THE rare combination of early-season rainfall, above-average levels of subsoil moisture across most of the grainbelt and good prices for all grains has provided a brilliant start to the winter-cropping season in Western Australia, according to the Grain Industry of WA (GIWA) May crop report.
GIWA has this month released its preliminary forecast for WA’s total winter-crop area at 8.6 million hectares (Mha), up slightly from last year’s record area of around 8.5Mha.
By crop, GIWA is expecting a gain in canola area and a small reduction in barley plantings, despite current feed barley prices holding up well, and barley’s higher grain yield over wheat in southern regions.
The widening spread in prices between wheat over barley is not expected to have a significant influence on intended cereal plantings.
The overall canola area planted in WA is a record, and has further upside as prices nudge $800 per tonne.
With good subsoil moisture, canola grain yield potential is above average.
At current prices, one tonne of canola is equal to 3t of barley and 2.5t of wheat.
Record sales of Roundup Ready (RR) and hybrid triazine-tolerant (TT) canola have been reported in WA in the lead-up to planting.
The switch to hybrids in the past two years has been significant, and while seed supply has again been tight, the increase in plantings has been made possible with a rundown in old stock and open-pollinated TT farmer-retained seed.
The increase in canola area has come at the expense of lupins and pulses, and to a lesser extent, wheat and barley.
The oat grain area is going to be up slightly, particularly in eastern regions, while oaten hay area is more than 50 per cent down due to the ongoing uncertainty of demand; much of its area has gone into canola.
Dams are filling, and with ample feed for livestock, there is optimism all round. Some paddocks in the south are already a bit wet to access, a problem not seen for some years.
GIWA acknowledges the support of the WA Government’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, CBH Group and contributions from independent agricultural consultants and agronomists in the production of its monthly report.
Following is a round-up of conditions by region:
Northern regions are seeding in wet conditions for the first time in years, despite widespread damage to infrastructure including sheds caused last month by Cyclone Seroja.
The beginning of the northern season is looking promising, despite the cyclonic weather havoc and soil-moisture losses caused by some hot days.
Most farms have 120-180 millimetres of rain over several events during the summer, and all crops are expected to be in the ground in the next few weeks.
The Geraldton Zone’s 2021 canola area is the largest ever seen, up by 20-50 per cent on last year. By the end of April, 40pc was in the ground, and most of it has now been sown, especially in the North Midlands.
Lupin plantings have reduced as ryegrass resistance, other weed-control issues and grain prices have pushed more area into canola. Barley area has also dropped from 2020.
Most paddocks have had two knockdowns, and plenty of winter weeds are now coming up.
It is the first time in a few years that growers have been able to take these out with glyphosate rather than pre-emergent herbicides.
Locusts could be an issue in the east, and later in season it will be interesting to see the effects from the high numbers that are currently in the area.
Canola has come up quickly, and the first nitrogen applications have gone on, with crops in heavy soils being targeted first. Spraying herbicides as well as seeding has kept many busy, and local fertiliser companies have implemented longer opening hours that allow busy growers, many of whom lost sheds to Cyclone Seroja, to collect truckloads.
Growers in the region have good soil moisture from summer and subsequent rain, totalling a patchy 120-170mm this year.
Ex-Cyclone Seroja went to the east of the region and delivered rainfall in strips, where lucky growers got 40-50mm, and southern areas received around 10-25mm.
Ideally, receiving an additional 20-25mm would allow for some good wet sowing. The summer rains enabled some extensive soil-amelioration programs which have been valuable for many growers, though in the first properly wet seeding in a decade, heavy air seeders are proving easy to bog.
Locusts are out and about with some “unbelievable flights” across the region being reported by some growers.
Early sown canola is around the two to four-leaf stage, though some consecutive hot days has seen slow emergence due to cotyledon damage. Post-rain sown canola has come up better, though patchiness has been a result of crops planted more than three days after the cyclone.
Canola seeding is mostly 80-90pc complete.
Barley planting has started, but growers are waiting for rain to continue, and for knockdown results to be seen before really getting stuck into it.
Export hay area is down 60-70pc, with cereals picking up the bulk of reallocated area.
Most paddocks going into crop have had two passes with a boom spray, and good knockdowns of ryegrass, radish, wild oats, winter weed, brome grass and capeweed has resulted. This season will likely capitalise on weed control after five prior years of dry sowing.
Kwinana North East
The north and east of the zone has had a terrific start to the growing season. Rain last week has topped up the profile and most growers are now getting stuck into planting wheat in a big way over the next few weeks. Unlike the past few years, most of the large areas of wheat in the zone will be planted into moisture rather than dry sown. The early start combined with good levels of subsoil moisture is a nice combination to have in these lower rainfall areas.
The early start will bring the growing season forward, which is critical in the region to minimise heat stress during grain-fill in spring.
Locusts have been and will continue to hammer emerging crops closer to the pastoral fringes prior to the weather cooling down. Large areas have been sprayed and most crops are having an insecticide in the knockdown mix to keep numbers down.
