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Extreme weather wipes a possible $750 million off upcoming WA grain harvest

Belinda Varischetti, Joanna Prendergast and Emma Field, Monday September 16, 2019 - 18:43 EST
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Extreme weather in WA growing regions is damaging crops. - ABC

Two weeks of extreme weather causing frost and heat damage have wiped $750 million off Western Australia's upcoming grain harvest, a new report says.

In its latest monthly crop report, the Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) has downgraded its expected harvest total from 13.7 million tonnes to 12.3 million tonnes.

GIWA is also tipping the state's wheat crop will be down one third from last season's bumper harvest to 6.8 million tonnes.

"We've lost well over a million-and-a-half tonnes, and it could be more in the north and the central regions, because its hard to know exactly how much we've lost from heat stress, but it has been really significant," GIWA's Michael Lamond said.

"The canola has been really really significantly affected and so have the pulses, they're some of the higher value crops, so the impact of these past two weeks could be in the order of half a billion to three quarters of a billion dollars.

"Canola is really going to take a big hit, this is the first year in over 10 years that we've had under a million tonnes of canola, for quite a few years in the last ten years we've nudged up to two million tonnes."

'Not much left'

The biggest falls in yield potential over the past two weeks have occurred in the Esperance port zone, where almost one million tonnes of grain has been lost due to frost.

Temperatures dipped as low as minus 5.4 degrees at Salmon Gums and in many places the temperature was below zero for more than six hours.

Steve Rollond, farms at Scaddan and Cascade, said he has never seen such a wide-spread frost, and yesterday he started cutting some of his wheat for hay.

"Out at my Cascade property it's just about wiped the wheat out completely — there's not much left out there," he said.

"It's a bit heartbreaking.

"I won't really know until harvest at just how bad it is."

Rowan Starcevich farms near Salmon Gums, and said while it is a frost-prone area he was shocked at what he saw last week.

"The plants were completely iced up … if you snapped the stems off they were completely frozen," he said.

He said it is too early to tell if this is the worst frost event he has seen on his farm, but estimates about half of his crop is likely to be affected.

Esperance-based Farm and General agronomist Greg Warren said the damage is quite varied, but is closer to the coast than he has seen before.

"Within 30 kilometres of the coast we are seeing some damage — anywhere from stem frost to flower frosts," he said.

"The damage depends on what growth stage crops are at."

Mr Warren said it was important farmers support each other.

"This is an event which will affect everyone differently, so just check your neighbours are OK," he said.

Headers will tell final story

Beverley farmer and president of the WA Farmers grains section, Duncan Young, said the full extent of the weather damage was yet to be revealed.

"My comment would be that we need to wait until the headers start rolling in the paddocks to really know what the figures are," Mr Young said.

"Because with the heat we've had the past couple of weeks, especially in the north, and the severe frost down south — how much that has taken off the estimate is a bit of an unknown."

Mr Young said despite the damage many in the grain growing region was still feeling buoyant.

"While the season hasn't been as good as last year, coming off such a record crop, I think most growers are fairly happy, these things do happen," he said.

"It's not a disaster by any means — most farmers are going to get a crop and you only have to look over east to see where things aren't travelling too well."


© ABC 2019

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