It is full steam ahead for WA’s biggest canola crop in history after “beautifully timed” winter rain propelled growth of the golden plantings and “transformed” drying crops in the north.
While not tipped to reach the dizzying heights of last harvest’s 24-million tonne record harvest — the biggest in Australia’s history — 2022/23’s efforts are still anticipated to be “very good,” according to the Grain Industry of WA’s latest crop report.
WA canola growers are poised to break records, with GIWA crop report author Michael Lamond forecasting a 3.16Mt haul — up from last year’s 3.13Mt — after record plantings “just shy” of two million hectares in April.
It is a marked increase from 2020’s 1.12 million hectares and comes off the back of last year’s 1.75m hectares, which injected a record $2 billion to the State’s economy as prices for the grain dubbed “black gold” skyrocketed to $1230/t in May.
Prices have since eased back to around $800/t.
The State’s total harvest has been revised up to 19.6Mt — up from 19.4Mt in May — made up of 10.3Mt of wheat, 5.12Mt of barley, 3.16Mt of canola, 545,000t of oats, 420,000t of lupins and 64,000t of pulses.
Mr Lamond said while the top end potential was not there after a dry June, WA’s 9m hectares were in “good shape” and poised for a potential 20Mt haul.
It comes after a generous dose of late July, early August rain, which saw many growers clock up one of their wettest Augusts in years, coupled with a warm winter, resulting in more advanced crops across the network.
Mid West farmers Tom and Hayley Levett are in the midst of one of their best seasons yet — off the back of a record 2021/22 harvest — hoping this year’s crops of gold yield 3t/ha when the time comes to harvest.
It comes after an early break saw the Levetts — who run a mixed farming enterprise with Mr Levett’s father Dean and ‘pop’ Hugh across Walkaway and Casuarina — seeding three weeks earlier than usual on April 4.
“Usually we won’t react to that but this year, Dad actually talked me into it,” Mr Levett said, laughing. “I’m glad he did, it was a brilliant idea.
“It’s been flowering for nine weeks.”
While a gap between the rains in May-June, coupled with windy conditions was cause for concern, Mr Levett said they had bounced back nicely.
“We had a big dry month in the middle there and we thought we’d lose a lot of potential because of that,” he said. “But it’s bounced back, which is really nice.”
One of their wettest years yet, the Levetts have had 460mm YTD, up from last year’s 406mm and their long-term average of 300-350mm.
Hopes are high, but the third generation farmer did not anticipate this year’s crops to quite reach the dizzying height of their “ripper” 2021-22 harvest, which he said was a record yield “by a long mile”.
While prices for the grain dubbed “black gold” by industry earlier in the year have eased, Mr Levett said $800/t was “still a good number” and they had budgeted for $650/t just in case.
He also took potash completely out of their system amid extraordinarily high prices to take financial pressure off the operation.
“Everyone said it was going to be the end of the world,” Mr Levett said. “But it’s fine.”
Mr Lamond said there was “both an upside and a downside” to the advanced crops across the State.
“The upside is a greater percentage of the crop will be filling grain prior to the inevitable heat in the spring, reducing the chance of heat shock,” he said.
“The downside is the crop will be exposed to a greater period of frost risk, and this is a growers’ greatest fear. The cereal crops will be vulnerable to frost from now onward in the central and northern regions as many are already running up.”
The only dampener of the wet weather was waterlogging leaving paddocks in the southern areas — particularly the Albany Zone — un-trafficable, Mr Lamond said.
There is still plenty of promise, however, with crops expected to recover quickly and yield higher than 2021 due to their “exceptional shape” and advanced growth stages.
As the growing season progresses, farmers are turning their attention to mice, sclerotinia (stem rot) and increased insect activity, which are causing headaches in several regions. Frost is a major threat on the horizon also.
While the magnitude of the potential for mice to impact this year’s production was “a bit of an unknown,” Mr Lamond said growers were not taking any chances in letting numbers get away come spring.
“Significant mice activity has been reported in most grain growing regions, with growers competing for planes to spread baits and late fungicide applications,” he said.
“Worrying numbers are still present in a lot of areas and growers are baiting to reduce numbers to limit their exponential increase as it warms up.
“Most growers are taking no chances and are trying to reduce numbers before breeding gets underway in the spring.”