Plenty happening in big WA grain year

Plenty happening in big WA grain year

Katanning farmer Haydn Beeck inspected germinating Mako canola on his property in July as clouds hovered.

Katanning farmer Haydn Beeck inspected germinating Mako canola on his property in July as clouds hovered.


There was plenty happening in the WA grain industry in 2018.


THERE was plenty happening in the WA grain industry in 2018 and at the start of the year the Grains Industry Association of WA’s total grain production for the 2017/18 harvest was recorded at 14.27 million tonnes for all grains.

Author Michael Lamond was reported as saying the figure represented deliveries, as well as on-farm storage, including that from Bunge.

“It’s all one out of the box, I’ve never seen such an improvement so late in the year,” Mr Lamond said.

“It’s a good story.

“No one could have foreseen the finish that we’ve had, that’s for sure.”

Mr Lamond said at the time that canola deliveries were likely to be between 1.8mt and 1.9mt which he said were unbelievable.

“I think what has happened there is that the predictions on plantings early on were 20 per cent up for 2017,” he said.

“With the poor start we thought that it would be down on that, but there was obviously a lot more canola in the ground than we thought and that has caught everyone off-guard a bit because the canola yields haven’t actually been that good – it’s just there has been a lot more area go in the ground than we thought.

“So that has contributed to the tonnage for canola.

“That’s the main one that we were a bit out with.”

While overall the season was looking good, it was a tough one for Beacon farmers Ty and Rachel Kirby who were still harvesting well into January 2017 and struggling with what had been a challenging season for them.

“Everyone wants to be doing a good job and you do the absolute best you can, but it doesn’t make any difference,” Ms Kirby said at the time.

Farming on marginal country is a challenge but Mr Kirby said if he didn’t love it, he wouldn’t be doing it.

With farms at Beacon and Nyabing, harvest like most other years is a lengthy process.

Mr Kirby said 2016 was the driest year he had seen in his 17 years of farming, with only 169 millimetres recorded at Beacon – starting with 30mm in the first two months and then only 7.5mm from February 21 to July 2.

Mr Kirby said he had endured bad years before, reflecting on 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007 and then again in 2012, but nothing has compared to the dryness of 2017.

The annual rainfall average for Beacon is close to 320mm with 200mm for the growing season, which is significantly higher than the 140mm received in the 2017 growing season for the Kirbys.

Many farmers in the area made the decision early on, when the forecast predicted dry spells, to not put a crop in 2017 and wait for a better outcome in 2018.

Others made the decision later to spray out crops that had little hope in the effort to maintain their weed control.

“This season we had canola, wheat and barley,” Ms Kirby said.

“We did put some oats in but Ty sprayed that out and he sprayed out most of the canola as well.

“We planned to have more wheat but some paddocks we didn’t put in.”

At around the same time, the CBH Group said a record 16.6mt WA harvest delivered into its network the previous season had provided them with their largest ever surplus and biggest ever rebate amount returned to growers.

In the 2016-17 year to September 2017, CBH generated a record surplus before rebates of $247 million, up 120pc on 2015-16, its 2017 annual report showed.

This enabled it to return a total of $156.3m to growers through enhanced rebate offerings with more flexible options, an increase of 150pc on the previous year’s rebates.

Chief financial officer Ed Kalajzic said if a grower had delivered into the CBH network and had sold their grain to CBH’s marketing and trading division, they would have received a maximum rebate of $12.75 a tonne.

CBH’s operations division had contributed $6/t to the rebate, the marketing and trading division had contributed $6.25/t and 50 cents a tonne came from CBH’s processing investments, primarily its Interflour joint venture and Blue Lake Milling.

“The record 16.6mt harvest (2016/17) was a significant driver of our financial results as larger crops reduce costs on a per tonne basis, particularly for our storage and handling services,” Mr Kalajzic said.

In the annual report, chairman Wally Newman said the record rebate would be “a significant benefit for growers (and) highlights the value which the co-operative structure provides”.

