the size and scope of WA's crop grew.

"Long-term segregations will be more challenging, especially with niche markets like noodle wheat and malt barley," he said.

GIWA predicts that in the next 10 years, WA could produce a 20 million-tonne grain crop.

Mr Slee said the introduction of GM wheat would play a huge role in WA's crop size because wheat would continue to be the dominant crop.

"In 10 years time the big question will be the introduction of GM wheat and how that can be managed in the system and meet market choice requirements," he said.

Signs for WA's malt and feed barley markets were positive, which could cause an increase in the hectares planted and segregations required.

Mr Slee said lupin production would depend on the crop's role in the food sector because lupins were "struggling to stay in the mix".

"The big hope on the horizon is getting lupins out of the feed chain and into the food chain," he said.

"If that starts to happen, hopefully a lot more value will be driven back to growers.

"Canola has replaced a lot of lupin hectares in the ground, especially this year."

Mr Slee said there had been a slight increase in production of canola since the introduction of GM and canola would still play an important role in the future.

In terms of hectares planted, Mr Slee said livestock prices would play a key role.

"There is probably a bit of room for growth (in hectares planted) but the livestock sector plays a big part in whether the hectares increase or decrease," he said.

"From the (2010) drought we saw a lot of stock head east two years ago, which increased the hectares last year and this year."

Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) executive director grains industry Peter Metcalfe said WA's crop could reach 25 million tonnes in the next two decades.

"Based on rainfall and temperature patterns being close to the long-term average, we could expect total annual grain production to be between 15 and 18 million tonnes within five years, 18 to 20mt within 10 years and up to 25mt within 20 years," he said.

Mr Metcalfe said seasonal variability in recent decades led to uncertainty in yield and rainfall expectations but this could improve in future.

"Yield volatility will still exist in the future but with improvements in varieties, planting technology, seasonal forecasting and the potential to improve yield in the high rainfall zone, it is anticipated that low production years will have less impact and there will be greater production from high rainfall years," he said.

"It is expected that the balance of grain types will remain strongly dominated by wheat, barley and canola will remain key break crops and lupins make up to 10 per cent of area sown."

He said development in hybrid canola should lead to more opportunities for WA's canola crop to expand in higher rainfall years. Research and development in agriculture would be crucial to this growth.

CBH operations manager David Capper said the co-operative was planning for productivity increases of about 2 per cent a year. He said that volatility in the State's grain crop was a big factor for CBH, with 15 million tonnes delivered last season compared with 6.5 million in 2010-11.

He said CBH's canola intake is expected to increase and barley could also see an increase.

"We do expect to see more canola grown in southern areas, due to the grain's greater profitability when coupled with rainfall reliability," he said. "Malt barley volumes over the long term will be determined by whether growers consider there is an adequate premium for growing malt varieties.

"That is a subject of some debate now and time will tell what impact this has on the long-term viability of malt barley production."

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