AS PREDICTED, its been a fraught season for the bulk handlers down the east coast.
The big harvest wet has meant there were myriad issues to assess.
Firstly, the obvious problem of downgrading has meant there has been a struggle to offer all the segregations that farmers want.
Growers with slightly off-specification grain are rightly unwilling to just dump their grain into feed stacks and face a cliff-face discount in price, and are exploring various downgraded paygrades that will provide a better return.
The trap with this, however, is that the more segregations that are wanted, the less room within the sites there is that can be utilised.
GrainCorp, in its Harvest Report last week, said there were over 200 segregations across its network, which has placed an enormous strain on resources.
While it claims that reports regarding a lack of capacity are incorrect, it has meant solutions have had to be found on the fly, with bunkers being built during the season.
It is a hard one for the bulk handlers, matching the need for out and out tonnage with the need for niche segregations, which reduce the overall capacity, and by and large you’d suggest the bulk handlers have tried their best. Obviously, there are going to be many farmers arguing the toss with this one, frustrated with having to cart long distances to deliver their particular grain, but overall, the feedback has been that there has been a reasonable effort to accommodate the largest amount of growers as possible.
Another factor making the season difficult to manage has been the sheer tonnages.
While the gloss was well and truly taken off the harvest by the downgrading, GrainCorp is still reporting record tonnages in many areas, in particular through southern NSW and northern Victoria.
This harvest would be difficult to get in the bin, even if everything had gone right, let alone now, where there have been high volumes coming in all at once.
Having headers going all the way from Queensland to southern Victoria has also thrown up its own set of challenges.
Normally, the bulk handlers have the option of shifting portable grain handling equipment from north to south, matching up with the busiest sites, however this year has seen grain coming in all over the place, meaning it hasn’t been possible to use portable equipment as a means to increase capacity at key receival sites.
So it’s clear there has been a lot that has been beyond the control of the bulk handlers, but that is not to say they have been blameless this harvest.
It appears there have been a number of communication lapses between the growers and the operators of a number of different handling sites.
Issues included limited opening hours over the holiday period.
While the prospect of paying penalty rates for casual staff may be unpalatable for the bulk handlers they needed to realise for farmers, finally having some good harvesting weather and not being able to harvest as there was nowhere to deliver it was a far worse outcome.
It was a disastrous PR exercise for several bulk handlers and undid the good work that has been done in bolstering relationships between growers and grain receivers.
There’s been a lot that’s gone right this year, but images of trucks backed up on Christmas Eve as sites pulled the pin are likely to linger.