WHEAT and canola plantings in WA are expected to decline in 2015 as growers seek more reliable prices and avoid disease constraints.
Price volatility and tight rotations causing the emergence of sclerotinia are prompting a lean towards lupins and oats according to Grain Industry Association of WA Crop Report compiler Alan Meldrum of Pulse Australia.
Mr Meldrum said the decline in canola could equate to a 170,000 hectare decrease in plantings.
"Growers have pushed the canola rotation a lot in recent years because the price has been so good for so long and now the price has gone off," he said.
"There should be at least a three-year rotation involved and there were quite a lot of reports last year with people being disappointed with their canola yield."
Mr Meldrum said to some extent however, the decline in canola was an expected "correction" to a more sustainable level following a rapid rise in planting over the past six years.
"One comment made to me was the up-front cost of canola compared to lupins. You've got to put about another $150 per hectare on the table to grow canola over lupins, so there's a high production risk with canola when lupins are at a good price," he said.
The good start to the season may lessen the swing away from canola according to Mr Meldrum.
He said for some growers, a promising soil moisture profile and solid breaking rains may have encouraged them to reconsider their program.
"Before the break there was going be less canola in low rainfall areas because of the last couple of bad seasons, but there's some extra canola going back in because of those beautiful starts," Mr Meldrum said.
Lupins and oats will be the focus for many in 2015, with planted areas of both expected to increase by up to 10 per cent.
While this only equates to about a 30,000ha increase for lupins, the sway is still significant Mr Meldrum said.
"Lupins have been out yielding wheat on the poorer sands and that would be because on those poorer sands if you don't have lupins in there quite regularly the fertility will drop away," he said.
"Oats will be the big winner."
For the past six months, Mr Meldrum said a growing demand for oats was becoming more significant and is expected to result in a rise in the area of oats sown in the southern Albany zone.
"Most of the interest is in the newer varieties Williams and Bannister for food grain production," he said.
"While growers in other zones are weighing up oats as a viable and profitable alternative, it is unlikely there will be a significant change in other crop zones."
The decline of wheat in WA will be on the smaller end of the scale at two to three per cent, however WA's preference for Mace will continue.
Mr Meldrum said growers were chasing profitability and a replenishing rotation when making this decision.
"People are seeing there's other options out there that are potentially more profitable this year and maybe for the long or medium term," he said.
"There have been good returns from lupins over the past few years and oats are pushing profitability slightly and there's excitement around that.
"The noodle market has gone right off the boil and there's nothing promising about premiums and it has been selling at a discount for a little while."
In stark contrast to canola and wheat, barley plantings are expected to remain stable in WA, with only the mix of varieties being sown to change.
Mr Meldrum said he expected Bass and La Trobe plantings to increase, particularly in the Esperance and Mid West regions and Hindmarsh and Baudin to decline.
He said a shuffle of varieties is quite common in the barley market as new breeds are released and malt certifications were awarded.
Mr Meldrum expects little to no change in field pea plantings in WA as a crop that is seen to need more time and maintenance than its worth in returns.
"This is despite the strong market support seen since harvest last year," he said.
"The inherent slowness of harvesting field peas and the risk of Blackspot disease are cited as the primary reasons for not increasing plantings."
As a whole, Mr Meldrum said he expected growers to be pleased with the lead into seeding, with cyclones and early rains giving people the start they needed.
"It doesn't provide them with a season's worth of rain, but the risk of the season is now far reduced than if the soil was dry at this time of the year," he said.
"We still need at least an average winter, but we can now handle one of those months of low rainfall without any great concern.
"The Great Southern doesn't have the deep moisture but its rainfall in winter is very reliable so they don't need that confidence of deep moisture to have a good season."
The traditional Anzac Day start to the sowing season saw a flurry of activity throughout the Wheatbelt with canola already up and away on several Binnu properties.
Like most farmers in the district, east Binnu farm manager Evan Reynolds says he won't stop now the seeding rig is in action.
"We started sowing a 800ha canola program last week and we're nearly finished that," he said.
"Then we'll be into lupins and hopefully we'll get some rain as we go into wheat.
"We only need 5-10mm to wet up everything to get crops away because the soil moisture is only about an inch away from our sowing depth."
At Three Springs, machinery dealer turned farmer Bruce Cunningham started dry sowing canola last week as part of a 5000ha cropping program.
"We've had about 50mm for the year so a decent rain soon would be very handy," he said.
"If we could get a 20mm rain event soon it would give us a good start and at this stage I think we can hope for an average season."
For Kukerin farmer Darren Smith, a decent rain event delivering 15-20mm would put a spring in his step.
"We've had between 50 and 80mm so far this year added to 70-160mm November rain so the profile is pretty full," he said.
"Another good rain next week would be fantastic."
Mr Smith said this year he would establish 1400ha of wheat and barley, 200ha of lupins, 400ha of serradella and 100ha of seed crop serradella.
"But at the moment we'll keep the pressure on the weeds," he said.
Wagin farmer Ben Ball will establish 2500ha of wheat, lupins and canola this year and so far has recorded 45mm throughout his property.
"We got our rain in two events of 14mm in March and 31mm earlier this month and I'd be happy with 15mm to get us going," he said.
"It's still a bit early for us so we're happy to wait for the rain for what hopefully should be a good year.
"The price outlook is good, the Australian dollar is okay on the exchange rates and fertiliser prices are okay so it's fairly positive."
With a fairly full soil profile of moisture, Gnowangerup farmer Knud Nymann sees plenty of potential in the season.
"We started sowing canola last week and we'll probably put in 2000ha before starting on lupins, oats and wheat," he said.
"It's a good start and we're very happy we got 40mm out of that last general rain a few weeks ago.
"So far we've recorded 80mm this year to add to the rain we got late last year so there's a good amount of moisture in the subsoil."
South Coast farmers also started canola programs last week ahead of barley and wheat plantings.
For Wittenoom Hills (north east Esperance) farmer John Hull, the prospect of more rain later this week will settle nerves.
"We've had about 70mm this year and the soil profile was full but it's drying out now," he said.
"We started our canola last Thursday and it's going into moisture but we'd like another 5-10mm to ensure it gets away.
"Another rain also would help with weed germinations so we can keep on top of them before going into barley."