Esperance Zone suffers after dry year

Wild weather: Grain Industry Association of WA report author Mike Lamond said the lack of water has growers concerned for cropping programs. Photo: Stock Image.
Wild weather: Grain Industry Association of WA report author Mike Lamond said the lack of water has growers concerned for cropping programs. Photo: Stock Image.

Growers across the Esperance Zone are expected to tighten their spending ahead of the 2020 season after poor rainfall last year left parts of the region completely dry.

The state's Grain Industry Association has released a comprehensive crop report for 2019, addressing conditions across the grainbelt as having gone from "one extreme to the other".

In northern parts of the state, grain yields were up to 75 per cent lower than the previous year, while the combination of severe frost and hot, windy conditions saw unprecedented losses for growers in the Esperance Zone last September.

Currently, the state's total grain production estimate for the 2019/2020 season remains at 11,290,000 tonnes - 37.5 per cent down on the previous year.

This season, the Esperance Zone accounts for just 16 per cent of that total, with an estimated crop production total of 1,875,000 tonnes.

Grain yields varied across the zone, with very low yields in the north from lack of rain and frost, to very good along the coast due to the lack of waterlogging.

The zone is expected to have produced just 850,000 tonnes of wheat last season, a significant drop from the 1,340,000 tonnes produced in 2018.

Oat production also suffered across the zone, with the expected yield just half of what it was in 2018.

The season saw Grass Patch experience its driest year on record, receiving less than half its average yearly rainfall.

In fact, the state's Water Corporation has begun delivering about 11 million litres of drinking water weekly to locations including Grass Patch, Salmon Gums and Ravensthorpe.

According to Grain Industry Association of WA crop report panelist Mike Lamond, the lack of surface water for stock has left many growers concerned about having enough water for winter cropping programs.

"Looking ahead to the 2020 growing season, there will be a general tightening of spending for growers in the central and eastern areas of the zone not seen for some time," he said.

"The western areas have had a run of poor rainfall over the years and are looking forward to a change in rainfall patterns to be able to get programs back on track.

"The lack of surface water for stock is now desperate with dams mostly completely dry.

"Growers are having to cart water in most of the western areas and many are concerned about the ability to access enough water for winter cropping programs if there is not substantial runoff in the next few months."

Mr Lamond predicted that adjustments to the 2020 programs by growers away from the coast would include less expenditure on lime, gypsum and general improvements.

He said crop rotations in 2020 were likely to be based more around cereals, with more barley on barley, and more wheat on wheat, due to disease loading on stubbles being low from the dry 2019 season and successful weed control practices.