But Mr Newman and chief executive officer Jimmy Wilson said it was “unlikely” CBH would be able to match the record rebate level in the current season.

After a disappointing run of seasons, Farm Weekly reported in late January that Australia’s barley sector was proving to be the star pricing performer.

Market Check manager of strategy and managed programs Nick Crundall said barley prices were a whopping $60 a tonne higher at a local level compared with the same time last year.

As usual, demand from the world’s largest buyer of grain, China, was a major factor in the rally.

Mr Crundall said China took advantage of the cheap prices and abundant tonnages available in 2017, taking 65 per cent (6.2 million tonnes) of Australia’s record barley export program.

China was the major source of demand for Australian barley in the 2016-17 marketing year, according to Market Check data.

But in good news for Australian barley growers, this demand has not dried up in line with appreciating prices and a tightening balance sheet, meaning competition for barley is strong between the export and domestic markets.

Mr Crundall said China was still chasing Aussie barley due to its quality, meaning it could be used for malting and high Chinese corn prices, making it affordable for stockfeed purposes.

He said the tight world global balance sheet meant China was also happy to keep buying while stocks were readily available.

As a result, Mr Crundall said there had been strong forward sales into China.

In February India said it would give advanced notice on any future tariff increases following talks to try to resolve a recent trade dispute over grains.

But concerns remained over about $65m in stocks left in “limbo” and under contract when the shock 30pc tariff was imposed on chickpeas and lentils virtually overnight in late December, threatening the local industry’s profitability.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) director general Ralph Addis (left), DPIRD research officer Catherine Borger, Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan and DPIRD managing director research development and innovation Mark Sweetingham at the announcement of $24 million in new funding for grains research and development in May.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) director general Ralph Addis (left), DPIRD research officer Catherine Borger, Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan and DPIRD managing director research development and innovation Mark Sweetingham at the announcement of $24 million in new funding for grains research and development in May.

At the time new Federal Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud – who held urgent talks with Indian officials on the trade dispute – said the result of early negotiations had seen India’s government give a “concession” by agreeing to provide forward notice to the Australian grains industry of future tariff increases.

He said the agreement showed the Indian government “recognises the importance of their relationship with Australia’s grain farmers and was a win for grains, chickpea and pulse farmers going forward”.

“The meetings held with Indian ministers in Delhi have been positive and there is strong support for an enduring and mutually beneficial trade relationship,” he said.

“In two separate meetings I requested India respect contracts entered into prior to the raising of tariffs on December 21, 2017, better transparency of grain stocks, including chickpeas and pulses and a suitable lead-in time for any future tariff impositions.”

Canola seed shortages early in the 2018 meant WA farmers were looking for other seeding alternatives this season.

Rain and hail during the 2017 harvest meant seed breeders were in short supply of most hybrid and genetically modified (GM) seeds.

“Every brand this year has had trouble producing enough seed due to the storms in the Eastern States last year,” said Pioneer Seeds’ WA Central Wheatbelt consultant Rob Bagley at the time.

“Pioneer Seeds were knocked around a bit, but as I have been going around talking to agents and growers, everyone has lost an amount because most of the seed is grown in New South Wales and Victoria.”

Mr Bagley said that Pioneer Seeds ordered 30pc more canola seed than it needed and still didn’t get enough, which he found very disappointing for WA growers.

In 2018 he found himself selling farmers Hybrid Triazine Tolerant (TT) to replace Roundup Ready seed, although Hybrid TT supplies were also becoming short due to demands for canola.

“The biggest problem is where we produce the seed, with the storms going through that area in Victoria and NSW,” Mr Bagley said.

Other breeders, such as Nuseed Australia, were encouraging growers to act quickly to secure seed as they experienced unprecedented demand from distributors.

Nuseed Australia commercial manager Andrew Loorham said spring weather conditions affected Nuseed’s production of certified canola seed.

“As a result of these conditions and strong early season demands, all our hybrid canola seed stocks are currently sold out,” Mr Loorham said.