Recent rain tailed off in the far east and north as it normally does, although many areas that have had a dry run in recent years have good reserves of soil moisture to start this season. There has been little shift in crop enterprise mixture for the region in the east, but in northern areas, more paddocks than normal are being planted to canola with those growers that usually have it in their rotation adding an extra paddock or two.
Due to the early season break and current rains, at least 10pc more canola has gone in than what was planned. With the latest rain, canola area could expand further, largely at the expense of wheat. The very dry central areas of the zone pulled back on canola last year. With the good start this year across the whole region, there has been a big increase in canola plantings, including further east than in recent years.
In the western areas of the zone where the dominant rotation is canola/barley, growers have little scope to increase canola area in response to the current high canola prices.
Barley is now being planted, and wheat will be going in from this week. Most growers will now back off the pace of seeding and aim to finish around May 25 in order to prevent flowering in early August. Most are sowing country higher in the profile first to mitigate frost risk. This is the best start to a season in years because of the early break with such good subsoil moisture.
Avon Valley growers are finding that extensive burning has been required to get the bar through after a big season last year. Root release in stubbles from summer rain is also causing problems with stubble “balling up”, even if cut short at harvest.
March-sown canola crops were hit with cabbage centre grub and weed web moth. Green peach aphids and diamond back moth are just starting to build up in numbers and could be a problem with emerging canola over the next few weeks if it warms up in May. There have also been some locusts in the north, though otherwise early disease and pest pressure has not been a huge concern.
The zone does not need any further rainfall at present, with trafficability issues already resulting from the cumulative 200-250mm received to date. The season looks good where mid-late April delivered 70-100mm of rain. Livestock producers are also happy, with dams topped up and good rainfall and warm day temperatures promoting pasture growth.
With the early start, cereal seeding started last week, though many have been getting stuck in the wetter areas of paddocks as a result of the recent rains.
Early-sown canola is up, with growers moving on to barley and wheat. As expected, pulses and lupins are not very popular this season by comparison. All canola is in, with advanced crops now at the four-leaf stage. There will be some RR canola due for nitrogen in the next week or so.
Many paddocks have had three knockdown sprays, resulting in good weed control. However, where summer weeds were slow to be knocked down, various pests such as vegetable weevils have emerged and have been an ongoing issue. Slugs and earwigs may also be a problem in the near future, though are not too bad and with the rapid crop growth seen, they will be controllable.
This region is very wet, and most growers have had to stop planting due to boggy conditions.
This year, there is an extra 5-10pc of canola being planted. Most of it was sown prior to Anzac Day and is now up, though waterlogging and inundation may be a significant risk going forward. For the earliest crops, frost risk may also be a problem down the track. Lots of barley has also gone in and a reasonably large area is now up and growing well where not waterlogged. Generally, there has been great establishment and early vigour all round, although this will be challenged by any further rain.
Some pests are posing issues, such as weevil and early hatchings of red legged mites being the main contenders.
Compared to other regions, the Lakes Region had not been quite as wet until last week. Growers have seen 100-125mm for the year, with 30mm of that delivered by last month’s cyclone system. Most of the region had 30-50mm last week, which is perfect timing.
Canola was mostly in before the cyclone, though some extra area was put in shortly after the rain. This season has seen the largest amount of hybrid TT varieties ever seeded, and overall canola is up 20pc in rotations at the expense of lupins and barley.
In terms of pests, vegetable weevils and the occasional byrobia mites have been hammering canola.
Canola plant establishment is very good and hybrid canola growers are being more proactive in maintenance when looking at the ballpark $800/t prices. Earlier sown hybrids are around the two to four-leaf stage and are coming up very well.
The opportunity for multiple knockdown sprays has been a welcome change from the run of dry starts recently.
Growers are really going for it putting cereals in the ground with the nice conditions. A potential looming problem will be frost later in the year if too much goes in too early. On top of this, the quick early emergence and growth, it will mean everything will need spraying for weeds at once.
Up until last week’s rain, the Esperance Zone was slightly dry, with subsoil moisture reserves lower than the rest of the grainbelt. Some areas had enough summer rain to get a weed germination, with at least 15-20mm everywhere and up to 25-30mm in wetter areas.
Most growers have not stopped seeding over the past few weeks, and lots of canola went in before the rain.
There have been good winter weed germinations from the rain a few weeks ago, especially in Mallee soils.
Quite a bit of Illabo wheat was put in before the rains and this has come up very well. Now in early May, over half of all cereals are in and some growers are nearly finished. There was also a lot of Planet barley that went in quite early. Up until last week, many growers had slowed down due to the drying soil profile, although seeding is now back in full swing across the region.
Nitrogen is already being put out on canola, which is at a two to four-leaf stage for early sown crops. Overall, an extra 15-20pc of canola has been planted in the region this season. There has been a reduction in pulse and lupin crops in the area.
The exodus of sheep in the region continued over summer and in the autumn largely due to water issues.
Mice are around in high numbers, and grasshoppers have been a problem around Scaddan and further north. Weevils are an issue on the sandy gravels, as are slaters in warm wet soils.