THE first harvest prediction of the year has pinned WA’s total harvest to between 10 million tonnes and 12mt.
The Grain Industry Association of WA released its July crop report last Friday and estimated there will be a large drop off in harvested grain compared to last year’s record tonnages.
This will come as no surprise to growers across the WA Wheatbelt as lack of rain for May and June means large areas of cropped country has already being taken out of the harvest equation due to poor or no germination.
And without some good falls at the end of June, this estimate could have been even lower.
Luckily crops in parts of the Kwinana and Albany port zones were given a chance thanks to double digit falls over the past couple of weeks.
It is to the north and east of the Geraldton port zone and north and east of the Kwinana zone that the damage has been done.
GIWA estimates that at this stage of the season about 30 per cent of the intended crop area in the Geraldton zone will not be harvested.
This drops to about 10pc in the north and east of the Kwinana zone.
Feed grain will also be at a premium this year, with poor pasture production across all port zones meaning sheep and cattle farmers will be hand feeding stock well into spring.
“Consequently this means the large volume of feed grain stored on farm from the 2016 harvest is expected to run down to low levels by the start of the 2017 harvest,” GIWA said.
The report also states that due to the lack of moisture in the northern zones, lupin tonnages have been hard hit.
“This region usually produces more lupins than all the other zones combined. The increase in canola plantings in the region will also amount to very little canola tonnage coming from this zone,” it said.
Mingenew Irwin Group chief executive officer Jenny Thomas was among those who met with the Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan to discuss the dry season last week.
Ms Thomas said Mingenew had received just 60 millimetres of rain since the beginning of May, and most growers in the region were preparing for a below average season.
“Our normal growing season is anywhere between 200-300mm so we’re well behind where we should be,” she said.
“Subsoil moisture is there but it’s down 10-15cm, so if we got a nice 15-20mm rain it would join the soil profiles up, but we just haven’t had that.
“It’s very patchy, if you’re able to pull your header out at the end of the season, you’ve done extremely well.
“We’re not going to get a bumper crop so we will align our inputs as such.”
Ms Thomas said managing livestock in the dry conditions was the prime concern of several farmers, with many reducing their flock numbers significantly.
“Many farmers are offloading their stock, the advantage is that this year livestock are worth a lot,” she said.
“It’s easier to sell a healthy living animal than one that’s not well and you don’t want to get to the stage where you have to shoot animals either.”
Ms Thomas said growers were supplementary feeding their stock and those with perennial pastures and annual grasses were faring well.
“Most people last year cut hay so they’ve got that on hand and they’ve also got grain on hand but now grain prices have skyrocketed.
“Those that are set up with perennials and annual grasses are weathering it quite well. It makes a really good business case for growers to jump on board and get some pastures in.”
As the season progresses, Ms Thomas said the focus for the Mingenew Irwin Group would be to provide the tools for growers to prepare for next season.
“The crunch time will be next year when it’s time to put the crop in,” she said.
“It’s not only this season, we’re also preparing for next season because if we don’t get the cover on the ground it’s going to blow.
“The conversation will be around planning your finances and also really understanding your finances.
“I think there the Minister could come into play around financial planning for next year.”
Liebe Group president Ross Fitzsimons farms at Buntine and said growers in the surrounding area were experiencing similar dry conditions.
Only 88mm of rain has fallen on his mixed cropping and sheep property this year, with just 22mm of that in the growing season.
He said most growers surrounding Dalwallinu had downsized their programs significantly.
“We only put a third of our wheat in and that seems to be what a lot of people have done,” Mr Fitzsimons said.
“I know there are some growers that have put their whole program in and I know of one that hasn’t put anything in, and there’s everything in between.
“As far as germination goes, I haven’t got any broadleaf up
“I’ve got some patchy cereal in damp areas that has come up but I haven’t got a whole paddock up by any stretch of the imagination.”
He said growers were now bracing themselves for a difficult year ahead.
“I think everybody is getting ready for hardly any harvest, some are still hoping to get their seed back, but I can’t even see getting my sown seed back at the moment.”
To manage his livestock, Mr Fitzsimons is selling 400 sheep this week with limited feed available to sustain his flock.
“We’re getting rid of all of our maiden ewes this week, just because we’re not looking like getting any feed at all,” he said.
“We’ve only got a couple of hundred sheep on our farm, the rest are on agistment on the neighbour’s place so that was lucky.
“He’d made the right call earlier and didn’t put anything in, so it’s just stubble from last year’s harvest and some saltbush so we’re using that up.
“We’re supplementary feeding, we haven’t bought any grain yet but I’m looking at that seriously now.”
As the year progresses, Mr Fitzsimons said it was now a matter of cutting costs and managing finances in preparation for next season.
He said encouraging growers to keep socially active was a priority of the Liebe Group.
“We’re all in the same boat, it’s just important to keep social and keep an eye on everybody,” he said.