WITH harvest in Western Australia drawing to a close, growers have managed to achieve a feat thought impossible and are looking at a total crop production of almost 16 million tonnes for the year.
The estimate was made by the Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) in its December Crop Report, with speculation also raised that the total could increase to 16.5mt - a figure 3.5mt higher than the estimate of just under 13mt made in October.
Harvest estimates in the September and October Crop Reports underestimated the ability of all crops to finish so well on very little rainfall.
Mild conditions, lack of frost, favourable timing of rainfall events and large areas of ameliorated soils have combined to turn a below-average year into one that will now be above average.
Crop report author Michael Lamond said wheat grain quality had been good with about 40 per cent less than 10.5pc protein and a much higher proportion in the premium grades than recent years.
"Wheat grain protein has held up in 2020 due to adequate fertiliser application by growers from early season predictions of an above average rainfall year and the grain filling slowly through spring," Mr Lamond said.
"Wheat 'off grades' are low with less than 8pc downgraded from weather damage or very high screenings and noodle wheat quality has been excellent considering the series of rainfall events in the early stages of harvest.
"There is the usual 10pc or so of hard grade wheat from areas that had a very tight finish."
According to the report, barley grain yields have been exceptional - in a year with reduced plantings of 1.65 million hectares, final tonnages are likely to be around 4.5mt and the average grain yield will be about 2.72 tonnes a hectare, which is equal to the near record grain production year in 2018.
Canola tonnage is back to the levels of several years ago with average grain yield likely to be about 1.45t/ha, just behind 2018 where average canola grain yields were 1.46t/ha.
Oat grain quality has been very good with some impressive yields and many making Oat1.
"Growers reacted quickly to the fading season by knocking down droughted crops for hay early to maximise price, leaving the better areas to go to grain," Mr Lamond said
"The reduced lupin area in 2020 still produced a reasonable tonnage with crops in the traditional northern regions yielding very well and the majority of the planted area further south yielding above long-term averages."
Harvest is almost finished in the Geraldton zone with grain yields across the board much better than expected.
The wind damaged soils that caused a lot of stress for many growers early in the season have come back remarkably well considering how they looked earlier on.
"Yields on ameliorated soils from Mingenew to Binnu have been very good for all crops and consistent with recent years, they have performed better than the non-ameliorated soils," Mr Lamond said.
"East of the Great Northern Highway from Morawa to Canna to Perenjori has had low yields - this patch has unfortunately been poor all year.
"Coorow to Watheroo to Moora is below average, especially the heavier soils and poor sands."
Elsewhere wheat yields are higher than expected and tonnages are the most they have been for a long time, potentially higher than 2016 and 2017.
Canola grain yields were higher closer to the coast where there was more rainfall, but there were still some very good yields further east on previously deep ripped country and the well managed crops.
Barley all went to feed with high screenings as expected even with the slow finish, while lupins have been very good on the with an average of about 2t/ha across the region.
In the Kwinana North Midlands area, harvest has pretty much wrapped up, with wheat quality lower than average due to low test weight and screenings, while protein is up.
Mr Lamond said in terms of varieties, Zen had been very good, as has Chief, Sceptre has been about average, while Ninja has high screenings but with grading is making Noodle.
"There was less barley area planted in 2020 than in previous years' due to the late start and most crops have yielded below average with high screenings," he said.
"Spartacus has in most cases made malt, Planet and Bass made feed, but Bass has had staining and mould issues so this will be its swan song.
"Canola has yielded better than expected - the Moora flats have been disappointing but west and east (Victoria Plains and Dalwallinu) yields have been good and oils are about average at 45pc."
Overall, the heavier soils in the zone have been poor for yield and quality, other soil types are average while ameliorated soils are well above average.
In Kwinana South, the light soils in the Central Wheatbelt are 0.5t to 0.75t better than heavier soil types.
Canola yields are up on expectations, with oil percentages in the low 40s on heavier soils but above 45pc on gravel and good sandplain.
Lupins have yielded well with growers needing to sell to CBH where they normally would have had enough of their own storage.
According to Mr Lamond, most growers thought barley crops would be about 2t/ha and have ended up going 2.4t/ha.
"The high screenings for most loads have ended up going to feed," he said.
"Wheat grain yields have been higher than expected although quality has been variable, with the western districts worse than the eastern areas (Trayning, Merredin, Muntadgin).
"In eastern areas, the big crops needed some spring rain and had high screenings and required grading, while in the west, sand and duplex soils have only 1 to 2pc screenings with protein at 10.5 to 11pc."
For Kwinana North East, the very good strip north of Merredin has contributed a lot of tonnes to the region, nullifying the very poor areas to the north and east.
The region will produce an above-average tonnage although the difference between the good and bad areas is stark.
Growers are massively over budget for yields in the Kojonup district, within the Albany West area.
Barley without constraints has yielded around 5.5t/ha, wheat at 4.5t/ha and canola at 2.4t/ha with 47 to 50pc oil.
"Wheat yields are up on average but seemingly with not enough nitrogen for protein expression, perhaps early nitrogen was needed rather than waiting until seeding was finished six to eight weeks later, in early June," Mr Lamond said.
"For 2021, nutrient levels will need to rise to account for this good season, the third in a row - it will be time for more potassium, nitrogen and phosphate across the board."
Canola yields in Albany South are much higher than forecast with oils at 45 to 49c across all areas.
Ongerup is averaging 2.2t/ha, on the coast is 2.5 to 3t/ha, while Mt Barker and west to Frankland is 4+t/ha.
Mr Lamond said Planet barley couldn't cope with a tight finish and ended up with high screenings and low test weight, 50 to 51 hectolitre weight.
"Yields are as expected starting at 2.5t/ha, 3.6t/ha at Ongerup and Gairdner, 5t/ha average in the west with Frankland averaging 6t/ha, plus some reports of 8t/ha to 9t/ha in individual paddocks and 10t/ha on the monitor, completely surpassing expectations.
"Wheat in the area is mostly disappointing - frost north of the Stirling's did more damage than first thought with yields around 2.5t/ha, some less than 2t/ha.
"Falling numbers have been a concern at about 250 but not much is being downgraded for now."
Yields in the Albany East area are average to above average and with above average pricing, most are making money this year.
Lupins are yielding well at 1t/ha, canola is yielding at 1t/ha, wheat at 1.9t/ha with no falling number issues, barley in the area is yielding at 2.2t/ha, while oat crops are yielding 2.2t/ha.
"Growers in the region backed off on fertiliser early in the season when it was obvious the rainfall was falling away and instead relied on mineralisation of nitrogen in the spring more so than normal," Mr Lamond said.
"Whether it was the dry spring reducing the amount of mineralisation, or the dry but cool spring allowing extra yield and diluting the protein, the result has been low protein for most growers."
Harvest in the Esperance zone has been a bit frustrating with weather delays and around 70 to 100mm of rain in November.
Wheat yields have been very good in eastern, central and coastal areas with better protein than usual in the zone.
Chief and Sceptre wheat varieties suffered some damage from the rain, although overall, not too much.
"Canola has performed mostly better than anticipated and hybrids continue to yield well and will continue to increase in the area," Mr Lamond said.
"Some Planet barley has made malt but high screenings has most barley in the zone making feed.
"Beans are mostly being stored due to low prices and lupin grain yields are 2 to 3t/ha."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.