LATE season rain has proven its value and led to an unprecedented five million tonne increase in total State grain production, according to the Grain Industry of WA (GIWA) season summary, which capped off the 2017 harvest at 14.27mt.
The GIWA report includes the 13.32mt tonnes delivered through the CBH Group, along with all grain produced and kept on farm or received through other grain handlers.
It’s a long way off 2016’s record 18.2mt harvest, but a massive jump from GIWA’s initial July 2017 estimates of 9mt.
Wheat production was 25 per cent lower than 2016 due to the dry year in the north and north east of the grainbelt, while lupin production was down 37pc.
Barley production dropped about 9pc, while canola decreased by more than 11pc despite an increase in plantings.
The largest production drop was in the State oat crop, which was 48pc down from 2016 to 480,000t.
Crop report author Michael Lamond said the oat production decrease was mainly price driven and was likely to improve in the 2018 season.
“It’s just a reflection of the area planted due to the price at the start of the year,” Mr Lamond said.
“I think this year there will definitely be more area of oats go in, partly because last year a lot of oats were consumed during the dry year and some growers bought out of CBH warehousing to feed their sheep.
“A lot of growers would be restocking oats anyway, so they’ll be planting a bit.
“I think there’ll be an increase in the area of plantings based on the price, and the other thing is the demand for milling oats is going up about 10 to 15pc a year so that’s quite strong.”
According to the report, field pea was the standout crop and saw a major increase in production, jumping 25pc to 45,000t.
Mr Lamond said there was a noticeable increase in chickpea, lentil and faba bean test plantings around the State.
He said growers were increasingly realising the benefits of including legumes in their rotations.
“It was incredible, anything that came after a legume, whether it was pasture legume or lupin, it was just phenomenal, the proteins were really good,” Mr Lamond said.
“The difference was huge, it was really noticeable, it just highlighted how valuable legumes are in the rotation.”
Mr Lamond said while India’s increased tariffs on imported lentils and chickpeas could affect 2018 plantings, he expected them to remain a part of cropping programs due to their agronomic benefits.
“The thing about field peas and legumes is the varieties and the agronomy are getting a little bit better and growers see the value in the rotation,” Mr Lamond said.
“There’s such a small area cropped anyway, I’d be surprised if that doesn’t start creeping up irrespective of the tariffs in India.
“Growers are not relying on it (field peas) for the good price but they’re more or less trying to figure out if they can grow it or not.”
Noodle wheat presented another surprise for Mr Lamond, with production far exceeding expectations in 2017.
Mr Lamond said an increase in Noodle wheat harvested outside traditional Noodle wheat growing areas in the north and south of the grainbelt was behind the unexpected high production levels.
“There was only half the amount of Noodle wheat produced from the big Noodle wheat growing area around New Norcia across to Miling and Dalwallinu,” Mr Lamond said.
“We certainly had an indication during the year that there was probably more of the new varieties of Noodle – including Ninja – that are suitable for a wider environmental range of the Wheatbelt than just Calingiri.
“It appears that the plantings of these new varieties of Noodle wheat are getting grown further north and south than they previously have been.
“The newer varieties are suitable to the north and the south so there’s probably going to be increased plantings in the State generally this year.”
As growers prepare for the 2018 season, Mr Lamond said he expected last year’s results, weather, grain prices, seed availability and crop rotations to each play a role in planting decisions.
He expected the area planted to wheat would remain at about 50pc, while barley, oats and legumes would potentially increase.
“Wheat is now only 50pc of production and barley and canola are definitely increasing over the years,” Mr Lamond said.
“We think that the area of barley will continue to increase and growers will probably favour feed over malt.
“There may be a bit of easing in canola because there were some variable results last year, growers had a pretty good run in the previous years and they probably pushed canola to areas where the soil type didn’t quite suit it.”