Sun sets on a bin-burster

Shannon Beattie
By Shannon Beattie
February 17 2022 - 4:00am
The sun has finally set on a record-breaking harvest in Western Australia. Photo by Ellie Morris, Perenjori.

THE writing was on the wall early that the 2021-22 harvest would be one for the history books, but at just over 24 million tonnes the season broke the previous record by more than 30 per cent.

According to the final Grain Industry Association of Western Australia (GIWA) crop report, the exceptional result was due to a record area sown of 9.2 million hectares - 7.8pc more than 2020 and 16pc more than previous record years).

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Good subsoil moisture across the State, an early start to planting, warm growing conditions and higher than average fertiliser usage in the winter, all combined to set up very high yield potential for all crops, followed by very mild conditions during grain fill.

This combination of factors rarely occurs over such a wide area as it did in the 2021 season.

WA still produced more than 38pc of Australia's grain in a year when all of the Eastern States, with the exception of South Australia, harvested record or near-record crops.

The national total was a record 62mt for all grains.

Crop report author Michael Lamond said the year was not without challenges and the severe frosts in September wiped out at least 2mt of grain in the central grainbelt.

"Many growers in this region only just made a profit, which was heartbreaking considering how good things looked up until the frosts hit," Mr Lamond said.

"There was also severe waterlogging over large areas in the south and western rim of the grainbelt.

"However, the incredibly mild finish allowed these areas to recover to an extent that could not have been imagined at the start of spring."

Geraldton

It was a record year for growers in the Geraldton port zone; both for yield and profit.

Considering the extensive damage caused by ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja in early April last year, the 2021 crop was definitely what was needed for the zone.

By the end of harvest everyone was exhausted and more than ready for a break.

Mr Lamond said one comment from a financier was that this has been a record year for paying down farm debt.

"Growers tried to manage their nitrogen inputs to maximise yield and quality but despite applying more than ever, protein levels were still low with the majority of wheat heading to the ASW grade," he said.

"There were patches of frost in the Kalannie, Dalwallinu and Morawa districts.

"Early sown wheat escaped damage, while wheat sown at the optimum time of mid-May suffered the most damage, however farm yield averages were still excellent."

Kwinana North Midlands

Harvest concluded for most by the start of 2022 which was as late as it has ever been.

Financially it was the best year on record, but 2016 beat it for yields.

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Mr Lamond said that was mainly down to transient waterlogging which affected about 10-15pc of the region.

"Wheat recovered from the waterlogging far better than barley, while canola affected was sparse and difficult to harvest but was still more profitable than a reseeded crop," he said.

"Lupins yielded very well but later harvested lupins lost yield from shattering due to high winds in late November.

"Sclerotinia infection was high in canola and lupins, but well-timed fungicide applications controlled it well in canola."

Overall, the protein profile was low in cereals with a majority of wheat making ASW grade, APWN or noodle grades.

Kwinana south and north east

The whole Kwinana south region had a brilliant year with higher than average yields for all crops.

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Many of the larger growers were still harvesting after Christmas which was not the usual practice.

Most growers in the Kwinana north east zone ended up with average or above average yields.

Those who experienced the worst of the frost that hit the north and eastern regions fared worse and many struggled to make a profit for the year.

However, the final result was probably better than most expected considering the lack of spring rain and widespread frost.

Albany West

Even though it was a good year financially, most growers are happy to see the back of 2021.

"Waterlogging made farming difficult in the winter and those that were impacted by frost had a slow harvest," Mr Lamond said.

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"There were big differences in grain yield between wet farms lower in the profile and dry farms higher in the landscape, with plenty of 5-6 tonnes per hectare barley and wheat on the dry farms graduating back to 3-4t/ha on the wet farms.

"Canola was exceptional in the area, as it was across the State and many growers had 2t/ha whole farm averages."

Albany South

The decision making needed for reseeding waterlogged paddocks was difficult, particularly in the Wellstead to South Stirlings to Kendenup area.

Topdressing barley seed resulted in poor establishment and weedy crops, while waiting until late August to reseed resulted in very clean and profitable crops.

"Despite the late sowing date, these were mostly harvested by mid-January with barley yields at 2.5-3t/ha and wheat at 2-4.5t/ha, which was a very good, but unexpected result," Mr Lamond said.

"These were mainly sprayed-out canola paddocks which had high fertiliser applications at seeding."

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Winter wheat was very successful when sown in early April, out yielding traditional spring wheat crops sown in late May.

Early crops generally did much better than those sown at the usual time because they were big enough to handle the waterlogged soils far better.

In this regard, faba beans were also a standout for yields though a lot remains unsold with limited marketing opportunities.

Albany East (Lakes Region)

This was the best season in the upper Great Southern and Lakes regions for yield and financial rewards.

Mr Lamond said many growers in the region said it was the best season they have ever seen.

"Frustratingly, many growers applied the most nitrogen on record but still recorded low protein with wheat mainly making the ASW grade, even on paddocks with a good legume history," he said.

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"The main challenge was logistics, with wet paddocks causing delays in fertiliser applications and weed control.

"A lot of canola was not desiccated for weed control to avoid substantial damage from wheel tracks."

Esperance

The Esperance region had record grain yields in 2021 along with record financial returns for the season.

Pre-harvest estimates were lower than actual yields recorded, in some cases substantially below, with growers getting a pleasant surprise once the headers went out.

"Grain quality was generally good with below average protein in wheat and ASW was the majority grade achieved," Mr Lamond said.

"This was despite increased nitrogen applications to take advantage of the good rainfall."

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Insect and disease pressure was low in the 2021 growing season, while the mice population was an ongoing concern.

Snails caused delivery issues along with ergot due to the late finish and a lot of grain, especially barley, is still being cleaned for delivery.

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