Farmers well placed to rebound

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Growing conditions this season have positioned farmers to recover from recent successive dry years, according to consultants from each of WA's port zones.

Farmanco central Wheatbelt consultant Rob Sands, Katanning Agrarian Management consultant Ashley Herbert and Geraldton Planfarm agronomist Richard Quinlan addressed last week's Australian Association of Agricultural Consultants outlook day.

Each reported above-average results this harvest, with the Geraldton zone standing out. "It is amazing what we are getting off paddocks this year compared with previous years," Mr Quinlan said.

Mr Quinlan said high inputs and low grain prices meant profits would not be as high as in 2008, but farmers would still come out on top.

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"There probably won't be anyone that will make a loss this year (in the northern Wheatbelt)," he said.

"Profits are not expected to be better than 2008, because working capital costs have been higher."

Mr Quinlan said the rainfall pattern this season was close to perfect, though the rains continued for too long.

"We had decile nine rainfall in summer and a timely break to the season," he said.

"We didn't have any leaching events, so the crops made the most of the nutrients. The rain has continued longer then expected, so we've had some issues with quality at harvest."

He said most growers were pleased with the quality of their grain given the amount of spring rain that had fallen.

Farmers in the central and southern Wheatbelt had a more turbulent growing season but a solid finish.

Katanning Agrarian Management consultant Ashley Herbert said 2011 was a pivotal year for growers in southern agricultural regions.

"We had two years back to back where people recorded losses, so 2011 was a real test for growers," he said.

"It has been a big turnaround financially. Everyone is going to make an operating surplus, though it won't be as high as expected due to the fall in grain prices."

Mr Herbert said most growers were expecting above-average yields this harvest, except for those on the south coast.

"Most farmers are 10 to 20 per cent up on average, but the Stirlings area is about 10 per cent below average," he said.

He said spring rains across most of the region had a massive impact on growers' yield potentials.

"Things were drying out in September, but then we had a series of solid fronts come through," he said.

"That made a huge difference to crops and pastures."

He said sheep farmers benefited this season because of good pasture growth coupled with high meat and wool prices.

Farmanco central Wheatbelt consultant Rob Sands said most growers would come out on top this harvest.

"Yields are looking about 20 cent higher than average this harvest. Growers that don't have many quality issues should make budget," he said.

He said spring rains caused major damage to hay crops in the area, which would lead to a decreased hay crop next season.

"There is a lot of black hay around this year, which is a good reminder to people of the risks associated with hay," he said.

Mr Sands said a dry spell in the first half of the season caused growers to ease off on nitrogen applications, which led to protein deficiencies in wheat.

"Some crops were starting to die by the end of June. We had good rain in July and in August we had above-average rains," he said.

"Growers eased off on nitrogen applications, so a lot of crops are low on protein."

Consultants from each of the zones agreed soil testing was highly important going into next season, as high rainfall leached soils.

Weed control was also a big issue for growers this season, given the high rainfall.

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