International Agriculture News

Record harvest in sight for WA grain farmers after winter rains

A WET end to winter has firmed the chances of a Statewide grain harvest that will go down in the record books, pumping more than $6 billion into the WA economy.

On the first day of spring yesterday, WA Farmers president Tony York said crops were powering ahead thanks to more good rainfall across much of the South West and Wheatbelt this week, making it “a real possibility” that this season’s harvest would be the biggest ever.

It comes as Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan revealed she was meeting farmers and grain handlers to ensure WA was ready to harvest, transport and ship the bumper harvest.

WA is now likely to supply as much as 60 per cent of the nation’s winter crop, and the supply shortage has driven prices up — meaning farmers in the west will command top dollar for their high yields.

Mr York, who farms 15,000ha at Tammin, 180km east of Perth, with his brother Simon and son Oscar, said his lush fields of wheat, barley, peas and lupins were a prime example of the abundance across most of grain-growing WA and particularly in the northern Wheatbelt.

That’s in stark contrast to last year when growers in the north had one of their worst harvests on record.

“More than 90 per cent of us are in a fantastic position,” Mr York said. “Rain this week finished off what has been a very good August. The crop has got very good potential. North of Merredin it’s looking terrific, I’ve never seen it look so good.

“We had a record harvest in 2016 and it’s quite possible this could be another record.

“We’ve got the rare combination of good crops and good prices, with some farmers saying they’ve never seen it this good before.”

The Grain Industry Association of WA has conservatively estimated this season’s crop at 15.5 million tonnes, including about 10 million tonnes of wheat. That’s below the record of 16.6 million tonnes in 2016, but estimates could well rise.

At current prices — at a nine-year high of $360 a tonne due to the drought in the Eastern States and dry conditions affecting northern hemisphere grain exporters — WA’s current crop would be worth $6 billion.

CBH Group said it was working to ship as much grain as possible and free up capacity at receiving sites for the coming harvest.

Despite the optimism, Mr York cautioned that late frost could still affect some growers, while those on the south coast, including Esperance and Ravensthorpe, had missed much of the winter rain and would be “lucky to have an average season”.

While Perth had its wettest August in more than 50 years, Bureau of Meteorology manager of long-range forecasting Dr Andrew Watkins said the spring outlook for the metropolitan area and South West, including the Wheatbelt, was likely to be warmer and drier than average.

FARMING has taught Mitch Collins to take the good with the bad, and every day as it comes.

Right now, there’s plenty of good for the 24-year-old, who farms 2600ha of owned and leased land near York with his father, Wayne.

“We’ve had good winter rains and we’ve got good soil moisture. All we need is another couple of rains in September and things are looking very good for harvest in October,” he said, surveying his crops of wheat, canola, barley and lupins.

But talk of a record harvest across WA this season reminds Mr Collins of 2016, when the State last posted a grain growing record.

“We were looking good then as well, but we got hammered pretty badly by frost which set us back a bit,” he said.

“That’s why we don’t count the chickens before they hatch. In this game, she’s not over until the grain is in the bin.

“September can be a really testing month. We can still get frost quite badly. But right now things are looking good and that’s all you can hope for. We’ll just keep taking each day as it comes.”