THE news just gets better and better for Western Australian grain growers as a bumper harvest draws to a close, with analysts revising upwards the state’s total winter crop production to a record 18 million tonnes (Mt) plus.
With only a few crops to strip in the far south where moisture issues have caused harvesting delays, the record figure highlights what a cracking winter cropping season it has been for WA.
GrainGrowers regional co-ordinator for WA and author of GIWA’s crop reports, Alan Meldrum, said production estimates had continued to rise as the harvest progressed.
With harvest now virtually completed, the latest figure is more than 2Mt above that forecast in December.
“For CBH, 13Mt to 14Mt was their target in mid-November. In early December they thought they would get to 15Mt. They finished on 16.6Mt received,” he said.
“We know there is 1.5Mt, if not more, outside the CBH system, so we think the total farm production is well in excess of 18Mt for WA. We were only at 15.7Mt in early December.”
Mr Meldrum said the scale of this year’s production was unexpected, particularly as parts of the state were hit by severe frosts at the critical flowering time in September.
“There have been remarkable yields. Grain weight was fantastic. Hectolitre weights on wheats were coming in at minimums of 80 and up to 84 kilograms/hectolitre,” he said.
“We had expectations of very good yields where frost hadn’t had an impact and devastating losses where frost had had an impact. That’s over a wide area from the West Midlands around Miling, Dalwallinu, Wubin, right through the eastern wheatbelt down to Hyden, Lake Varley, Newdegate.
“Individuals had significant losses. What should have been a 3t/ha crop came in at 1t/ha or less. But it seems some areas in those same districts had yields that were better than expected.”
Mr Meldrum said before the frosts in September, pundits were talking of a potential state-wide crop of about 20Mt.
“It is an unknown quantity how much was lost to frost. Some people suggest 3Mt went out the window. We have worked on 2Mt. But no-one really knows what the final loss was, but it was significant. It was a record year despite that,” he said.
Mr Meldrum said canola was the standout crop this season with high yields, high oil content and sound returns.
“The Oilseeds Federation said not only is the oil content good but the fatty acids in that oil are also particularly good. The long chain fatty acids are put together very late in the canola plant’s maturity, so the Omega 3 content is higher than normal. So, the quality is over the top,” he said.
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Canola returns have provided an economic buffer to the low prices for cereals this year. Despite the much larger winter crop this year compared to last year, this year’s WA harvest is estimated to be worth $5.2 billion compared to last year’s $6 billion.
“Across the board, financially growers haven’t done all that well. Oats, wheat and barley prices have all fallen badly. Canola has been the saving grace. It has maintained its price of $550-$600/t and the oil bonuses have been marvellous. That has helped keep growers bank balances in reasonable condition,” he said.
Mr Meldrum said the massive crop had been safely stored away with every possible storage full.
He said with the challenge of moving such a large quantity of grain, the issue would be how much would still be in the system when next harvest arrived.
“Unfortunately, we just can’t move it all and there could be some logistical problems next harvest,” he said.
“If we have a half decent season in 2017, there is going to be a substantial carryover of grain because the shipping capacity isn’t there to move 16Mt.
“We do need to move as much as possible in the next 12 months.”
Mr Meldrum said there had been substantial rains throughout much of the WA cropping belt that had topped up soil moisture profiles and led growers to consider what to plant for the forthcoming winter crop.
“With the wheat prices as low as they are and with an average season, most growers in the medium to low rainfall areas would be hard pressed to see a profit out of it,” he said.
“I think a lot of growers will go with an average program. They will cull back their low-producing paddocks unless we have a fantastic season at the start.
“April 1 is what people will be targeting if they get more rain. They will go berserk with lupins and canola, then follow with cereals from late April.
“Confidence is quite strong for 2017 because of the moisture. That’s the optimistic side. It’s the financial side of things that will be the fly in the ointment. We don’t know how it will pan out.”
GIWA’s February crop report will be out next week. http://www.giwa.org.au/