Season turn around the talk of 2013

26 Dec, 2013 01:00 AM
THE 2013 season has been an incredibly busy year for wheat and barley grower, Ty Kirby, who owns a farm in Beacon and leases another in Nyabing. Mr Kirby said the closer he got to the end of harvest, the more relieved and optimistic he had become about the future of both farms. Harvest wound up on his 4000 hectare Beacon property in early December and while it wasn't a game changer, Mr Kirby said.
I am so proud of how the entire team has come together with growers...
THE 2013 season has been an incredibly busy year for wheat and barley grower, Ty Kirby, who owns a farm in Beacon and leases another in Nyabing. Mr Kirby said the closer he got to the end of harvest, the more relieved and optimistic he had become

THIS year the grains industry was all about a remarkable turn around in the season, which saw the 2011 15.1 million tonne record harvest blown out of the water in just a few short months.

Hitting the 15 million tonne mark was not only a harvest milestone, it highlighted to the rest of the country, and the world, that WA growers are more than resilient, they are innovative, dedicated and get results.

CBH chief executive officer Andrew Crane said while 2013 had been an incredible year, it had kept him guessing.

"Early in the year we were expecting a really difficult season but the skies opened up at the right time and we've been breaking records ever since," Dr Crane said.

He commended the CBH team on a job well done.

"I am so proud of how the entire team has come together with growers to bring in a record breaking harvest.

"The investments in throughput have made a world of difference, many growers I spoke with over harvest commented on the marked improvements of waiting times at sites, which in a year that saw the harvest delivered in the shortest time-frame, is a real achievement."

Farm Weekly took a look at five of the big issues in the WA grain sector in 2013.

p Eyes on the skies

The change in season came down to one thing – decent rainfall.

When June came and went with little rain, growers across the Wheatbelt feared the worst and when the rain finally did arrive, it missed large areas.

Farmers in Southern Cross, east of Kellerberrin to Narembeen and Mukinbudin were among those shires that missed out, forcing some to hand-feed sheep.

By early July the WA crop was in a precarious state, with rainfall totalling less than 10mm in most districts during June.

In the Kwinana east zone, substantial parts of the intended sown areas were not sown and in the far eastern shires, there has been little if any rain for the year.

However things swifly turn around when a crop-saving rain in mid-July soaked up most parts of the Wheatbelt.

The big winners were Narembeen, Corrigin, Kondinin and Kulin, with continued good rainfall recordings along the South Coast and up to Salmon Gums.

There were also "Houdini" rains in the eastern Wheatbelt with 21mm at Bencubbin, 13mm at Westonia, 16mm at Mukinbudin and 18mm at Bodallin and "life raft" rains at Bullfinch (11mm), Southern Cross (7-10mm) and Marvel Loch (6-8mm).

The distribution and amount of rain from mid-July soon indicated that many regions could expect average to above average yields.

Fortunately for most, the prediction became a reality with August and September bringing even more rain, with many growers enjoying the best harvest they've had in decades.

p Tier 3 shock

Early in October Farm Weekly was informed that Brookfield Rail and CBH had decided to close two Tier 3 rail lines before the 2013 harvest.

It was soon confirmed that on October 31, the Trayning to West Merredin line and the Quairading to York line would be closed.

CBH general manager of operations David Capper said news of the line closures was delivered by Brookfield at the eleventh hour.

By the end of October the grain on rail debate reached new levels when it was revealed it was not only Tier 3 rail lines that are under threat of closure.

Farm Weekly received advice that the future of certain Tier 2 lines could also be in doubt after Brookfield Rail indicated its plans to close the Miling to Toodyay West Tier 2 line within the next two years.

CBH turned to an independent umpire, the Economic Regulation Authority (ERA) in early November to assist in its negotiations with Brookfield Rail over access to Tier 3 rail lines.

Mr Capper said an agreement could not be reached between CBH and Brookfield Rail because of significant differences in pricing expectations.

He explained that while CBH had asked the ERA to try and conclude the matter by the time its contract with Brookfield Rail expires next year, it could not guarantee a time frame and the review could take substantially longer.

p Emerald pool challenges

Rumors emerged in early 2013 that WA growers would be stripped of millions of dollars due to the poor performance of Emerald Grain's 2011/12 wheat and barley pool.

While Emerald maintains that the pool faced a number of challenges over its two-year life span impacting on the final result, growers wanted answers.

Within weeks, Granich Partners lawyer Alex Granich confirmed that he and colleague Nathan Draper had been approached by up to a dozen concerned Wheatbelt growers keen to mount a class action against Emerald after the losses ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And at the end of November about 50 growers had confirmed interest in pursuing litigation against Emerald.

Growers with tonnes locked into Emerald Grain's 2012/13 wheat and barley pools were given the option to move their second distribution payment forward from July to May.

While some industry sceptics believed it was Emerald's way of trying to win back points with growers after the outcome of its 2011/12 WA wheat pools, Emerald general manager Tom Howard said it was about the company being able to help fill the immediate cash flow needs of growers, especially in WA - and nothing more.

p Foreign investors

The Beidahuang Group, operating in Australia through Heilongjiang Feng Agricultural went on a spending spree in WA during 2012/2013, including $70 million on 34,500ha of farmland.

The overseer of HFA's ambitious supply chain, Vicstock Grain, had secured a long-term lease with extension options for the use of Plantation Energy Australia's (PEA) disused wood pellet shipping facilities at the Albany port and planned to ship grain from the 2013 harvest at HFA's Ongerup, Mindarabin and Lake King properties through the port.

Vicstock claimed it would ship 200,000t from Albany in its first year of operation which meant the company would also purchase new-season grain from local growers in order to fill boats this harvest.

However in early June, Vicstock managing director Will Crozier said despite planning to meet the deadline for the 2013/14 harvest, there wouldn't be a large amount of grain leaving its Albany facilities any time soon.

According to Mr Crozier much of the on-site work was still in its planning phase, despite earlier news Vicstock's Albany hub would be export-ready come harvest.

This wasn't the only major set back for Vicstock and HFA in 2013.

Wheatbelt farmer Ian Tonkin and his wife Carolyn alleged that HFA signed a contract to buy their farm for $8 million more than two years ago, but never received a cent.

The Tonkins decided to take action and have took the matter to the Supreme Court.

The other big international player making waves in WA, Bunge, is more than halfway through the construction phase of its $30-$40 million export investment at the Bunbury port.

By early November, Bunge had installed six large and four smaller galvanised silos.

Once all silos have been constructed, Bunge will have close to 48,000t of capacity at the port and permits to export up to 500,000t in the next two years.

Bunge's short term goal is to buy grain to export in the middle of next year when the port facility gets going.

Bunge general manger Chris Aucote said Bunge would also pay growers to store grain on-farm and deliver to port at a later period.



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