2023 crop report: WA grain harvest falls to 14.5 million tonnes after two record years

Olivia Ford & Adam PoulsenCountryman
Harvest at Mullewa, 2023.
Camera IconHarvest at Mullewa, 2023. Credit: Supplied/Kylie Rowe

WA’s 2023 grain harvest has officially come to an end, with the State’s growers producing just over 14.5 million tonnes of grain — far off the previous year’s record 26Mt crop.

The Grain Industry Association of WA today released its final crop report for the 2023 season, which showed WA grain production is still on an upward linear trajectory despite a relatively disappointing year.

GIWA crop report author Michael Lamond said the contrast between 2022 and 2023 “could not have been starker”.

“Many growers in the north and eastern parts of the State lost some of the gains in 2023 that were made in the 2021 and 2022 growing seasons, and budgets for them are tight heading into 2024,” he said.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


“Unless autumn rainfall is significant, a contraction back to wheat from crops such as canola, which have higher input costs, is likely right across the State.”

WA’s main grain handler and marketer CBH group received 12.5Mt of the total harvest, compared to a record 22.7Mt in 2022.

CBH chief operations officer Mick Daw said it was “a reminder of the highs and lows of agriculture”.

“Early on in the year, it was clear for many growers that 2023 would not be a repeat of the previous two bumper harvests,” he said.

Statewide, some 7.65Mt of wheat was produced in 2023, followed by barley (3.65Mt), canola (2.51Mt), oats (355,000t), lupins (320,000t) and pulses (49,000t).

WA grain growers produced just over 14.5 million tonnes of grain in the 2023-24 season.
Camera IconWA grain growers produced just over 14.5 million tonnes of grain in the 2023-24 season. Credit: Countryman

Tough growing conditions and a blunt finish meant 47 per cent of wheat deliveries were high protein that made hard grades, compared to just 3 per cent in 2022.

But Mr Lamond said just 18 per cent of the wheat crop fell into utility or feed grades due to high screenings.

“In years like this you would normally expect a high proportion of cereal production to fall out of the higher grades due to screenings,” he said.

“Whilst seed size was generally small, screenings didn’t blow out as much as was expected. As a result, overall grain quality was very good and enabled growers to make up some ground in dollar returns in a lower production year.”

While the quick finish to the season did not allow wheat crops to reach their potential, barley performed well.

GIWA attributed this to newer barley varieties boasting more robust disease packages and requiring less reliance on fungicides, particularly in higher rainfall regions.

Total grain production was highest in the Kwinana port zone, where growers yielded 6.26Mt, followed by Albany (4.03Mt), Esperance (2.74Mt) and Geraldton (1.49Mt).

York-based agronomist and GIWA crop report author Michael Lamond.
Camera IconYork-based agronomist and GIWA crop report author Michael Lamond. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman

While it was a mixed bag in the Kwinana, Albany and Esperance port zones, Mr Lamond was frank in his assessment of conditions in the Mid West.

“The Geraldton port zone had a stinker of a year in 2023 and whilst many growers went into the season with a consciously risk-averse approach, many if not all ended up with a negative result,” he said.

Mullewa grower Kylie Rowe described her family’s season as “average, or a bit under”, with wheat proving to be the best performing crop thanks to a late March downpour.

“Wheat was okay, because of where we had put it in. We were lucky to get 100mm (of rain) at the end of march through a strip, so there was sub soil moisture there,” she said.

“The wheat yielded okay on that, but then anything out east that didn’t get any of that rain was very average and there was a much lower yield.

“Our canola was very average because it was out on one of our more eastern blocks. It germinated okay, but it just didn’t get that follow up… The lupins were not too bad.”

Despite being “pretty lucky in some ways”, Ms Rowe said the family’s yield was “well down” compared to the “exceptional” harvest of 2022.

“It wasn’t the worst season but it certainly wasn’t the best,” she said.

“We started (harvesting) around October 14 and we wrapped up pretty quick. It was probably November - one of the earliest finishes we’ve had.”

There was nearly 8.5M hectares of crop sown Statewide in 2023, down from the recent average of about 9M.

The drop was attributed to a lack of sub-soil moisture in many regions heading into the season, a late break, and a below average outlook for rainfall.

“For many growers, total rainfall received in 2023 was well down on 2019 rainfall, when 11.3 million tonnes was produced on a similar area of crop sown,” Mr Lamond said.

“Subtle improvements in production systems are tending to buffer the downside of these poor years and push grain yields well beyond previous records in good seasons.

“The five-year average (2019-23) WA grain production is 18 million tonnes, and the previous five-year average (2014-18) is 3 million tonnes less at 15.2Mt.

“Grain production in WA is still on a linear trajectory upwards despite increased variability in a drying, warming climate.”

WAFarmers president John Hassell, who farms at Pingelly, said it had been a “very disappointing” season for growers in the northern half of the State.

“It’s pretty tough going when you make no income and you sink a huge amount of money into it,” he said.

“It’s a pretty dire situation and I don’t think politicians realise everything they are doing to us is contributing to that.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails