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How the West got back on crop for bumper $6.5b harvest

WA farmers have cashed in on a perfect storm of record grain prices and ideal weather to deliver their most valuable crop in history, pumping at least $6.5 billion into the State’s economy.

Described by some analysts as a once-in-a-lifetime situation, the State’s second-largest crop — at more than 17.2 millions tonnes — has turned into its most valuable, largely courtesy of a severe drought on the east coast.

More than 600,000 tonnes of WA grain has been sent east since October 1, which last occurred in 2003.

The grain crop — which averages about 14 million tonnes and $4 billion in value — will be worth at least $6.5 billion, smashing the previous record of $5.5 to $6 billion in 2013-14.

Some industry analysts believe it could end up being worth as much as $7 billion.

WA delivered its biggest crop in 2016-17 when about 18 million tonnes was harvested.

While this year’s crop is smaller, a 30 per cent price rise means it will be worth significantly more. CBH marketing and trading general manager Jason Craig said wheat prices had risen almost $100 since seeding in April.

Harvest fun for Jovan Fuchsbichler on his family’s farm.Harvest fun for Jovan Fuchsbichler on his family’s farm.
Camera IconHarvest fun for Jovan Fuchsbichler on his family’s farm.Picture: Michael Wilson

Prices for canola and barley, WA’s other major crops, are at six and 11-year highs respectively.

“It is very positive,” Mr Craig said.

“For CBH, the volume is very important, but volume and prices is a real boon for WA agriculture. The biggest factor has been the drought in the east, which has seen the market very strong in WA.”

Mercardo commodity analyst Andrew Whitelaw said WA’s wheat crop alone would be worth more than $3 billion. “Normally, if you have strong premiums against the rest of the world, you don’t have a crop,” he said.

“The chances of this happening (high prices and a good crop) are so slim that it is doubtful you would see a situation like this more than a couple of times in a lifetime.”

Grain Industry Association of WA crop report author Michael Lamond said areas from Moora to Wagin had been the shining light.

But growers in parts of the Lakes, near Newdegate, and the south coast continued to battle a year-long dry spell and have harvested below-average crops.

Kurt Fuchsbichler, who farms near Koorda, 230km east of Perth, with his wife Kristen, said the season had delivered his best harvest. “We surprised ourselves,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said farmers had soldiered on through a “wildly unpredictable season”. She said the Government was monitoring dry conditions in parts of WA’s south.

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