WA farmers have started harvesting their grain crops in the northern Wheatbelt amid fears Statewide volumes will be one-third lower than last year after a tough growing season. Rabobank has forecast WA’s grain crop will be 11.9 million tonnes — 33 per cent down on last season. Rabobank senior grains analyst Cheryl Kalisch Gordon pointed to compounding weather woes hitting the State’s production. Dr Kalisch Gordon said WA had a dry start to the season, hand-to-mouth rainfall during the growing months and devastating frost along the south coast during September. The State’s canola crop has taken the biggest hit, expected to be be just 800,000 tonnes – or half the State’s five-year average Mullewa-region farmer Mark Flannagan, who started harvesting early this month, expects average yields but considers himself fortunate given the bad drought in the east and WA’s tough conditions. Mr Flannagan — who farms with his brother John — cropped 11,000ha this year — and was fortunate to receive decent opening rains in late April, while it did not rain until later in many other parts of the WA. Furthermore, a system which involves rotating land into “fallow” or leaving it without crop or pasture for a year, meant the land they cropped this year benefited from reasonable stored sub soil moisture, helping them overcome the drier conditions. “We have spoken to people in even the most reliable rainfall areas of WA, and it’s been pretty dry out there, so we do consider ourself to be quite lucky this year,” Mr Flannagan said. Rabobank forecasts Australia will harvest its smallest winter grain crop in 11 years at 27.7 million tonnes as a continuing drought prevails in much of the eastern States, constraining exports and affecting competitiveness. The forecast represents a 9 per cent fall on last year’s already drought-diminished grain harvest, and is 31 per cent below the five-year-average. Dr Kalisch Gordon said the smaller Australian crop means 2019-20 would mark the third consecutive year of below-average export volumes, severely challenging Australia’s competitiveness in export markets once the drought breaks. Australian exports are likely to be in the order of eight million tonnes of wheat, 3.9 million tonnes of barley and less than a million tonnes of canola, Rabobank says. Collectively, this would be 15 per cent below last year’s export program. Increased exports from the Black Sea region and Argentina had already moved in to cover Australia’s supply shortfall in key markets, especially South-East Asia. “Regaining market positioning will be increasingly difficult with every year that Australia does not have a buoyant export surplus,” Dr Kalisch Gordon said. With another year of reduced availability of local production, Rabobank predicts imported grain into Australia will rise rise by 52 per cent from last season – taking imports in 2019/20 to 250 per cent above the preceding five-year average.