Hatching chickens in the Wheatbelt

29 Dec, 2011 04:00 AM
 Father and son team Damien (left) and Greg Stewart, Gnowangerup, said their 2011/12 harvest was at least 40 per cent better than last year.
Father and son team Damien (left) and Greg Stewart, Gnowangerup, said their 2011/12 harvest was at least 40 per cent better than last year.

NOBODY in the world understands the phrase, don't count your chickens before they hatch, better than a WA grain grower.

And the 2011/12 season has been a testament to that fact.

The year kicked off much as every year does, with uncertainty about the weather, grain price ambiguity and the added pressure of a relatively dry 2010/11 season throughout most of the Wheatbelt.

This time last year WA growers were adding a whole lot of rain to their wish list for 2011.

And thankfully, for most of them, their wishes came true which helped to kick-start what was tipped to be a bumper year for WA's grains industry.

But that wasn't before some controversy.

January saw threats of legal action from Kojonup organic farmer Steve Marsh against his GM canola growing neighbours, Michael and Zanthe Baxter after his property was allegedly contaminated by the Baxter's canola swaths.

According to Mr Marsh, the news of a lawsuit against the people or entity responsible for his economic loss would be insignificant compared to the damage his fellow Kojonup farmers would endure due to the spread of GM canola seeds.

Mr Marsh, Gene Ethics, organic certifiers and other GM-free advocates again called on the Federal Government to pass farmer protection laws based on strict liability so farmers in Mr Marsh's situation could automatically receive compensation from the responsible GM companies and their licensed growers.

But the Pastoralist and Graziers Association (PGA) labelled Marsh's quest for compensation as imposing a "ridiculous standard of liability" on his neighbour and within the space of the year no further progress was made with legal action.

By February stormy weather had well and truly revived the GM debate as further contamination fears were sparked throughout the Wheatbelt.

February also bought some big news for CBH.

The bulk handler offered hope for struggling Tier 3 rail lines by saying much needed track upgrades weren't out of the question due to its new partnership with American rail company, Watco and the co-operative's investment of $175 million in new rolling stock.

CBH also faced the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) after the ACCC expanded the opening for third party operators to circumvent CBH's Grain Express transport service and take control of grain from the start of the supply chain.

CBH directors argued the loss of the transport system would create a co-ordination nightmare in getting grain from CBH's upcountry storage facilities to its ports at Esperance, Albany, Kwinana and Geraldton.

Industry sources warned any move to unwind Grain Express without an adequate transition period could generate further uncertainty in an industry already reeling from a drought-devastated 2010/11 season.

CBH also rolled out Quality Optimisation (QO) for it's first commercial season in the first half of the year.

It was labelled a "zero-sum game on pricing" by some local advisers but growers remained cautiously optimistic about the role it could play in their farming future.

Growing uncertainty in world politics provided further uncertainty for world grain prices which proved profitable for WA growers and by April, showery rain heralded the perfect start to seeding in the Southern Wheatbelt.

Dry conditions in the north forced farmers in the Geraldton zone to start dry-seeding programs and a start-stop season prompted the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) to predict a drier than average May and June with a slim chance for better rains in July.

After two distinctive rain events in mid-May seeding was well underway for the entire Wheatbelt.

By August WA growers were happy to report the season had shaped up well and crops looked like they would yield far better than they had done in previous seasons.

But quality issues had already become evident and disease pressure was generally heightened, especially in the Southern Coastal district.

The Geraldton zone had shaped up for a bumper crop and continued rain meant farmers dared to dream.

A bin-buster harvest was on the cards and CBH planning was in full swing.

By mid-September WA's harvest estimate was up to 12.9 million tonnes, the most it had been for a number of years.

Mid-October heralded the start of harvest in the Geraldton zone but protein and other quality issues were immediately evident.

Other zones soon followed as harvest cranked up but what had shaped up to be an all round finish to the season was recently marred by rain which caught most of WA's oaten hay crops on the ground, caused further quality concerns and held-up harvest efforts.

But despite the recent rain throughout much of the southern Wheatbelt spirits remained high.

Falling numbers have caused a headache for many growers delivering wheat to CBH but after recording a 6.5mt harvest in the 2010/11 season there was still a reason to smile.

To date about 75 per cent of the State's estimated tonnages, or more than 10 million tonnes, have been delivered to the CBH system.



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