20mt down and we're not done yet

By Shannon Beattie
January 6 2022 - 10:00pm
Western Australian graingrowers last week officially delivered more than 20 million tonnes of grain into the CBH Group network for the first time, with total receivals for this harvest sitting at 20.4mt as of Monday morning. Photo by Ellie Morris.

IT feels like there has been a new story of broken harvest records every week this season for Western Australian growers and the start of 2022 was no different.

Last week, the State's graingrowers officially delivered more than 20 million tonnes of grain into the CBH Group network for the first time, with total receivals for this harvest sitting at 20.4mt as of Monday morning.

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According to the Grain Industry Association of WA's (GIWA) latest crop report, released last month, WA farmers were expected to produce more than 22.1mt of grain in the 2021/22 season.

It's a forecast which seems very achievable, especially given the massive amount of grain stored onfarm, which still needs to be cleared and added into the tally.

WAFarmers grains section president Mic Fels said surpassing 20mt was a testament to the resilience of the grains industry given the pressures it had faced.

"Despite all the doomsday predictions in terms of reducing rainfall, as well as the cards being stacked against us with labour and supply chain issues caused by COVID, we've still reached this incredible milestone,'' Mr Fels said.

"It shows how adaptable we are given that even against all of that, we can continue to increase production.

"We're getting better at what we do, with farmers in WA and across the country eliminating weak spots in their operation and that's the best way to improve averages, by getting rid of the holes.

"That doesn't come easily and farmers are exhausted, but backing off isn't an option for us because farmers just don't do that, if you know you can achieve something, then you damn well do it, come what may."

While many growers have finished harvest for the season, CBH acting chief operations officer Mick Daw acknowledged that a lot more grain was still to be delivered, especially in the Albany zone.

"Christmas gave everyone involved with harvest a brief break, but the job is far from done," Mr Daw said.

"There could be another couple of million tonnes to be delivered, based on the industry forecast and we need to stay focused on getting the remaining crop in safely and efficiently for our growers, clean up sites and transition to outloading."

That focus on safety included the introduction of contactless delivery for all sites and terminals for the remainder of harvest, following positive COVID-19 cases in Perth and restrictions put in place by the WA government.

It is mainly growers in the Albany zone, as well as parts of Kwinana south, that still have a long way to go, with some predicting that they won't be finished until at least the second half of this month.

In Kojonup, farmer Emily Stretch is onto the last 200 hectares of her family's 680ha of canola, but they're yet to get started on wheat, barley or oats.

They started harvest about December 8 and even then were still having to play it so that the wet sections of the paddock were getting done late, as they were still green.

"It's definitely been a bit slower, as normally even if we have a late start, we would have finished canola before Christmas," Ms Stretch said.

"That's probably a combination of having swapped a bit of barley out for canola due to prices, but also because some days we could only roll one road train out as that's all we had access to.

"That's starting to change now that north of Kojonup is petering out and there's a few more trucks available, but at the start we'd fill up our one road train and have to go home."

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While the lack of truck availability, as well as a shortage of workers onfarm, have undoubtedly put a few spanners in the works, Ms Stretch was stoked with how the crops have yielded so far.

"The yields are managing to punch above average even though pretty much every paddock has a portion that disappeared completely due to waterlogging," she said.

"We're stoked with the yield we're getting in a season that just kept giving rain and are really pleasantly surprised with the paddocks that we thought would be shocking due to the water logging."

After the canola, Ms Stretch said they will roll into the wheat and then hit the barley, with the oats last.

Overall, she is hopeful they'll wrap everything up by the third week of January, which is a week or two later than usual.

With the season very slowly starting to draw to a close, attention has turned to the year ahead with some wanting expectations to be managed due to the high input prices being faced.

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Mr Fels said it was also likely that there would be a large carry-over of crop into 2022/23.

"We physically can't load the crop onto boats in the 2021/22 year due to the bottleneck of getting grain from country to port,'' he said.

"The ports have the capacity to ship over and above the tonnage that we've grown, we just can't get it there quickly enough given our rail and truck capacity.

"If we have a multi-million tonne carry over and have another big crop, then that's going to put real downward pressure on the price we can achieve for our grain if we can't sell it, because we can't ship it."

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