ANOTHER dry month has further dampened predictions for WA's canola crop, with 2006 set to deliver the lowest canola return in almost a decade.
Oilseeds WA executive officer John Duff has estimated the state's potential yield at around 290,000t based on lower than expected rainfall during July.
Whatever the outcome, 2006 will produce less than half of last season's yield and the lowest since the 1997-98 season produced only 288,000t.
Last season yielded a record 630,000t, which, at an average world price of $400/t, grossed an estimated $252 million.
With the yield down by 54pc, this season's crop stands to lose at least $126m off its expected value.
For some growers the situation will be much worse as input costs have not dropped by the same level, if at all.
Mr Duff said poor winter rainfall until mid-August had not provided the soil moisture needed to produce good crops throughout WA.
As expected, the northern Agricultural region had been hit hardest by the dry and is experiencing a significant crop loss.
Although the Great Southern region had fared somewhat better, a smaller crop than predicted is now relying on a good finish to the season.
"WA's canola crop needs good August rainfall and kind conditions in September if it is to reach full potential," Mr Duff said.
"Some districts have recently experienced higher day time temperatures that have caused moisture stress in some eastern Wheatbelt crops.
"Northern areas are still patchy between districts and within crops with the drier patches becoming bigger to the east.
"The Great Southern area from Williams down to Mt Barker is a little better than was earlier estimated, but may still produce a below-average return depending on how much rain they get from now through September.
"East of the Great Southern to the lower Lakes District is around average, but still disappointing.
"The area from Madden to Esperance along the south coast is above-average and is the hope of the state, so we're keeping our fingers crossed there."
Mr Duff said there were no major issues with regards to the spread of insects and disease, despite growers receiving a warning to watch out for Rutherglen bugs.
Mr Duff said the bugs needed to be watched closely given the effect they had on free fatty acids in oil last season.
The Agriculture Department was also continuing to monitor canola crops for the threat of locusts.
High numbers of plague locust egg beds were reported in autumn, with growers urged to report any suspected egg beds to their local Agriculture Department office.
Meanwhile, the Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) has reduced its canola production estimates by 10pc after another poor month, leaving total production at just more than one million tonnes.
Bevan Bignell runs a farm 20km south of Boyup Brook.
Mr Bignell has been growing canola for a number of years, but rates this season as the toughest he has experienced.
He planted a 75ha canola crop early in the year and waited for the rain to arrive.
"I was hoping the rain would arrive a bit sooner than it did," Mr Bignell said.
"The canola crop went in on June 2, but it didn't rain for at least a month and then it seemed like ages before it actually germinated.
"It still needs a fair bit of rain to get through to a good finish, but we're past the worst of it now."
Nationwide the picture is just as bleak with all canola-producing states suffering loss due to drought conditions.
Although most areas have experienced slightly better rainfall over the past month, it has not provided the expected level of soil moisture, leading to a steady decline in crop estimates.
Recent rain will help crops across the nation, with areas near the coast receiving falls of more than 25mm, but it is unknown how high falls over the cropping belt will be, and for many crops it will already be too late to totally recover.
Victoria is also hanging on, with only one significant rainfall event for the season.
Mallee crops are already struggling while through the Wimmera crops will need falls within a fortnight to avoid a yield penalty, and the long-term forecast is not overly promising for this period.
The AOF left production area unchanged, but revised yield down by 15pc for a total production of 285,000t - down 18pc on the previous year.
NSW canola crops are also doing it tough.
The AOF said the crops were late and had less subsoil moisture compared to last year and along with experiencing colder ground temperatures had set back crop development statewide.
Moisture reserves are said to be between 10-15 days, meaning a big soak is needed in NSW before the end of August.
NSW also has pest problems, with red-legged earth mite and Lucerne flea a concern in some areas.
Despite the gloom in other areas of the nation, things are looking up in South Australia.
While the south-east is struggling with low moisture levels, conditions are reasonable on the southern Eyre Peninsula and through the mid-north, where crops are flowering.
As a rule, farmers are likely to adopt a cautious approach to canola and, even if there is good rain in the next fortnight, it is not predicted many farmers would take the risk of top-dressing nitrogen, further denting yield potential.