It wasn’t just seed shortage that was a talking point.

In February WA growers were being urged to communicate with their herbicide suppliers as the impacts of China’s environmental crackdown was felt.

This was on the back of a tumultuous six months in China and the closure of tens of thousands of factories, as the country worked towards its 2013 plans to reduce emissions from heavily polluting industries by 30pc by the end of 2017.

The environmental regulations introduced by the Chinese government increased compliance costs for manufacturers and reduced their capacity, pushing up prices on most pre-emergent herbicides between five and 30pc.

Similar price increases were expected for post-emergent products.

With summer spraying underway across most of the WA grainbelt following widespread rain in mid-January, WA Landmark merchandise manager Zach Walsh said it had been a difficult few months locking in pricing and ensuring adequate stock was available.

“It has definitely been more challenging for our procurement team with China and getting pricing and confirming supply than what we have seen before,” Mr Walsh said.

“Growers are going to be affected by the price rises that they’ll see, but we’re confident we will see our required volumes despite the issues – it certainly hasn’t been all smooth sailing behind the scenes.”

Elders farm supply specialist agchem, Brendon Joss, said although most suppliers were managing the situation adequately to ensure demand was met, growers could also do their part.

“I think most retailers – certainly us – have really understood the tightness of supply out of China,” Mr Joss said.

“We were actively purchasing in the market back in September for glyphosate particularly and trying to get ahead of the curve of the price increases.

“I don’t necessarily believe the growers have felt any shortage at all, I think they were well organised and retailers were well organised and got their clients in a position where they had products in the sheds.”

Grower costs will be a key performance indicator for CBH Group into the future, grain grower members were told at its annual general meeting in February.

New chief executive officer Jimmy Wilson said up to that point, CBH had concentrated on a single benchmark performance indicator (BPI) of dollars per tonne charged to growers minus rebates.

But a new tactical plan, developed by the board and its marketing team, would focus more attention on costs incurred by growers before they delivered to a CBH site, Mr Wilson said.

The Kirby family embraces high hopes in tough time with Rachel, left, Ty and Anastasia on their farm at Beacon last January.

The Kirby family embraces high hopes in tough time with Rachel, left, Ty and Anastasia on their farm at Beacon last January.

The BPI of dollars per tonne, minus rebates, would remain an important measure, but he had heard from growers “that CBH must focus attention on the costs which impact farmers before delivering to site”.

“In the spirit of transparency, we will place a greater level of attention on paddock-to-port costs – actual costs that impact our growers,” Mr Wilson told about 300 farmers who attended the 85th annual meeting held at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“While determining this cost is difficult and could be considered a notional measure, as costs are normalised for a 12.2 million tonne receival year (the last harvest was above average at 13.2 million tonnes and followed a record 16.6mt harvest), importantly, it captures farm costs, such as grower freight costs.

“This measure will be a strong influencer in our thinking and planning that, combined with the BPI and other key performance indicators in our tactical plan, will lead to a more efficient and competitive logistics business for our growers.”

Mr Wilson told growers the plan “will sustainably create and return value to you better than our competitors”.

It will provide consistency year-to-year, set a “flag on the hill” and demonstrate CBH’s focus “to our people, our growers, our customers and our communities”.

While “good strides in capturing value” for growers had been made, there would be more focus on this going forward, he said.

A first-of-its-kind grain crop and soil nutrition collaboration was announced at the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s (GRDC) State research updates in Perth in late February.

The GRDC invested $8.3m into the project, while a co-investment of $6.2m has been committed by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), The University of WA (UWA), CSIRO, Murdoch University, CSBP, Summit Fertilizers and The University of Adelaide (UA).

The research will focus on understanding soil nutrient supply to improve fertiliser efficiency, soil amelioration and developing new in-the-field soil sampling methods.

Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said driving Australia’s largest agricultural sector forward was vital, with WA’s grain, oilseed and pulse crop exports worth close to $4 billion per year.

