WESTERN Australia bucked the trend of lower than average production for 2014-15, with State bulk handler CBH recording its fourth biggest year of receivals on record.
The surprisingly good performance in the west was critical in dragging national crop production for 2014-15 to near average levels.
CBH general manager of operations David Capper said WA growers delivered 13.52 million tonnes into his company’s network this season.
He said this figure was higher than expected, especially considering some areas had issues with a dry spring and others faced losses due to heavy harvest rain.
WA Farmers grains section president Kim Simpson said the production was a good result.
“There was obviously a fairly wide area that did have a good year, although there were people who did miss out, but it balanced out to be a fairly substantial harvest, although not as big as the year before.”
Mr Simpson said a key reason behind the production gains over the past few years had been a substantial increase in acreage in potentially high yielding areas.
“The more marginal areas have had their problems, but where we have seen the big changes is in traditionally grazing areas.
“With the good prices over the last few years, many have made the decision to switch some land from grazing to cropping.
“It’s important to overall production, because it is in the higher rainfall areas where they can grow big amounts of grain.”
Mr Capper said the harvest was about 3mt more than CBH’s 10 year average.
He said the run of good years would mean CBH is now cashed up to embark on a large capital expenditure program.
“To have had three above average crops over the past four years, that has given us the opportunity to invest in both maintenance and upgrade the network,” he said.
He said the most significant upgrade last year was a $15 million upgrade at Esperance, bringing in automated sampling spears and the ability to sample and weigh at the same time, speeding up turnaround times.
The harvest itself was one of the longest on record with rain events holding up proceedings and some growers still delivering small quantities of grain in the Esperance and Albany zones.
Mr Capper said other challenges this year were created by the closure of Tier 3 rail lines by Brookfield Rail, forcing CBH to outload the previous year’s record harvest via road before this year’s receivals began.
CBH and Brookfield Rail are currently undergoing negotiations for future rail access through the Economic Regulation Authority.
CBH is now entering a heavy export program until April and Mr Capper said he expected work to start on a new CBH Albany site in the coming weeks once final approvals were received.
Mr Simpson said there would potentially be a small drop in WA acreage for the 2015-16 if there was no late summer rain in reaction to both falling grain prices and rising livestock prices.
However, he said he did not think it would be a dramatic change in planting size.
“There may be some small changes, but those guys who have got out of livestock will probably struggle to get back in, given store livestock prices at present, and the vast majority of the area planted is locked in year after year.
“A lot depends on the next two or three months, if we can get the tail-end of a cyclone and get some soaking rain to put moisture into the profile leading into the 2015 plant.
“If we can get a good summer rain, it sets us up with the potential for a big crop.”
He said different parts of the State had recorded different standout crops.
“In the dry areas, it was the cereals that were better, as you would expect, but we also had some reports of very good yields in canola in areas with a bit better spring.”
He said the vast majority of the State’s crop was in the CBH network.
“There’s been a couple of loads go out through Bunge’s Bunbury terminal and there is some grain on-farm, but not a lot.
“The grain stored on-farm will mainly be by mixed farmers looking to store some feed grain in case of a dry autumn.”