Wheatbelt growers pin hopes on soft finish

Lauren CelenzaCountryman

There’s still a way to go, but WA farmers are remaining optimistic about the rest of the season.

The Geraldton zone is shooting for well above average yields, however, in some areas of the south-eastern Wheatbelt, the scarce early rainfall and lack of soil moisture reserves means hopes for the season are pinned on good finishing rains.

Meanwhile domestic grain prices appear to have held in spite of the carnage on stock markets around the globe for the start of August.

Profarmer Grain commodity analyst Rory O’Sullivan said although the Australian dollar had fallen below parity for the first time in five months, domestic grain prices had stayed relatively the same.

Last week, the $A reached a post-float 1983 high of 110.79 against the greenback. But with the economic upheaval, it dropped around 10c ($A21/t) in a week, to 99.28c on Tuesday, before closing the day over the $1 mark against the greenback.

On the grain futures front, he added that although appetite for risk from investors would be diminished short term, agricultural prices might show some resilience in the face of strong equities sell off.

“This purely reflects the lingering bullish element about future crop losses particularly in the US, ” he said.

“In a nutshell, although futures have fallen away in the last couple of days, domestic prices have held up as the dollar has dropped 10c over the last week, this equates to $20 tonne being added onto domestic prices. Today’s prices are more or less unchanged.”

Plum Grove commodity trader Rob Kelly said WA wheat was relatively expensive in the world market and there was pressure for a further decrease in price.

“Three things likely to affect the price is the financial situation around the world, the decrease in the $A and crop conditions in Australia and the United States post-August, ” he said.

“If the situation remains the same until harvest, I have a hard time seeing price staying where they are.

“I could easily see $250/t but harvest is so far away it could go to $350/t if Australian crops get a drought or frost or we see worsening conditions in the US corn crop.”

Northam consultant Ryan Pearce said the season was looking “exceptional” in many areas but warned there was still a long way to go.

“All we need is that soft spring finish and there will be a lot of happy people out there, ” he said.

Despite waiting five weeks for some of their crop to germinate, Southern Cross farmers Lynda and Paul Della Bosca are up-beat about the season.

In late April, Paul started seeding after 10mm of rain, but it was not enough to get the crop out of the ground.

As stories of rainfall came in from across the State, the Della Boscas were left thinking: “Where’s ours?”

But in recent weeks, their property finally received falls of around 5–10mm and the crop has come up.

“It’s a month behind but at least it’s up, ” Paul said.

“We will just need later finishing rains to get the yield.”

Paul said rainfall over the next couple of weeks would be critical.

“If we don’t get any more rain, yield will be under a tonne, ” he said.

“But if we get two good rains from now until September, we could get 1.2t/ha or more. We have budgeted for 1t/ha at $290/t so we are hoping that prices stay at or above the $280/t it is at the moment.

“In 2003, the prices weren’t great and this year I’m worried that will happen again, but this time we won’t be the ones having a good year to break the fall.”

Bencubbin farmers Peter and Shannon Waters believe a good finish will result in a fantastic season.

Since May, the farm has received about 160mm of rain and crops are looking good.

“Depending on the finish, it should yield 1.7 tonnes on the proviso we get good finishing rains, ” Peter said.

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