Record harvest defies frost damage

Jenne Brammer and Cally DupeCountryman
Ray Fulwood and his son Ty harvesting their bumper crop.
Camera IconRay Fulwood and his son Ty harvesting their bumper crop. Credit: Nic Ellis

It was a 49.2 tonne load of wheat delivered just before midday which pushed this year’s harvest into record-breaking territory.

Kellerberrin farmer John Nicholls stopped in at his local grain retrieval point on December 29 and, at 11.48am, dropped off his grain.

More than 16.45 million tonnes was delivered to Co-operative Bulk Handling this season, exceeding the previous record of 15.86 million tonnes in 2013-14.

Mr Nicholls is one of hundreds of WA farmers who defied widespread damaging frost events to deliver the biggest harvest in history, injecting about $5 billion into the State’s economy.

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It smashed earlier CBH forecasts which predicted a 13 to 14 million tonne harvest.

While the State’s harvest was almost complete by Christmas, about 150,000 tonnes of grain will trickle into CBH’s Albany and Kwinana sites in coming weeks. Another 50,000 of grain is expected at other sites.

WAFarmers president Tony York said it was remarkable to end up with a record harvest given the significant frost damage in August and September.

The frost took a big toll on production in some parts of the Wheatbelt and Great Southern.

“This harvest could have been an absolute bin-burster had it not been for the frosts — it just shows what could have been,” Mr York said.

Mr York said many other growers were pleasantly surprised how well their crops had fared.

His own crop at Tammin had an average 20 per cent loss from frost damage but harvested its second-best barley crop, averaging 3t/ha.

Mr York’s canola was an equal best yield and wheat was above average but more susceptible lupins and field peas were below average.

CBH general manager of operations David Capper said yields in non-affected crops were far bigger than anticipated because of exceptional growing conditions, particularly timely rainfall, through the year.

Ty Fulwood, who farms near Northam with his wife Emma and his father Ray, said frost damage shaved 30 per cent from their total wheat production, between 5 per cent and 10 per cent from their barley production and cost them a third of their lupin yields.

Even with these losses, Mr Fulwood said the family was on track for one of its best production years. Some growers were not so fortunate, particularly around Kukerin, Lake King, Varley, Hyden, Lake Grace, Kondinin and areas north of Merredin, which were hit hard by the frosts.

Kukerin farmer Mary Nenke said that before the frosts she had been expecting her best-ever crops.

But the frost damage was far worse than estimated and average district yields were around one tonne/ha across all crops.

There were reports of some farmers averaging a devastating 200kg/ha.

In addition to grain delivered to CBH, it is estimated a further million tonnes of grain is produced in WA each year is retained on farms or delivered through other channels.

A dampener for farmers is the weak grain prices, at more than five-year lows for wheat and barley, though canola is achieving high prices.

CBH estimates the value of this year’s harvest at between $4.9 billion and $5.1 billion, compared with about $6 billion when the last production record was set in 2013-14, amid higher grain prices.

The company also reported a strong year for 2015-16, with its financial result released on Monday revealing it had a pre-rebate surplus of $110.2 million.

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