“Healthy soil is as vital to our farms as water and sunlight,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Our farmers want to be able to get the best from their land and these projects will help them do that through the efficient enhancement of soil nutrition to increase yield.”

GRDC chairman John Woods said the corporation initiated the project after grassroots feedback indicated that a greater understanding of WA’s soil nutrition was needed to maximise returns.

“You’ve got a lot of challenges over here in your soils so we want to discover what we can do and this is as much about driving down costs and efficiencies to the grower as it is about increasing profit,” Mr Woods said.

While increased wheat production out of Russia is edging in on Australia’s market share in key Asian markets, the competitive threat out of the Black Sea region may not be as pervasive as feared.

That was the message from US Wheat Associates president Vince Peterson, who discussed the outlook for the world wheat market at the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s Research Updates in Perth.

Russia has seen a major boost in wheat production over the past five years, rising to a record 85 million tonne harvest in 2017.

The cheaper, improving Russian wheat product has begun to impose on Australia’s market share in key South East Asian markets – including from Indonesia, Australia’s largest traditional customer.

This has presented several challenges for Australian grain exporters including the CBH Group, which experienced extremely low harvest shipping during 2017 due to decreased demand for Australian grain in key markets.

Mr Peterson said Russia had also presented a large threat to US markets, and resulted in a major change in US wheat export distribution over the past three decades.

Thirty years ago 30pc of the US wheat crop was exported to the Middle East and North Africa, while 6pc was sold to European customers.

Fast forward to 2016-17 and just 14pc of exported US wheat is distributed to those regions, accounting for 4mt of the average 29mt exported.

Mr Peterson said major US customers were now primarily based in Latin American and Asian markets.

In April WA Upper House Liberal member and former grains farmer Jim Chown said anti-genetically modified (GM) crop activists were equal to Islamic State operatives, due to undue interference not only in legal farming systems, but also the courts.

In a speech, using parliamentary privilege, Mr Chown doubled down on his questioning of anti-GM activities linked to the Marsh versus Baxter legal test-case, to ventilate his concerns about the potential perverse outcomes of a current inquiry in the WA parliament into a proposed compensation fund for non-GM farmers.

It was the continuation of a speech from the previous day where the Agricultural Region representative alleged the GM canola swaths – which triggered the long-running legal fight in the WA Supreme Court – had arrived on Steve Marsh’s organic farm at Kojonup in late 2010, from his neighbour Mick Baxter’s property, via a “fraudulent act” by “a person or persons unknown” and not natural causes.

He referred to a confidential report that wasn’t presented at trial but was compiled by the then Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) after officials visited and inspected the Marsh property Eagle Rest after the incursion was reported, which contained pictures of unshattered canola pods attached to the GM swaths in question; despite the “fragile” and ripened plants having travelled up to 1.2 kilometres.

Mr Chown said anti-GM activists were like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) due to failed efforts to “fabricate evidence” regarding the scientific efficacy of GM canola, to present in the legal test-case, that Mr Baxter ultimately won conclusively.

The 2018 season was well underway in some parts of the State in early April with farmers in the Esperance region seeding canola and other areas slowly getting ready.

Two storms passed through Merredin, Corrigin, Quairading and Bruce Rock over Easter, giving farmers another opportunity to get a final knockdown on their weeds.

Merredin Rural Supplies agronomist David Keamy said the region didn’t have lots of rain but some farmers were putting in pastures, some were putting in canola and he knew of one crop being sown to barley.

A fungicide trace five times the maximum residue limit (MRL) in an Australian barley sample, which triggered a food products recall in Japan, was described as a “reminder” to the local grain industry of its responsibility.

Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) chief executive officer Larissa Taylor said it was “a reminder of how consumer confidence, market access and chemical residue stewardship is everyone’s responsibility along our grain supply chain”.

In an update sent to GIWA members in April, Ms Taylor said ITOCHU Australia Ltd, the local subsidiary which sent the barley to its parent company, ITOCHU Corporation in Japan, had confirmed there was no WA-sourced barley in the suspect shipment in August 2016.

