A big year for grains | My Machinery
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A big year for grains

Our State’s exhausted grain growers welcomed 2012 with a bin-busting 15,067,000 tonne crop. Records were broken, spirits were high and it helped set the tone for the upcoming season as growers dragged their sprayers into paddocks to kick-start intense summer spraying programs helped along by some early rain. By February, the remnants of cyclone Iggy bought further rainfall to the State’s grain growing regions while the much anticipated arrival of CBH’s new rail wagons started to play out at the port of Fremantle. There was much ado about grain transport throughout the 2012/13 season. Grains industry headlines were filled with talk about CBH’s new trains, the co-operative’s illogical and unfair Mid West network strategy, the potential closure of Wheatbelt Tier 3 lines, China’s interest in bypassing CBH’s logistics system to export direct from Albany and Bunge’s plan to set up shop in Bunbury. It wasn’t long after CBH’s first shipment of 50 standard gauge rail wagons landed in Fremantle in February that Geraldton zone growers started to speak out against CBH’s plan for rail logistics and potential bin closures in the Mid West. As the calendar pages rolled into March, Upper House members Max Trenorden and Philip Gardiner joined the great grain transport debate and pushed for Tier 3 lines to remain open, knowing too well Transport Minister Troy Buswell had threatened to close them. It was a timely entrance to the rail debate, considering just weeks later CBH commissioned its very first grain train test run from Merredin to the Kwinana port. By May, a made to order frontal system swept over the Wheatbelt which allowed growers to get back into their paddocks, this time with air-seeders in tow. During seeding heated transport debates gave way to a number of other headlines, including those pertaining to foreign investment and crop outlooks for the 2012/13 season. Although foreign investment had been occurring in the WA grains industry for a number of generations, news that the Middle East agrifood company Hassad Australia had made a 15,000 hectare land grab at Jerramungup re-ignited industry debate about whether or not investment by overseas entities in WA farm land was beneficial. That debate continued to rage as growers planted the State’s largest ever canola cash crop in a bid to combat rising input costs, crippling debt levels and unpredictable weather patterns. By the end of May grain growers were again looking to the sky for much needed rain. The outlook for sustaining the record breaking canola planting sat on a knife’s edge. But thankfully, June thunderstorms got seeding back on track for the time being. As CBH’s new rail wagons, 001: Yillminning and 002: Mooterdine, pulled 60 narrow gauge wagons from Hyden to the Albany port, marking the official maiden voyage of a CBH train, wheat prices spiked at $300 a tonne which helped to instill farmer confidence lost during yet another period of warm dry weather. By the end of June the State’s grain growers faced a make or break situation. As the warm weather continued, industry tension mounted over the announcement giant global grain trader Bunge planned to build a $30 million, 50,000t grain storage facility at the Bunbury port in order to bypass CBH’s freight, storage and export system. Largely behind the scenes, the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance continued its battle to keep Tier 3 rail lines open but by the end of August, Minister Buswell stamped his authority on the issue and announced he would close 700 kilometres of Wheatbelt rail lines before the 2012/13 harvest (his decision was later reversed). Having received scattered rain throughout July and August, September saw CBH release its revised 9.5mt harvest prediction (after an initial forecast of 10.5-11mt earlier in the year). But by this stage many of the State’s growers were confident CBH’s estimate would be too high – especially those growers in the Geraldton port zone like Binnu’s Damian Harris, who said he would only harvest one third of the amount of crop he did last year. The dry August and September finish prompted others like Pindar’s Mark Flannagan to grease up his header and get stuck into his 5000 hectare wheat program well before any CBH delivery site was due to open. Crop quality was touted as the saviour of the smaller harvest when it officially kicked off in early October but that didn’t stop surly December rain testing the patience of all those involved well into the new year. There was no under-estimating the tough situation and downward pressure experienced by a number of our State’s grain growers this season. But farmers are a resilient lot and many of them continued to look to the 2013/14 season and beyond with courage and conviction. Meckering farmer and Pastoralists and Graziers Association western graingrowers committee chairman John Snooke told Farm Weekly his committee was very excited about the year ahead. He said the WA grains industry continued to progress along the path to full deregulation where the retention of competitive prices and a reduction in unnecessary red tape would assist growers to profit in the future. “We are going to see the continuing development of competition in the supply chain,” Mr Snooke said. “Bunge’s Bunbury port plan could possibly be the start of downward pressure on supply chain costs for growers.” Mr Snooke said his hope for 2013 was that those involved in the WA grains industry could have a rational debate about the potential commercialisation of CBH so that growers could gain access to their equity within the system. “If that equity means good farming families can remain on their farms then that option has got to be on the table,” he said. But Badgingarra farmer and WAFarmers president Dale Park told Farm Weekly that was nothing more than a Band-Aid option and short-term view. “The 2013 season would be a lot more exciting if we had a dollar which was reasonably valued,” he said. “When looking ahead one of the positives for WA grain growers is that there is a shortage of grain in the world. “But of course that will all depend on how the American crop goes this year.” Mr Park said those involved in the WA grains industry would cross their fingers and hope for rain in the winter and warm days during summer. “The underlying factor is there are more people in the world who can afford to buy WA grain and that’s a positive thing,” he said. “We just have to be able to provide it. “Like every year, growers are just taking it one season at a time at the moment and with the economic conditions as they are I think that’s all we can expect.”

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