WESTERN Australia's bumper harvest continues to break records and is now estimated to be more than 22.1 million tonnes, worth up to an estimated $9 billion.
With records being set for individual paddock averages, crop type averages and regional totals over most parts of WA, there were no surprises when estimates for total production for all grains went up on Friday and about 17 per cent more than the previous record set in 2018.
Since the start of harvest in the north of the State, yields were mostly coming in at about 10 to 20pc above estimates and, according to the Grain Industry of Western Australia's (GIWA) December Crop Report, it was obvious if that held true for the rest of WA, it would be a record tonnage.
As harvest moved south and grain yields continued to exceed estimates, the focus shifted from wondering if WA would hit 20mt, to asking how it was going to deal with so much grain.
More area remains to be harvested than is normally the case at this time of the year, with most of the country still to be harvested being in the higher rainfall regions from where the very high yields are coming in.
Crop Report author Michael Lamond said grain quality downgrades from weather were isolated to those areas that received several rainfall events at the start of harvest and were not significant in the overall scheme of things.
"Low protein from lack of nitrogen has mostly been confined to wet areas where growers were not able to top up during the winter," Mr Lamond said.
"However, the usual inverse relationship between grain yield and protein is resulting in low protein where grain yields have been well above average.
"The higher protein grades have mostly come off frosted areas."
Harvest has been frustratingly slow in WA's south due to cool conditions and the time it has taken to dry off, although that is one of the main reasons why WA is hitting a record tonnage.
The large area of crop that was sown in the low rainfall regions has not produced the tonnage that was set up over winter due to the widespread frosts in September and the lack of spring rain.
"That has been devastating for those growers as it was looking so good up until the frost," Mr Lamond said.
"Soil moisture profiles are very dry in the medium and low rainfall regions due to the lack of spring rain and slow finish allowing crops to completely dry out the profiles."
However, it is a vastly different story in the higher rainfall regions where stored moisture is well above average for this time of the year.
As harvest winds up in the north and central regions, focus has started to shift to 2022 and what that may hold.
So far, it looks likely there will be a reduction in cropped area unless there is substantial summer rain and an early break.
However, even if that is the case, high input costs will mean growers pull back on area to concentrate on the better paddocks where less inputs are needed, which will see an increase in area to pasture and fallow in 2022.
The dilemma for the low rainfall growers who did not hit their hoped-for grain yields and where a lot of the extra hectares were sown this year, is how much residual nitrogen and other nutrients are going to be available in 2022 to grow a profitable crop with minimal inputs.
Mr Lamond said a big proportion of the extra hectares sown in 2021 were in the low rainfall regions with little fallow for 2022.
"Canola hectares will likely keep rolling upwards as will legumes and barley area will possibly come back a bit again from the record highs a few years ago," he said.
"Wheat variety choice will probably swing to those known protein accumulators following the price spreads seen this year.
"While no guarantee these will hold for 2022, learnings from previous years again held true for 2021 with specific varieties performing better than others at the same yield levels."
Mr Lamond said growers would also be looking at more free nitrogen from legumes and pastures in 2022 and the break crop area will likely increase from the historical lows of recent years.
He said wheat grain yields closed in on the yield advantage that barley normally held, even in the southern regions and made better use of the mild finish to the season due to being able to take more advantage of the longer grain fill period.
Mr Lamond said growers usually reverted back to wheat when things were tight, especially if there was little summer rain and a later break, so a larger percentage of WA's crop will be wheat than previous years, particularly in the medium and low rainfall areas.
"The higher rainfall areas are maxed out with canola areas, with very little room to push the percentage higher," Mr Lamond said.
"Canola area in 2022 will be influenced by price, seed supply, timing of the break and subsoil moisture as well as the percentage already in the rotation."
With all these variables in play, the canola area for 2022 is a big question mark.
"Canola was the most profitable crop in 2021 for many, and due to the lower input cost structures in 2021, it beat all other crops in most regions," Mr Lamond said.
"With the higher input costs mostly set for 2022 for all crops, growers will be changing their strategy around production which has already created a lot more discussion than normal for this time of the year."
Oat grain yields were spectacular this year and combined with less area of hay cut due to the lack of market options, there are more oats around than earlier predicted.
Milling oat quality in Western Australia this year has been excellent.
Lupins have also been a star performer in 2021, and even with the lack of markets once supply hits certain quantities, the value to the rotation alone will probably mean more area planted in 2022.
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