She said ITOCHU Australia had also indicated it was “unlikely” WA barley would be affected by investigations launched in Australia and Japan to try to establish why a higher-than-allowed trace of azoxystrobin was discovered during last month’s testing of a retained sample.

But in Japan, public statements by ITOCHU Corporation and a customer company involved in product recalls, did not differentiate and blamed “Australian barley”.

Ongerup grower John Harding was among several growers on this year's CBH Group grower study tour of Russia who was blown away by the rich fertile soils of the Black Sea region and the margins achieved by local growers who work in an environment where the cost of producing wheat is well below that of WA farmers.

Ongerup grower John Harding was among several growers on this year's CBH Group grower study tour of Russia who was blown away by the rich fertile soils of the Black Sea region and the margins achieved by local growers who work in an environment where the cost of producing wheat is well below that of WA farmers.

A press release issued by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) also claimed the problem was with “Australian barley”.

Also in April Farm Weekly reported that high barley prices were expected to have an influence on this year’s WA crop, as growers from across the State got stuck into their 2018 seeding programs.

According to GIWA’s first crop estimates for 2018, a projected 8.4 million hectares would be planted across the State this year, up from the predicted 7.8m/ha sown during last year’s dry autumn.

The WA Grain industry received its first State Budget boost in May, with the announcement of $24m in new funding for grains research and development.

The budget commitment will see $14m invested over 2018-19 and $10m over each of the three consecutive years to underpin a long-term model for grain R&D.

The allocation takes total State funding into grains research to about $45m over the next four years, which will be directed towards cropping systems research, genetics and crop protection projects, grain quality and market analysis and capacity building.

Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said despite difficult budgetary circumstances, the State government recognised the importance of the grains sector and its growing market challenges.

“The grains sector is our second biggest industry after the resources sector, after mining and gas, so it’s pretty important to our economy and very important to our regional economy,” Ms MacTiernan said.

In June the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) gave little cause for optimism for parched grain growers looking for winter rainfall to replenish bone-dry soils, with most areas below a 30pc chance of exceeding median rainfall.

The BoM national winter rainfall and temperature outlook said the Predictive Ocean Atmosphere Model for Australia (POAMA) forecasting system was forecasting markedly higher odds of drier and hotter conditions across virtually all of eastern Australia.

In a cruel twist of fate much of New South Wales, the State worst impacted by drought at present, has the lowest chance of achieving median rainfall according to the BoM, with much of the State just a 20-25pc chance of getting that median figure.

The only cropping area not significantly more likely than not to see a dry winter is in WA, where the majority of the Wheatbelt was forecast to see neutral conditions.

In June it was also reported that growers would soon reap the rewards of CBH Group’s recent cost cutting regime, after the co-operative announced a 13pc reduction in supply chain fees for harvest.

CBH chief executive officer Jimmy Wilson announced the $4 a tonne price drop, as part of the bulk handler’s attempts to remove $100m in paddock to port costs over the next 18 months.

Mr Wilson said the cuts would be split evenly between grower and marketer fees.

“WA is under siege, there’s a lot of international competition from the Black Sea and CBH has a responsibility to position growers in the best position possible to compete,” he said.

“We’ve commenced with a program to improve effectiveness and efficiency to reduce costs and in light of this program, our strong balance sheet and obviously previous very good work to reduce costs, we are reducing our fees by $4/t.”

Season-saving rains blanketed almost all parts of the Wheatbelt in mid-July setting up a stronger possibility of an above-average season.

Almost instantly, business confidence rose, albeit cautiously, with memories still fresh of the previous year’s dry July.

But with most cropping areas recording substantial double digit rainfall, confidence was higher, on the back of good subsoil moisture from summer rains – an insurance against a tight finish.

BoM rainfall recordings mirrored the positive sentiment, with 30 millimetre-plus for most of the central west which embraces the northern Wheatbelt.

The central Wheatbelt also received substantial soaking rain, with most recordings of more than 25mm.

It was a similar picture for Great Southern districts.

