Early pointers suggest a solid season

By Shannon Beattie
Updated May 10 2021 - 11:37pm, first published 11:35pm
Planting of La Trobe barley was underway at Mt Ridley, north of Esperance, last Saturday after receiving about 25mm of rain. Photo by Inaya Stone.

THE rare combination of early season rainfall, above average levels of subsoil moisture and good prices for all grains has provided the platform for a brilliant start to the growing season in Western Australia.

According to the Grain Industry Association of Western Australia's May Crop Report, total crop area planted this year will be up slightly from 2020, which was a record year for the area of crop sown.

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Crop report author Michael Lamond said there would be a small reduction in barley area from 2020, with most of that swinging to canola.

"Current barley feed grain prices are holding up well and when coupled with the grain yield premium over wheat in the southern regions, this is driving current plantings," Mr Lamond said.

"The recent widening spread in price between wheat over barley will not have a significant influence on intended cereal plantings."

The overall canola area planted so far is a record for the State and that area could still creep up a little as price nudges $800 per tonne.

It is still relatively early and with good subsoil moisture, canola grain yield potential is above average and at current prices, One tone of canola is equal to 3t tonnes of barley and 2.5t of wheat.

Mr Lamond said there had been record sales of Roundup Ready (RR) and Hybrid TT canola in WA.

"The switch to hybrids in the last two years has been significant and while seed supply has again been tight, the increase in plantings has been made possible with a run-down in old stock and OP TT farmer retained seed," he said.

"The increase in canola has come at the expense of lupins and pulses, and to a lesser extent, wheat and barley."

For oats, the grain area is going to be up slightly, particularly in the eastern regions, while the hay area is more than 50 per cent down due to the ongoing uncertainty of demand, with much of the oat hay area going to canola.

The Geraldton zone is experiencing its first wet seeding in a few years and despite infrastructure damage from the ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja, many went ahead with seeding even with missing sheds and no power.

Mr Lamond said the start of the season in the zone was looking promising, despite the cyclonic weather havoc, with most getting 120 to 180 millimetres of rain over several events during the summer.

"This is the largest canola season ever seen in the area, up by 20 to 50pc - 40pc was in the ground by the end of April, with most of it now in, especially in the North Midlands," he said.

"There has been a backing off with lupin plantings this year, as ryegrass resistance, other weed control issues and grain prices have pushed more area into canola, while barley area has also dropped back from 2020."

It is expected that all crops in the northern region will be in the ground within the next couple of weeks.

Growers in the Kwinana North Midlands region have seen soil moisture carry across summer rains and recent events, providing good conditions to get the season started.

Seeding of Planet barley was underway at Shackleton last Friday after receiving between 35mm and 50mm across the farm. Photo by Jackson Beurteaux.

"The summer rains enabled some extensive soil amelioration programs which has been valuable for many growers, though in the first properly wet seeding in a decade, heavy air seeders are proving to be easily stuck," Mr Lamond said.

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"Most paddocks going into crop have had a couple of passes with a boomsprayer, and good knockdowns of ryegrass, radish, wild oats, winter weed, brome grass and capeweed have resulted."

The Kwinana North East zone has had a terrific start to the growing season, with rain last week topping up the profile and most of the large areas of wheat in the zone being planted into moisture rather than dry sown.

Locusts have been and will continue to hammer emerging crops closer to the pastoral fringes until it cools down - large areas have been sprayed and most crops are having an insecticide in the knockdown mix to keep numbers down.

Due to the early season break and current rains, at least 10pc more canola has gone in than what was planned in Kwinana South.

Mr Lamond said most growers would now back off the pace of seeding and aim to finish around May 25 in order to prevent flowering in early August.

"Most are sowing country higher in the profile first to mitigate frost risk," he said.

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"This is still undoubtedly the best start in a long time, as there has not been an early break with such good subsoil moisture for a while."

The Albany West zone does not need any further rainfall at present, with trafficability issues already resulting from the cumulative 200mm to 250mm received to date.

All canola is in, with advanced crops now at the four-leaf stage and growers have moved on to wheat and barley.

It's a similar story in Albany South with many growers stopping and reassessing due to trafficability issues.

"This year, there is a bit more canola around with an extra 5pc to 10pc going in - most of it was sown prior to Anzac Day and is now up, though waterlogging and inundation may be a significant risk going forward," Mr Lamond said.

"Lots of barley has also gone in and a reasonably large area is now up and growing well, where not waterlogged.

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"Generally, there has been great establishment and early vigour all round, although this will be challenged by any further rain."

Compared to other regions, Albany East had not been quite as wet until the rain last week.

Canola was mostly in before the cyclone, though some extra area was put in shortly after the rain, with earlier sown hybrids around the two to four leaf stage and coming up very well.

Up until the rain last week, things were slightly dry in the Esperance region, with subsoil moisture reserves lower than the rest of the grainbelt.

Mr Lamond said quite a bit of Illabo wheat was put in before the rains which has come up very well.

"Now in early May, over half of all cereals are in and some growers are nearly finished," he said.

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"Overall, an extra 15pc to 20pc of canola has been planted in the region this season and there has been a reduction in pulse and lupin crops in the area.

"Up until the rain last week many growers had slowed down due to the drying soil profile, although seeding is now back in full swing across the region."

In general across WA, dams are filling and there is plenty of feed for livestock, so there is optimism all-round for the season ahead.

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