DESPITE the late start to the growing season WA could be on track for a record-breaking harvest if near-perfect weather conditions unfolding across much of the grainbelt continue.
According to the Grain Industry Association of Western Australia’s (GIWA) first crop production estimates for 2018, released last week, the State is tipped to produce more than 15.5 million tonnes of grain this year, including 9.9mt of wheat.
With much of the Eastern States suffering severe drought, this puts the State’s wheat production levels at close to half of the total national wheat crop according to Australian Crop Forecasters commodities analyst James Maxwell, who also released updated estimates last week.
“We just dropped our forecast to 19.6mt nationally for wheat,” Mr Maxwell said.
“The big drop has obviously come in Queensland and New South Wales – in Queensland we’ve only got half a million tonnes while New South Wales is at 3.4mt and that has potential to drop further.
“WA is looking to be very close, if not more than half of the wheat crop at the moment.”
Mr Maxwell said it was a similar situation for barley and canola, with WA the only State across the country headed for an above-average season.
With consistent rain events and high commodity prices setting most parts of the State up for a prosperous year, GIWA report author Michael Lamond warned frost and heat stress could still have a significant impact on how the season played out.
“The growing season for the majority of the State has been near perfect so far with crops ahead of where they would normally be with a late May break to the season,” Mr Lamond said.
“The only downside to this may be the susceptibility to heat stress if crops are exposed to sudden hot weather.
“The other major risk to crops will be frost over the next six weeks – the frost risk to crops is generally considered to be less than it was in 2016; even though crops have moved along quickly this year, they are still behind in growth stage to date from where they were in 2016.”
Mr Lamond said cereals were performing strongly across the grainbelt, and with the exception of crops in the south coast and Esperance regions, barley was expected to join wheat in achieving above-average yields, with potential for a 3.5mt harvest Statewide.
Meantime canola production was tipped to be well down on last year’s 1.9mt crop at 1.2mt, due to a decrease in the area planted and dry, windy conditions during seeding, which also affected lupin production estimates, pinned at 460,000t.
Leading the way in terms of production was the Kwinana zone which was expected to produce more than 8.1mt of grain this season, including more than a quarter of the national wheat crop.
According to the GIWA report crop growth in the Kwinana zone was “exceptional” despite the late May break, with cereals the standout crop.
Most of the zone had benefited from regular rainfall and warm temperatures, and while some parts were suffering from sclerotinia in canola and waterlogged paddocks, most areas were on track for an above average season.
The Geraldton zone was also headed for a fruitful harvest, with many growers enjoying the best seasonal conditions in many years thanks to regular rainfall since the end of May.
“Most of the zone has a full soil moisture profile to finish crops even without any further significant rainfall events,” Mr Lamond said.
“The big risk over the next month for the region will be heat stress as the crops are bulked up with a lot of vegetative growth and shallow root systems from the very soft growing conditions.
“If there is no major heat stress the whole zone could produce record levels of grain.”
Meantime while it was a slow start for the Albany zone, much of the region has improved significantly in recent weeks according to GIWA.
The Albany zone was expected to produce 2.6mt of grain, with growers in the Lakes region and western parts of the zone likely to achieve at least average cereal yields.
Southern parts of the zone have endured a more difficult season, but things had picked up considerably over the past two weeks following double digit rainfall figures.
“Cereal and canola crops have noticeably picked up in the past 10 days and while current grain yield estimates are fairly low at the moment, the region has the ability to still produce close to average grain yields with a soft finish,” Mr Lamond said.
“The very poor areas of crop growth are now confined to the eastern portions of the (Southern Albany) zone.”
Further south and the Esperance zone had experienced a change of gears compared to its recent record-breaking seasons, and according to the report was “shaping up for just an average year”.
Mr Lamond said crops were varied across the zone.
“Crops closer to the coast have benefited from the lack of waterlogging and moderate rainfall while crops further away from the coast have lower potential from the lack of rain to date,” Mr Lamond said.
“There is a wide range in crop growth with some on good moisture having above average grain yield potential and others that missed out on decent rains until recently being behind for this time of the year.
“Most growers are now confident close to average grain yields will be achieved if the season does not cut out early.”