THE combination of a wet season and good prices for the majority of commodities set most growers in Western Australia up for what should be their best ever year.
That was the key message behind a review of the 2021 season provided by research scientist Dion Nickol and climatologist Ian Foster, at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's (DPIRD) Grain Industry Day, held at Optus Stadium earlier this month.
There was undeniably a lot of rain around this year and the signs were positive from the start about what was going to be the potential set-up for a good season.
Most of the State, including the north eastern areas, had abundant summer and autumn rainfall which created ample soil moisture and early sowing opportunities.
"With that rain going into March and then more coming with ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja, there was probably the biggest green light we've ever had for planting as much canola as people could manage," Dr Nickol said.
"At that point, I would say for the first time ever, people were thinking what they could physically harvest as the deciding factor on how much canola they were going to plant."
There were intermittent marginal conditions for sowing between the thunderstorms and cyclones, which also meant growers were looking at what other options they could squeeze in between.
For example, Illabo as a winter wheat was seeded in March and April, as well as the deep planting of lupins in April and a lot of early sown spring wheat planted in mid-late April as people tried to chase potential.
The rain also contributed to a germination of weeds along with a lot of active pre-emergent herbicides, which meant a lot of growers had very good weed control.
"With heavy rain in early May it started to get very wet on some of the heavier soils which did slow down a lot of growers who were steaming ahead," Dr Nickol said.
"Later on, dealing with the wet weather conditions, trafficability across a lot of the State started to become an issue with many growers struggling to get onto paddocks to spray or apply nitrogen.
"With much of the State having such a big potential year, nitrogen supply was uncertain and the price of it went up, but despite that, the use of nitrogen was still very high across the board."
Dr Foster said for most of the year, maximum temperatures were warmer than average, in the top 20 per cent of years.
"However, when looking at events above 30 degrees in the first half of September, it was really only the northern grainbelt that got a few,"' Dr Foster said.
"At that time of the year, even though the crops didn't have a lot of soil moisture, they were able to fill grain very well as they didn't get any heat shock."
Overall, September was about normal for minimum temperatures over most of WA, however there were some significant setbacks in some areas, particularly across the eastern Wheatbelt, with a frost on September 3 doing quite a bit of damage around Merredin and Bruce Rock.
However, there weren't a lot of frost events that were very damaging, so while it was disappointing for some to see their yield potential slip away, most growers were lucky.
There were also a few novel issues that showed up throughout the year and threw a spanner in the works for some growers.
"Russian wheat aphid spread throughout the State and we didn't know what impact that was going to have," Dr Nickol said.
He said in the Kwinana East zone, mites on wet crops were more common than normal and the physiological yellowing in wheat was severe.
"There was a lot of panic about mice, particularly in August and September and more so in the north, so there was a lot of bait put out and we didn't know exactly what the infestation levels were," he said.
While the season was not without its challenges, most growers are looking at decile 10 yields and decile 10 prices and it'd be hard to find a year that could compete with that.
As harvest has gone on, performance and prices of crops have varied, but overall most commodities are looking positive.
"Lupins had an increase in planting this year and there was a lot of biomass around, while yields have varied, they have mostly been very good," Dr Nickol said.
"On the other hand, chickpea crops seem to have mostly been disappointing, mainly due to reduced flowering before moisture stress increased."
Generally, barley yielded well but grains that were frosted have had issues with low hectolitre weight.
Wheat is one of the harder stories as the areas with the highest potential were the ones hit hardest by frost, however the majority of growers are still looking at well above average yields.
Looking to the next season, summer rain outlooks for WA are mostly neutral, in comparison to the Eastern States, and while a few summer thunderstorms can be expected, it won't be particularly wet.
On the other hand, temperatures are likely to be up a lot for WA, except for the Esperance area.
A consequence of that is that the bushfire risk will be enhanced, especially given the amount of biomass left behind due to the high yields.
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