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WA's harvest 2019 'very light on' after last year's record-breaking crop

Mark Bennett, Monday December 16, 2019 - 06:45 EDT
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It's only mid-December but harvest for 2019 is already done and dusted. - ABC

It's been a very unusual year for Australia's most productive grain growing state, with some regions faring better than others.

Western Australia is on track to produce just 5.3 million tonnes of wheat compared to 9.6 million tonnes last year, and production is down across all grains.

An estimated total of 11.2 million tonnes has been collected, which is a long way down on last year's record harvest of more than

Along the state's south coast, farmers are traditionally on the headers right through until the end of the year, but for 2019, the machines are already packed up.

Done and dusted

The harvest is in the bins weeks ahead of schedule for Derek Curwen, who farms in South Stirling, about an hour north of Albany.

"I've said to my boys, 'put this one in your diary, because I won't see us finishing before December for another 35 years,'" Mr Curwen said.

"Every year in farming is different and it has been for the last 30 years.

"Variable weather on the south coast — you never know what you are going to get."

Northern growers are reporting a disappointing harvest that is well below 10 year averages.

Last year's crop gave Mid West farmer Robert Kitto the confidence to expand his operation, but this year was a different story.

"We probably actually finished harvest before we really even started this year," Mr Kitto said.

"This season is one of those seasons that we don't really want to see again for a few more years.

"It has been very light on … two-thirds less than the 10 year average at the moment."

Lost tonnage

The Grain Industry Association of Western Australia's (GIWA) 2019 crop report author, Michael Lamond, described the season by recalling an old farming rule of thumb.

"If you finished before Christmas, your headers were too big … that was the old story," he said.

"But this year everyone finished well before Christmas because the tonnages just weren't there.

"It was a tough season — it was a late start and we had unprecedented warm conditions and no rain in the spring for most areas."

Mr Curwen believes change is the only way forward.

"What we do know is that we are adapting all our technologies to change our farming systems, to make the most of every rainfall event," he said.

"This year we had a major rainfall event in mid-March, so we started seeding.

"Fifteen years ago we wouldn't have done that — we would have waited, because we would have been confident that we were going to get mid-winter rain.

"Now we are not confident, so when the moisture is there, we go."

Cautious optimism

Positive outlooks are on the horizon, however, with Australian and international climate models indicating near normal probability for rain between January and March in WA.

Despite the poor season in the west, Mr Kitto has not forgotten the plight of farmers on the other side.

"Even though WA has had a bit of a tough time this year, we still do need to be very mindful of what our brothers and sisters are going through on the east coast," he said.

"They are facing their second and third year of no production whatsoever.

"I guess it's just something that you learn as a farmer.

"You just know that eventually it will rain again and things will be OK."


© ABC 2019

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