THERE’S no doubt Victorian agriculture has dodged a bullet in the past fortnight, with the majority of farmers just scraping by in terms of diesel supplies through a combination of stored on-farm diesel supply, neighbourly co-operation and judicious rationing by the fuel companies.
However, let’s not let the agricultural version of the Great Escape lull us into a sense of complacency.
Commodity volatility is nothing new to the farming community and it is appreciated that fuel companies need to manage their risk and don’t want to be caught holding expensive stock should the price of crude oil suddenly drop.
Yet harvest happens at the same time every year, and the amount of fuel required to get the crop off is a relatively static figure – there’s no reason these shortages should happen.
Fair enough, this was the old fashioned ‘act of god’ at the Shell Refinery – but shouldn’t provisions be in place for the worst case scenario. A simple Plan B to source emergency stocks at the drop of a hat would be a good start.
It’s not something that is required year-round, but at times of peak demand, having an arrangement whereby extra capacity can be brought onboard locally or interstate supplies can be brought in swiftly would ensure fuel headaches are one problem already stressed farmers don’t have to deal with at harvest.
Perhaps the companies could work in conjunction with their interstate refineries and Victoria could provide back-up supplies for NSW during November, when that state is flat out harvesting and then the arrangement switches.
Whatever the solution, farmer lobby groups need to attack the issue and ram home the importance of ample fuel supplies in December. It’s not the first time there have been problems with diesel supply at a crucial period of the agriculture calendar and it is something that has to be attended to.
We may be mischievous in suggesting this, but if there are December shortages in future, perhaps a state government rationing policy, where urban-based 4WDs are placed at the back of the queue, with essential agriculture, mining and transportation machinery getting first dibs at whatever supplies there are.
With the luxury of a public transport network that rural Victorians can only dream of, we don’t think it would hurt for Melbournites to leave the Toorak Tractor at home for a day and tram it to work.
This might sound like a bit of fun, but on a more sober note, let’s just think if this had happened during the La Nina years of 2010-11, and a serious rain event smashed growers who had been forced to halt for a week prior due to fuel shortages. Its an ugly scenario to think about.