But some areas along the South Coast were still in need of good falls, including parts of Borden, Jerramungup, Ravensthorpe, Gairdner and Ongerup.

Further east, Salmon Gums and Beaumont recorded single figure rain.

Australia must drastically cut production costs if it is to have any chance at maintaining its most important South East Asian wheat customers, as Russia’s dominance grows in the international export market.

That was the key theme of the CBH Group’s 2018 grower study tour of Russia, which took 35 growers to one of the grain giant’s most productive agricultural zones in its south west region of Krasnodar, wrapping up its 2018 harvest period.

The WA farmers met with Krasnodar’s government officials and local growers, toured local farms, machinery factories and storage facilities, and visited the nearby port of Novorossiysk which lies on the north east corner of the Black Sea.

The State of Krasnodar is home to just 3pc of Russia’s arable land, but produces between 6-8pc of the country’s gross agricultural output.

Its rich black soils, warm climate and 280 days of sunlight each year make it an ideal farming environment for its 1200 local growers, who also enjoy low labour, input, machinery and transport costs, government subsidies, access to the best developed transport infrastructure in Russia, and close proximity to international markets through the nearby Black Sea.

The Krasnodar region had completed its wheat harvest when CBH growers toured the area and despite a dry end to the growing season, produced 8.7mt of wheat last year, with record wheat yields averaging 6.4 tonnes per hectare.

According to CBH Group senior trader Russia, Matthew Griffiths, Krasnodar had become known as Russia’s agricultural powerhouse and there was still plenty of scope for production growth in the region.

“When you’re talking about production it’s focussed here (Krasnodar), every man and his dog wants to farm here,” Mr Griffiths said.

“Looking at current growth and projecting it outwards, you’re getting some pretty big numbers.”

Krasnodar’s fruitful season followed a record-breaking 2017 across the whole of Russia in which 135mt of grain was harvested, including 85mt of wheat.

In comparison, Australia’s largest recorded grain crop grew to about 59mt in 2016, of which about 35mt was wheat.

Aerial spraying was in demand in areas that have recorded solid rainfall in July with pilots spraying waterlogged crops that farmers were unable to get onto.

Aerial spraying companies were busy with the Central West and Wheatbelt receiving some of the best rains for the start of winter for the past few years.

This includes Morawa that received another 20.8mm, taking the tally to 193.2mm up to that point in July.

The wet weather limited the access to paddocks for most spray rigs with growers in the central Wheatbelt applying urea, Flexi-N and radish sprays with planes.

Students from Albany’s Great Southern Grammar (GSG) helped unveil InterGrain’s newest Noodle wheat at a unique variety launch on the State’s South Coast.

Kinsei had been selected as the name of InterGrain’s new Australian Noodle Wheat (ANW), which will be commercially available for growers in 2019.

InterGrain chief executive officer Tress Walmsley said the plant breeding company had been working closely with GSG students over the past few months to name the wheat, which will be grown for the Japanese and Korean Udon noodle market.

She said GSG boarder Harrison Dolan, Nyabing, suggested the name which meant ‘balance’ in Japanese.

WA grain growers were named as some of the biggest beneficiaries of the just-inked Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) free trade agreement (FTA).

In September Farm Weekly reported that the Australian grain sector hoped the deal would open up new opportunities, particularly in the area of feed wheat.

In spite of being Indonesia’s largest supplier of milling wheat and exporting up to 25pc of our total annual wheat exports to our northern neighbour, Australia currently does not supply any of Indonesia’s 2-3 million tonnes a year of feed wheat imports.

Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann said 500,000t of Australian feed grain, made up of wheat, barley and sorghum, could now be imported into Indonesia duty-free following the deal.

This would equate to around $150 million in value for the Australian industry, based on a price of $300/t should exporters be able to supply the whole quota.

Darkan farmer Mitch Lubcke found himself in a sticky situation while he was out spraying in July. Mr Lubcke said this was the first time he had been bogged in six years.

