Northern Wheatbelt sitting pretty

Lauren Celenza, Claire Tyrrell and Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Extra grain storages are being built in the northern Wheatbelt to handle what is shaping up to be a bin-burster for the Geraldton zone.

After a good start to the season, the Geraldton port zone is predicted to deliver 2.5 million tonnes.

CBH operations manager Max Johnson said that estimate would put this season’s harvest close to the 2003–04 record of 2.6mt when the State cracked 14.77mt.

“We’re putting planning in place to put in bulkheads in places like Mingenew and Carnamah, ” he said.

“It may well mean that most of our storage facilities may be used in some capacity — some of the infrastructure in the Geraldton zone hasn’t been used for six or seven years.

“Also, we’ve got to consider where we hold our carryover grain and if we’ve got carryover in the wrong spot we might need to relocate it.

“Ultimately we’d like to see carryover shipped first, but we’ve got an abundance of storage, providing the grain comes in the right spot.”

At Pindar, where Zac and Anita Grima farm with Zac’s parents, Sam and Bernadette, the season is “going pretty perfectly”.

“We leased an extra 400 hectares this year because the writing was on the wall to put more crop in, ” Zac said.

After dry seeding a quarter of the program in April they stopped for about a week when forecasts were bleak.

“We had a wet summer and did a bit of dry sowing, then had a good breaking rain so we fired back up, ” Zac said.

All up they put in 5000ha of wheat and some lupins.

With a forecast of more rain this week, Zac was putting out 50kg/ha of urea.

“It would have to turn pretty nasty from here for it not to be a good year, ” he said.

“Last year we had good crops but the horrible hot dry finish let it down. It went about 1t/ha then, this year we are hoping to get 1.8–2t/ha. If we get more good rains we could even be looking at 3t/ha.

“From here we just need cool conditions and we will be on the home straight.”

Across the rest of the State, CBH’s prediction is still cautious — nine to 11mt — but well up on the 6.5mt binned last harvest.

“With the recent rain it should push that figure potentially up to the top end of that, ” Mr Johnson said.

“But in saying that, there is just too much that can happen. A lot of places out in the eastern Wheatbelt and the eastern Great Southern are still running on empty.”

Darren Morrell, who farms with wife Lara and parents Greg and Yvonne between Meckering and Cunderdin, is quietly optimistic about how the season will turn out.

Since the start of May the family has received more than 150mm of rain, 63mm having fallen this month.

“Our soil profile is full and some of the earlier crops are making first node, ” Darren said.

“We’ve got one canola paddock that is just starting to flower and we’re hoping this year yield and price can go in the same direction.”

But the outlook is bleak for the Yilgarn area. The shire has averaged about 74mm of rain for the growing season and north and east of Esperance producers are still feeding sheep and carting water.

CBH’s forecast for the Kwinana zone is around 4.5mt, compared with 2.3mt last season, while growers in the Esperance port zone are expected to deliver 1.3mt compared with an average of 1.6–1.7mt.

“This is probably one of the poorer years they’ve had, particularly in the northern parts, the Lakes region and across to Salmon Gums, ” Mr Johnson said.

“The Albany zone is probably sitting on 1.7–1.8mt — that’s about average for Albany.”

Mr Johnson said although top parts of the Albany zone around Hyden, Pingaring and Karlgarin had a poor start, recent rain had boosted crops.

“Where we were four or five weeks ago compared to where we are now, it’s an absolute revelation, ” he said.

“I’m delighted growers are getting significant rainfall and there’s going to be, we’d like to think, an average crop out there — that’s exactly what the industry needs.”

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