West Australian grain growers are set to reap more than $6 billion from this year’s harvest, defying dry conditions and the spectre of a trade war with China to post one of the most lucrative paydays on record.
With harvesting just about wrapped up, industry experts say more than 16.5 million tonnes of grain have been collected in WA â€” up from an expected take of barely 14 million tonnes.
WA’s biggest grain harvest was 18.2 million tonnes in 2016, while it’s most valuable was in 2019 when growers yielded almost $7 billion.
By comparison, the 10-year average is about $4.5 billion.
Michael Lamond from the Grains Industry Association of WA said, given international grain prices were trading near historic highs, the value of the harvest would be more than $6 billion.
Mr Lamond said it was an “extraordinary” result given the relative lack of rain in many places in WA last year and the disruptions to the grain trade caused by COVID-19 and the trade war with China.
“It’s a pretty incredible result, really, when you look back a couple of months and what we were faced with.”
Haul ‘unprecedented’ in face of dry
According to Mr Lamond, the amount of grain that was grown after accounting for the amount of rain that fell was “unheard of”.
He suggested it was partly down to luck, saying that although relatively little rain fell it tended to be “just-in-time rain” while noting that most growers escaped damage from frost or heatwaves.
However, he also pointed out that advances in cropping techniques and technology had allowed farmers to maximise their output despite the drier season.
“You could not have predicted we were going to get those water use efficiencies across the state,” he said.
“It wasn’t just in little pockets â€” it was generally right across the state.
“That’s unprecedented and it’s a nice surprise to have.”
Shifting output tests grain network
Ben Macnamara, the operations manager for giant grain handler CBH, said about 15 million tonnes had been delivered to the co-operative’s network of bins across the state.
Mr Macnamara confirmed the figure had surprised many observers including CBH “on the upside” amid estimates growers would deliver about 10 per cent less grain.
“We were planning on something around the five-year average, so it’s a fantastic effort on behalf of the growers â€¦ to be able to receive a crop of that size,” Mr Macnamara said.
In a sign of structural shifts in WA’s grains industry, Mr Macnamara said the Albany port zone along the south-western fringe of the state’s Wheatbelt had produced a bumper crop, believed to be the area’s biggest ever.
He said the change, which was being driven by declining rainfall, was set to continue and required CBH to spend significant amounts of money increasing storage capacity in the zone.
These investments, along with plans to buy more trains and carriages to transport grain and boost throughput at CBH’s port operations, were crucial to ensure WA growers were globally competitive, he said.
“The shipping demand in the front half of the calendar year is around 65 per cent of the total tonnes and this year looks to be no different to that,” Mr Macnamara said.
“So, what we are certainly seeing is a larger crop going out a narrower window.”
Asked when CBH planned to complete the upgrades, Mr Macnamara said it would need to happen within “three to five years”.