Heat, frosts concern growers

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

In what is just the latest challenge in a season that has been frustrating for many of the State's growers, last week large swaths of the grain belt were hit with sub-zero temperatures.

Much of the Wheatbelt suffered frost last Friday morning, after light rain the previous afternoon was followed by freezing conditions.

York recorded -1C, Southern Cross -1.3C and Kellerberrin -0.5C, but CBH general manager of operations Colin Tutt said a line from Bulyee to Nyabing, out to Lake King and across to Corrigin was hit.

He said CBH was still unsure of exactly how widespread the damage was, but warmer weather expected late this week would probably accelerate their knowledge.

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Kondinin grower Gary Repacholi, who farms with his wife Janet and son Beau, said they might have missed the worst of the frost damage but were still bracing for some impact.

"Most of (the wheat) is at grain fill and that's fairly fortunate because I don't think it would have been a stem frost," he said.

"However, there was about 1mm of rain late Thursday afternoon, which is always bad for stem frost. We'll just see how the head fill progresses then how the crops turn - it will be a while before we can ascertain it."

Department of Agriculture and Food grains director David Bowran said several growers in the Central Wheatbelt faced frost damage in their wheat.

"Temperatures fell to nearly -2C in the frost event last week - the area that was below zero was the central agricultural region," he said.

"There would have been some crops at a susceptible stage, particularly wheat just flowering."

He said the extent of the damage would not be known until the next fortnight.

Corrigin farmer Simon Wallwork said temperatures hit -0.5C at his farm on Friday morning.

"I am not sure how bad the damage was. I still need to have a good look around," he said.

"I think our wheat would have been affected because it is in flower."

Mr Wallwork said he planned to start harvest late this month or early next month.

However, it was the recent warm temperatures and lack of rainfall that has some growers - and CBH - more concerned.

Early this week the mercury climbed to above 30C and with more warm weather forecast for late this week, Mr Tutt said the value of last week's rain might have been eroded.

"We got anywhere from 10 to 20mm of rain throughout the agricultural area last week and that really stopped (yield) from declining any further," he said.

"But we've virtually lost that value over the weekend.

"The warm conditions are just maturing the crop very quickly and probably not allowing it to fill slowly the way it should do. The cooler the conditions the better off we are from a ripening perspective."

CBH has now set its yield estimate at 9.1 to 9.3 million tonnes for this harvest and although the first loads of grain are beginning to filter through in the Geraldton zone, questions remain over whether much of WA will be facing high screenings due to the dry conditions.

On Tuesday the first two loads of the season had been delivered to Geraldton, putting the first 100 tonnes of the wheat into CBH's system.

By the end of the month Mr Tutt estimates the grain handler will crack 100,000 tonnes as the Esperance zone swings into gear, with the first load expected late this week.

The Esperance and Albany zones are on track for average delivery tonnages, with 1.55 million and 2.1 million tonnes expected, respectively, by CBH.

The Geraldton and Kwinana zones are both expected to be below average, with 1.5 million tonnes and four million tonnes of receivals forecast, respectively.

Normally Geraldton would be expected to deliver 2.1 to 2.2 million tonnes, while Kwinana's average is 5.8 to six million tonnes.

Northampton growers Craig and Karl Suckling are looking to start harvest in the next week.

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