The West

Farmers wait on big soak

It is crunch time for WA grain growers as they look to the skies for rain over the next fortnight to take the heat off this season's crops.

That is the verdict of CBH operations manager Dave Capper and farmers from Geraldton to Esperance after a spell of warm, dry weather.

Mr Capper said CBH would monitor conditions over the next two weeks before making predictions on the size of the harvest.

The Grain Industry Association of WA said last week that crops had the potential to reach 15 million tonnes.

Last season's record harvest of 17mt delivered a $5 billion boost for the WA economy and 15mt would still represent one of the biggest crops grown in the State.

Mr Capper said the forecast was close to the mark "right now" but the next fortnight was crucial to hopes for another big harvest.

"They are close at the moment but the Geraldton zone is already warm . . . Esperance has also got warm," he said.

"We are looking out for rain in the next seven days or estimates in those two zones in particular will start going backwards.

"Albany looks great and there is plenty of moisture there, so the Albany zone will have another really good year.

"Kwinana is certainty looking better than it did at this time last year but again it will need a good finish. There are some areas which are a bit tight already but it is in better shape than Esperance and Geraldton. Within the next two weeks the eastern and northern parts of Kwinana will be looking for good rain."

WA's biggest individual grain grower, John Nicoletti, likened it to half-time in a football match, with the result in the balance.

"We had a fantastic start and now its half-time and we're looking for a big drink," Mr Nicoletti said. "It doesn't matter where you are - from Binnu, from north and south of Geraldton, to Esperance and out to the Yilgarn - farmers are looking to the skies.

"The very worst case scenario it could be a seven to eight million-tonne crop but we could double that easily."

Mr Nicoletti said the northern Wheatbelt had last week recorded several days of around 25C, and that was "just wrong for August".

Bruce Ley, who farms with his brother Ross about 45km south-east of Geraldton, said another week without rain would start to wilt crops.

"We are not losing yield at the moment but we are losing potential," Mr Ley said. "Our crops haven't gone backwards but the warm weather has taken away any upside. An inch of rain would be a godsend. This warm weather is not doing us any favours."

Mr Ley said most growers in the region were still in a better position than this time last year.

GIWA warned that its 15mt forecast was dependent on at least average spring rainfall and no significant frost events in the Kwinana and Albany zones.

The West Australian

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