Dry 2019 season "not a bad result": GIWA

Dry 2019 season "not a bad result": GIWA

Grains
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After a dry 2019 season, Western Australia's grain harvest expectedly took a hit with a decreased production of just over 6.6 million tonnes, down 37.5 per cent from 2018.

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AFTER a dry 2019 season, Western Australia's grain harvest expectedly took a hit with a decreased production of just over 6.6 million tonnes, down 37.5 per cent from 2018.

The results come from the Grain Industry Association of Western Australia's (GIWA) final crop report for 2019, which was released on Monday, with the organisation finding WA's final grain yield from the 2019 season was 11.29mt.

Results differed greatly across the State and even within port zones, while most growers reported their worst ever result, some on the south coast had their greatest season yet.

GIWA crop report author Michael Lamond said while total tonnage was down to a bit under 12mt, which is the State's average from about 10 years ago, the result was actually pretty decent considering the year's total rainfall.

"What we have to remember is that 2018 was the second largest crop on record and considering the year in WA last year - no subsoil moisture, late break, very short growing season - it's actually not a bad result," Mr Lamond said.

"A lot of growers in the north of the State were 50 to 75pc down on yield from 2018 and it was a very low production year up there, but it could have been a lot worse and if it was 15 years ago, they probably wouldn't have got anything.

"As you move through the State, production was down a lot but prices haven't been too bad so it hasn't been disastrous for everyone."

Total tonnage for the Geraldton port zone was the hardest hit, down more than 50pc from 2018 to 1.3mt, the Kwinana port zone was down 3.6mt, the Esperance port zone was down 0.6mt and the Albany port zone fared best, going down by just 0.1mt.

Wheat was the most affected crop in terms of tonnage, declining by 45.4pc overall from 2018, barley was down 25pc, canola declined by 23pc, oats dropped 31.3pc, lupin went down 38.6pc, while pulses suffered a minor drop of 3pc.

The results are a different story when it comes to tonnes per hectare, while all crops dropped in yield, barley was the most severely affected, suffering a 0.98 t/ha decline.

Wheat dropped by 0.8 t/ha, canola by 0.76 t/ha, oats by 0.76t/ha, lupins by 0.13 t/ha and pulses by 0.17 t/ha.

In the Geraldton zone, the 2019 growing season was well below average and in a lot of cases growers lost half of the gains made during the very good 2018 growing season.

The report said many growers in the zone completed their 2020 cropping plans before Christmas.

"Wheat area will almost certainly increase at the expense of canola and barley," the report said.

"Less crop is projected to go in dry to give more flexibility with programs, depending on the timing of the break to the season."

The story in the Kwinana zone was not much better, with growers in the North Midland region experiencing tonnages well down on 2018 due to low rainfall and more frost damage than expected.

"Wheat generally performed well with barley disappointing and very little making malt grades," the report said.

"The hay crops performed well, propped up by strong prices and there is likely to be a slight shift to more area of hay in 2020 for those growers in the export fodder game."

In Kwinana South, grain quality was very mixed across different soil types and rotations.

"Grain quality was extremely variable with in some cases the full range of high screenings and low protein, high screenings and high protein, low screenings, and both low and high protein on the one property," the report said.

There was simply not enough rain in the Kwinana North East region for growers to return anywhere near long-term averages in grain yield.

"The season in the spring went against growers with the rain cutting out in August and very hot conditions during grain fill," the report said.

The West Albany region had a very good year and it was probably the best year ever for cropping in the high rainfall regions west of the Albany Highway, especially for the earlier sown paddocks.

"Barley was a real standout, consistently 1-1.5t/ha up on long term averages," the report said.

"Some canola yields were nearly unbelievable and highlight what the region can produce if waterlogging is reduced."

In the southern Albany region, some growers had their best year ever close to the coast where they escaped the frost, while others further east had their worst year ever.

"Grain yields decreased as you moved east in the zone from the lack of rainfall and frost, with those sowing early getting roasted by the frost followed by the hot conditions which didn't allow any recovery in crops as is normally the case in the region," the report said.

Most crops in the Lakes Region yielded slightly less than was expected in the lead up to harvest.

"In 2019, a small difference of even 10mm in rainfall had a large difference in grain yield for growers, indicating that total rainfall was right on the edge of what was needed by crops to perform to their potential," the report said.

"For most "just one more rain" would have made a huge difference in total grain production."

There was a wide variation of grain yields across the Esperance Zone with very low yields in the north from lack of rain and frost, to very good along the coast due to the lack of waterlogging.

"Looking ahead to the 2020 growing season, there will be a general tightening of spending for growers in the central and eastern areas of the zone not seen for some time," the report said.

"The western areas have had a run of poor rainfall over the years and are looking forward to a change in rainfall patterns to be able to get programs back on track."

The results from the 2019 cropping season were expected and on the most part, it's one farmers would like to forget, however there were a few positive lessons learnt during the year.

Mr Lamond said a standout from last year was the very good weed control achieved by loading up with pre-emergent herbicides when faced with the second year in a row without a knockdown.

"Weed control was helped by the season in 2019, although strategies to keep herbicide rates up, use diverse modes of action, and be spot on with post-emergent application timings have also contributed to low weed loads for the impending 2020 season," Mr Lamond said.

The other takeaway from the season was that climate prediction models are becoming more sophisticated every year.

"Predictions in early 2019 were that it was going to be a low decile year and warmer than normal in the spring, which turned out to be correct," Mr Lamond said.

"Growers are taking more consideration of climate models and whilst many may not have necessarily changed plans based on early seasonal predictions, it certainly was in the reckoning, particularly as the season break became later."

In terms of the outlook for 2020, there has been a fundamental shift away from the weather patterns that were affecting the climate in 2019 from a negative situation to a more neutral outlook.

The recent late cyclone activity points to a more positive outlook for 2020, particularly because the soil profile is so dry and any summer rain would be of benefit going into the 2020 growing season.

In 2020, growers in all areas, except the western and south western regions, will return to more conservative cropping programs and will make risk adverse decisions around spending and crop type mix.

There will likely be more wheat sown in the north and more barley in the south, whilst the canola and lupin break crop area will likely decline and be highly dependent on subsoil moisture.

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