Seeds of hope in crop report

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Much of the eastern and northern Wheatbelt areas will see below-average wheat yields for the 2014 season, according to a Rural Bank report.

In particular, the Shire of Nungarin is predicted to see yields in the lowest 5-10 per cent when compared with almost 100 years of data.

The report provides predictions for the 2014-15 cropping season based on climatic conditions, price, financial and export performance for wheat, barley, canola and other crops.

The National Crop Update, launched by Rural Bank's market insights resource, Ag Answers, has forecast national wheat yields to fall by 14 per cent, barley by 24 per cent and canola by 9 per cent compared to last year's grain harvest.

But the report also shows WA had the most favourable growing season conditions of any State this year.

Nungarin farmer John Shadbolt, who has received just 145mm for the growing season, said despite the grim predictions, his harvest was certainly not the worst he had seen.

Mr Shadbolt said while yields were about 0.3 tonne/ha below the long-term average, the quality had been excellent, with high hectolitre weights, good proteins and low screening.

He was surprised at the report findings highlighting the Shire of Nungarin as a stand-out poor performer, saying the 2010 and 2012 seasons had been significantly worse than this year.

"I'm very surprised that Nungarin has been singled out. I know that the rainfall has been light, but the production levels throughout the Shire, while below average, are certainly not a write-off," Mr Shadbolt said.

"Part of the deal out here is that we just have to look at minimal inputs and go for an average, or a bit above-average outcomes, rather than putting on traditional levels of inputs like we used to.

"We've been forced to farm smarter to suit the conditions."

Mr Shadbolt said he was halfway through his harvest program.

"We've got some reasonable crops to go, and some later stuff that is probably not as good to finish up as well, but given the rainfall, I'm pleased with what we are getting," he said.

Rural Bank relationship manager Geraldton, Jeff Lycett, said the report allowed farmers to benchmark their farm performance against predictions for their local shire.

"In recent times, WA has taken cereal production to record levels, and although the 2014-15 forecast is lower than first thought, wheat production is expected to be above the five-year average of 8.28 million tonnes," he said.

Rural Bank senior relationship manager WA, Tim Batger, said although parts of the State's cropping regions had not fared so well, many growers in these areas would wor to make the best of average crop performance after a lacklustre season.

"Central, South East and Great Southern areas of the Wheatbelt should return average to above-average yield," he said.

"Some crops in the central district have been severely affected by hail after a large storm hit the south during October.

"Growers have moved to lock in price for canola and should benefit from high oil content. In the east, crops are patchy due to a lack of rainfall."

In addition to WA and national data, the report includes State-based statistics on grain production and forecasts, predicted wheat yields by local shire, growing season rainfall, prices for wheat and canola throughout the season, financial performance including total crop income and equity and rate of return for an average farm, as well as export performance for grains and seeds.

Rural Bank is a wholly-owned member of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group.

View the report at www.ruralbank.com.au/national-crop-update .

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