WA breaks harvest record

Kate Matthews and Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

WA growers have heralded the start of 2012 by delivering their biggest ever crop - and grain is still coming.

At 4pm on Tuesday, the previous record of 14,695,321 tonnes from the 2003-04 season was eclipsed, with WA producers binning 14,698,741t.

The million-dollar question is, how much grain is still in growers' paddocks and in silos?

CBH grain operations manager Max Johnson said the 2011-12 harvest could go close to the "magical" 15 million tonne mark.

He said the season may stretch until mid February, because of the wet weather during harvest.

"We've averaged 70,000-80,000t a day for the past 10 days. Across the board, we seem to be at least 10 per cent above our estimates," he said.

On Tuesday, CBH said 100,000t could still come from Albany, 80,000t from Esperance and 50,000-100,000t from the Kwinana zone.

If the tonnages in these zones are delivered, it will set at new mark of more than 14.9 million tonnes.

In the Albany zone, manager Greg Thornton said harvest could run another two to three weeks for some farmers, but most, weather permitting, should be finished by the middle of next week.

Those still harvesting are mainly around Ongerup, Borden, Cranbrook, Broomehill and Nyabing, while farmers in the south west corner of the Kwinana zone, including Williams and Brookton, are still getting headers bogged.

In terms of quality, Mr Thornton said most grain in the Albany zone had been downgraded.

The zone had received 2.79 million tonnes by Tuesday, of which 300,000t was delivered to Cranbrook - the most grain delivered to a receival point in the Albany zone, other than to port.

By the same time, the Kwinana zone had received 6.8 million tonnes, Geraldton an all-time record of 3.5 million tonnes and 1.5 million tonnes was in Esperance bins.

While the tonnes are still coming in, Mr Johnson said much of the wheat being delivered was not making milling grades.

In addition, Australian Association of Agricultural Consultants WA chairman Shane Sander said record grain receivals for CBH had not necessarily equated to money in the bank for growers.

Mr Sander said although profits in the Geraldton zone were likely to be "exceptional", rain during harvest and falling grain prices had hurt many growers elsewhere.

"For a large chunk of farmers it's going to be a hard slog next year, because for many areas debt level funding is not going to reduce greatly," he said.

"It's been a year of mixed emotions. From their record high prices at the start of the year, wheat prices have fallen about $120/t.

"That's taken the gloss of the season for those who didn't have high yields as well."

Croppers in the Yilgarn, Salmon Gums and Beaumont areas have struggled for moisture much of the year and many are facing financial losses for the season.

Esperance-based Farmanco consultant Tywen Dawe said although it was still early in the budget review process, many farm businesses in the lower rainfall areas of Esperance would break even at best.

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