THE CBH Group has called time on the 2017-18 harvest, with WA growers exceeding expectations by more than 3 million tonnes to achieve an above-average 13.23mt crop.
It’s a long way off last season’s record 16.6mt harvest, but a significant improvement on initial estimates of 9.5mt and above CBH’s long-term receival average of 12.2mt.
The bulk handler’s general manager of operations David Capper said despite a dry winter in 2017, finishing rains in September and October resulted in initial crop estimates being surpassed by 40 per cent.
As a result, 22 sites broke daily receival records and 14 bins recorded their highest harvest deliveries on record.
The Albany and Esperance zones achieved the most positive results and surpassed last year’s harvest totals to take 3.23mt and 2.83mt respectively, while the Kwinana and Geraldton zones were each down about 1.8mt on last year’s crop.
Kwinana received a total of 5.6mt, while 1.56mt was delivered to Geraldton.
“We’re pleased that the majority of the State had a significant turnaround from where we thought the season was going to be early in the year,” Mr Capper said.
“The crop size had a pretty dramatic change and I think the network responded really well.”
Of the 13.23mt received through CBH, 96pc of the total crop was delivered to the 100 Network Strategy sites, an increase from 94pc last year.
The co-operative’s $750 million Network Strategy is a rationalisation plan announced in 2016 which will see receival sites decrease from 200 to 100 locations over the next decade.
Mr Capper said as investments were made in improving Network Strategy sites, more growers had been encouraged to deliver to those locations.
“Our focus right now is on building the right services at the right sites,” he said.
“What we’re seeing is as we’re doing that – without us closing sites formally – growers are already moving to those services.
“That’s why we’ve seen three progressive years of more and more grain being delivered to the Network Strategy sites because the services are getting better at those sites, so we’re seeing that organically happen as we build and hopefully that will continue over the next couple of years.”
Despite the positive results, Mr Capper said some events tested CBH’s network throughout harvest.
This included increased pressure on sites taking deliveries considerably higher than they were prepared for.
“Sites such as York, Chadwick and some sites in the Albany zone had quite strong years,” Mr Capper said.
“Because areas further east were having years that were not so good, grain from further east travelled into those areas as well and that compounded the demand on those sites.
“We’d like to thank growers for working with us at those sites to get the crop in.”
On top of higher site throughput than anticipated, Mr Capper said wet weather had disrupted operations at many receival sites.
He said headers were forced to stop several times across the Esperance, Albany and Kwinana zones due to consistent rain events.
“The 2017-18 harvest was punctuated by frequent short periods of wet weather, which was frustrating for growers,” Mr Capper said.
“Albany received 33pc of its crop on Saturdays and Sundays – that’s an indication of how stop-start it was.
“We have moisture management options within the system but a lot of growers – particularly in the Esperance zone – also use silo bags to manage moisture prior to delivery.
“It’s also about us co-ordinating with the growers and ensuring that we know when harvest is going to restart again so we’ve got staff on site, the sites are open and we’ve got the right services in place to take the crop when they’re ready go again.”
Mr Capper said further challenges were presented by very low harvest shipping, which mounted pressure on sites close to full capacity.
As of the beginning this week, less than 3mt has been outloaded since November 1, 2017.
He said a record harvest in the Black Sea region had increased competition into Australia’s most prominent markets and decreased demand for Australian grain throughout the harvest period.
“Normally we see Black Sea (wheat) competing against the WA crop in the July through to October period but this year that extended through November, December and even into January so the wheat demand just wasn’t there and that dragged down our harvest shipping this year,” Mr Capper said.
He said the shipping program remained under pressure into the new year, with lower than normal exports out of Geraldton and Kwinana ports.
“Esperance and Albany are quite strongly booked and they’re moving grain fairly consistently but Kwinana and Geraldton are below where we’d expect them to be as far as demand goes and we’re certainly hoping that through March and into the middle of the year that picks up,” Mr Capper said.
“We certainly think as we move into late February/March that we should start to see a clearer run into southeast Asia and our more traditional markets.”