Record grain harvest pumps $5 billion into WA economy

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
Ray Fulwood and his son Ty in the bumper wheat crop at their Southern Brook farm.
Camera IconRay Fulwood and his son Ty in the bumper wheat crop at their Southern Brook farm. Credit: Nic Ellis

WA grain farmers have defied widespread damaging frosts to deliver their biggest harvest in history, injecting about $5 billion into the State’s economy.

The amount of grain delivered to Co-operative Bulk Handling by noon yesterday topped the previous record haul of 15.86 million tonnes during the 2013-14 season.

Although the harvest is largely complete, grain will continue to trickle into the CBH system in coming weeks. CBH expects total deliveries could pass 16 million tonnes.

This year’s production has smashed CBH’s forecasts for a much smaller 13-14mt harvest. The forecast had been cut after severe frosts in August and September.

CBH general manager of operations David Capper said though frosts had taken a big toll on production, yields in non-affected crops were far bigger than anticipated because of exceptional growing conditions, particularly timely rainfall.

WAFarmers president Tony York said it was remarkable to end up with a record crop given the significant frost damage.

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

Mr York estimates his own crop at Tammin had an average 20 per cent loss from frost damage. Even so, he has harvested his second-best barley crop, averaging 3t/ha. His canola was an equal best yield and wheat was above average. The more susceptible lupins and field peas were below average.

Ray Fulwood and his son Ty harvesting their bumper crop.
Camera IconRay Fulwood and his son Ty harvesting their bumper crop. Credit: The West Australian

He said many growers were pleasantly surprised how well their crops had fared in spite of the frost damage.

Ty Fulwood, who farms near Northam with his wife Emma and his father Ray, estimates the frosts shaved 30 per cent from their 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, they were on track for one of their 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 frosts.

Mary Nenke, who farms with her husband Michael and sons Paul, Derek and Ian at Kukerin, said before the frosts they had been expecting their best-ever crops.

Their frost damage was far worse than estimated and average district yields were around one tonne/ha across all crops, but 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 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 production record was set in 2013-14, amid higher grain prices.

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