Bigger crops a chance to expand storage

By Bree Swift
December 5 2021 - 11:00pm
CBH Group acting chief executive Ben Macnamara was a guest speaker at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development agricultural industry update last Wednesday.

FORECASTING to 2030, the CBH Group is setting itself up for this year's record 20.5 million tonne harvest which it believes in the future could be the average for Western Australian farmers.

As of November 28 more than 9.1 million tonnes of grain had been delivered to its supply network.

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Speaking at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) agricultural industry update last month, CBH acting chief executive Ben Macnamara said the co-operative was facing the large task of adding "at least" another 5mt of capacity to its network.

Sitting on a five-year receival average of 14.5mt of grain, Mr Macnamara said yields had generally been better than expected ahead of this year's harvest and that he saw the subsequent impact on both CBH's storage and outloading capacity as an opportunity for the group.

"We've built 2.1mt of emergency storage on top of about 400,000t of permanent (storage) and there is probably more to go into the system," Mr Macnamara said.

He said the group planned to increase its outloading capacity by 600,000t per month, past its record of 1.64mt achieved in December last year, to reach 2.2mt.

"To put that into consideration, down in Kwinana we ship about 600,000t every month out of the terminal there," Mr Macnamara said.

As part of efforts to achieve this target, the co-operative is upgrading its rail sidings and loading facilities at Moora, Brookton, Broomehill and Cranbrook, with the State government earmarking $22m for the projects earlier this year.

The four upgrades are expected to add about 100,000t of additional capacity to the network per month.

Addressing the skilled worker crisis within the agricultural industry, Mr Macnamara said the upgrades to rail loading infrastructure at the four sites would help create a better work/life balance for truck drivers.

"Those sites may be far more sympathetic to the truck drivers in allowing them to base themselves there, so that they can drive a shorter distance and hub through those sites," Mr Macnamara said

"That means they can have a family that's based in that local town, they might have a depot, they might have a maintenance team as well.

"Ultimately, what we would like to see is that those truck drivers can end up at Broomehill at the end of the day and have a more consistent work/life balance, meaning that they don't need to live in a truck the whole time."

With the mining industry paying lucrative wages to attract workers, he also acknowledged that appropriate wages needed to be paid to truck drivers to ensure there were enough to get WA's grain to port.

Reflecting on the past 18 months, Mr Macnamara said the pandemic had highlighted how vulnerable some supply chains were to what would historically be perceived as immaterial elements.

He said for example, they were exposed to various shipping challenges and "that is something I think all industries identified over the past 12 -18 months".

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