ALBANY has been suggested as a potential port option for Bunge Australia, the multi-national company looking to bypass CBH's bulk storage and handling system in WA.
Albany-based Nationals MLC Colin Holt last week questioned the decision made by Transport Minister Troy Buswell to allow Bunge to potentially export grain through the Bunbury port and suggested it would make more sense for the company to operate its export business from a port which had the existing capacity, sufficient infrastructure and safe rail facilities to cope with the potential freight task.
Mr Holt said Bunge planned to export up to 500,000 tonnes of grain via the Bunbury port as soon as 2014 and he believed transporting this amount of grain freight along the railway to the Albany port terminal instead of via road through Collie and Bunbury was the more logical choice.
Although the utilisation of rail would raise further issues as pointed out by Farm Weekly, including whether or not there was in fact an opportunity to install private rail links at Albany's port as separate from CBH's existing ones and the significant cost of incorporating new rail links as a transport option, Mr Holt was convinced it was still a viable alternative.
"Albany has a history of exporting large volumes of grain and other produce and ensuring Bunge exports travel along the railway to the Albany port is a better and safer outcome," he said.
Mr Holt didn't support the prospect of additional truck movements on regional roads when much of the State's rail asset had been dramatically improved in previous months.
"It's not acceptable to have thousands of truck movements rolling through Collie and Bunbury when we have the Tier 1 railway to Albany refurbished after a large government investment," he said.
"It has the capacity to take additional loads and Bunge will need to get this additional wheat to port to meet its commitments.
"Rail is continually put forward as a cheaper and safer option and here is the perfect opportunity for the Tier 1 and 2 lines to be fully utilised where practical."
Mr Holt called on Bunge to encourage growers to deliver their crop at receival points on the Tier 1 railway to Albany for transport to port instead of trucking it to Bunbury for collection and ultimate export.
"This change could see volumes of crop being taken from the Albany port's traditional catchment area and transported via road to Bunbury," he said.
"The Albany rail system and port have the additional capacity required to take greater loads and it seems illogical not to be utilising it."
He also welcomed the expected competition in the grain transport industry but didn't want to see the proposed change result in more trucks on country roads where rail could be used.
"This will be a good result for local growers and the local economy so we must ensure any changes in the transport of WA grain doesn't bring with it additional risks to road users," he said.
Darkan grower and West Arthur shire president Ray Harrington met with Mr Holt to discuss the potential transport issue.
He also supported the utilisation of rail and staunchly opposed the addition of further truck movements through Arthur River, Darkan, Collie and Bunbury.
"If Bunge goes ahead with its plans to export from the Bunbury port terminal it could mean an extra 600-800 truck movements a week through Darkan at peak periods," Mr Harrington said.
"Forget the debate about who's selling the grain and whether growers should back CBH versus the private company.
"To be honest, the competition from Bunge will mean I might be able to save up to $15 a tonne in freight costs because my port will become 150 kilometres closer to my farm gate."
Mr Harrington said there was already 280,000-300,000t of grain west of the Great Southern rail line which was transported by CBH on road.
"Bunge are going to need $20-$30 million worth of trucks," he said.
"I would have thought that using 413 per cent more fuel than a train, transporting grain by truck wouldn't make much sense."
In January Transport Minister Troy Buswell approved permits to allow 500,000t of grain to pass through Bunbury's port facility in the first two years starting in 2014.
Once that two-year cap is lifted the Bunbury Port Authority is likely to double the potential export volume to one million tonnes with Bunge's grain going to key markets in South East Asia.
Farm Weekly spoke to Bunge Australia general manager Chris Aucote but he declined to comment on the record about the company's grain freight plans.
p A group of chief executive officers and shire presidents from West Arthur's neighbouring shires are scheduled to meet today to discuss Bunge's truck transport implications and options.