Winter sowing intentions: early rains underwrite WA crop prospects

Liz Wells, March 17, 2017

WIDESPREAD rains across Western Australia’s grainbelt at the end of January and the start of February have given growers a promising head start for the forthcoming winter cropping program.

Canola is set for another big year in Western Australia.

The rains, which saw the South West receive its second wettest February on record and brought flooding to some regions, have bolstered soil moisture levels through much of the farming zone.

GrainGrowers Western Australian regional coordinator, Alan Meldrum, said soils in most parts of the state’s cropping zone were very wet, giving growers the reassurance of going into winter with a moisture profile that would all but guarantee crop establishment and development.

“That puts a buffer under the season. We can’t have a wipe-out drought. Provided the crop gets out of the ground we can have an average season without too many problems at all,” he said.

“It also means if you can get an early start and get the crop in in April, the roots will get into moisture and have early vigour.”

Mr Meldrum said the high moisture profiles would allow many growers to go straight in with wet sowing when the optimum planting time arrived.

Alan Meldrum

“There will be some dry sowing in deep sands where the moisture drops away from the sowing zone, but most people will be able to wet sow,” he said.

“The trick will be to hold themselves back from planting too early as far as cereals are concerned because we don’t have many varieties that can handle being sown before Anzac Day or thereabouts.

“Fifty per cent of the wheatbelt will dry sow and aim to be about 50pc sown before the first rains come because of the size of their programs. Logistically, the only way they are going to get their programs completed in good time is to dry sow a lot.”

Another big year for oilseed

Mr Meldrum said canola was set to be the ‘go to’ crop in WA this winter, backing up from a 2016/17 season that saw the state produce 1.942 million tonnes (Mt) of the oilseed at exceptionally high yields and oil levels.

“Any time from late March through April is the preferred time for canola planting. With the moisture status as it is, there are a few people who have already set in the calendar when they are going to start in a couple of weeks’ time,” he said.

But while there was likely to be an increased area of canola this year, Mr Meldrum said growers would still sow significant areas of legumes and cereals, despite the low prices.

“I think for all the commodities, whether it is lupins, wheat or barley, at the end of the day there won’t be much change to the usual area that is planted,” he said.

“People don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater because things aren’t too flash with prices.

“With not many options, people stick with their core business. They don’t want to muck up their rotations by changing their production style or farm management just because of what might only be a one year event.

“They will need good yields to turn a profit. The season is promising that at this stage. There is very good potential for above average yields which means that even with depressed prices they can still see their way to making a profit.

“So, I don’t think things will change a great deal. The only real change will be that there will be more canola.”

Frost fears

Growers will be particularly mindful of managing for frost risk this season after many areas were hit by severe frosts in September last year, wiping an estimated two to three million tonnes from WA’s winter crop production.

The impact was particularly devastating from the West Midlands around Miling, Dalwallinu, Wubin, through the eastern wheatbelt down to Hyden, Lake Varley, Newdegate.

“Frost is a big issue for the central Great Southern of WA. Oats is the best of the cereals as far as resisting frost goes, but it has the worst price. All the broadleaves are fairly susceptible,” Mr Meldrum said.

“The only shining light can be early-sown canola because it is indeterminate and can shake off a frost and flower again if it is a big enough plant and there is plenty of moisture in the ground.”

Despite the impact of frost and some harvest delays, WA produced a record 18Mt plus winter crop last season.


See also Grain Central stories on:

Queensland sowing intentions:

NSW sowing intentions:

Victoria and Tasmania sowing intentions:

South Australia sowing intentions:


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