Darkan farmer Mitch Lubcke found himself in a sticky situation while he was out spraying in July. Mr Lubcke said this was the first time he had been bogged in six years.

It will be especially good news for WA growers who lack the domestic feed wheat market available to the counterparts on the east coast.

At around the same time the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) warned that funding cuts to the Agriculture and Food portfolio could see WA miss out on research dollars if capacity continues to diminish.

The State’s agriculture department has endured major cutbacks since its amalgamation with Fisheries and Regional Development departments last year, with total full time equivalent (FTE) staff numbers sitting at 1575 for the entire Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), as of July 2018.

Rewind to the 2007-08 financial year and there were 1565 FTE staff working within the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) alone.

A year ago – before its amalgamation – DAFWA FTE numbers were pinned at 990.

GRDC managing director Steve Jefferies said the shrinking of WA’s agriculture department over the past decade meant research capacity within the State had suffered.

He said regardless of where GRDC research and development (R&D) targets were centred, investments could only be made where capacity was not limited.

“It’s about what the benefit is and who are the best people to deliver them, so one of the issues that we’ve got here in WA is actually R&D capacity, so the conversation has now shifted to a concern that we have a diminishing R&D capacity here in WA,” Mr Jefferies said.

Growers across the WA grainbelt assessed their options from the damage caused by the frost events that hit many regions in September.

Much of the Wheatbelt endured freezing temperatures from Friday, September 14, through to Sunday, September 16, with temperatures as low as -4.4ºC recorded in some parts.

Nyabing, Babakin, Kulin and Belka East saw temperatures reach -4ºC or below, while Beverley East, Darkan, Corrigin, Hyden, Wandering and Collie East were among areas to dip under -2ºC.

Frost management was a major talking point at the Corrigin Farm Improvement Group (CFIG) Spring Field Day, with most local farmers having noticed its impacts less than a week after the event.

According to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), the Corrigin weather station recorded temperatures as low as -2.4ºC from the Friday night to the Saturday morning, with more than seven and a half hours below 2ºC.

Headers were rolling in October, particularly in the northern Wheatbelt, with the 2018-19 harvest well underway in three of the four port zones despite rain interruptions in the past week.

A shy farmer who did not want to be identified, claimed the first 2018-19 delivery to CBH with 36 tonnes of canola dropped through the grid at the Geraldton port terminal.

In late October grower groups have urged the Federal government to be cautious when weighing up whether to allow grain imports into the country for the first time since 2007.

The calls came as the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) confirmed there had been three applications to import grain, from Canada and the United States, into the country.

The applications were made as the domestic market struggled to get its hands on local supply due to the long-running drought.

Grain grower leaders, however, questioned the need for imports.

Grain Producers Australia (GPA) chairman Andrew Weidemann said international exports should only be a last resort due to biosecurity concerns.

“Whether or not there is the grain on the coast or not is a moot point and I am hearing plenty of people saying the grain is here, it is just that people don’t want to pay the price on offer, but if it does turn out there is no grain, then surely we look to Western Australia first,” Mr Weidemann said.

With its winter crop expected to top 19.3 million tonnes this season and exports set to double over the next decade, Argentina will challenge Australia for key wheat markets in future.

That was a warning to local wheat growers by Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) chief economist and professor of agricultural economics at The University of Western Australia (UWA) Ross Kingwell in October.

Professor Kingwell, who has authored competitive analysis reports for AEGIC on Canada, Russia and the Ukrane, and on Australia’s grain supply chains, was releasing his latest report – on Argentina’s grains industry and the challenges and opportunities for Australia.

Already a global “powerhouse” of grains exports with its main summer crops of corn and soybeans, he said Argentina’s wheat yields were increasing at a faster rate than Australia’s, with wheat often grown as a profitable winter rotation crop.

“Argentina accounts for 15 per cent of the global grain trade, exporting 86 million metric tonnes (a year and) while corn and soybean are still their main grains, wheat will become increasingly important for Argentina,” Professo Kingwell predicted.


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