WESTERN Australia's record 24 million tonne grain harvest was an outstanding result and highlighted the value and importance of the industry to the State's economy.
It also highlighted the urgent need for investment in Western Australia's transport infrastructure to get the grain to port as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The best - and usually most profitable time - to ship and market WA grain is in the first half of the year before the northern hemisphere harvest takes place.
Hungry markets need grain and WA grain can bring a premium early in the year.
When getting grain from the farmer's paddock to the flour mill in Indonesia or Egypt, the pinch point in the pipeline is the task of getting grain from upcountry storage facilities to port.
And pinch points, or delays, cost growers money.
With surging world prices in the first half of this year, if more WA wheat was available to take advantage of this, it would have meant more dollars in the pockets of growers.
Recognising this need, the previous Federal and the WA governments invested $200 million in joint Commonwealth ($160m) and State ($40m) funding through the Agricultural Supply Chain Improvement (ASCI) program in the State-owned rail and road networks.
CBH is also investing a further $200m in its network to get more tonnes to port and do it earlier in the year.
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti has outlined the investment of $22m for four rail siding extensions for CBH grain bins at Moora, Brookton, Cranbrook and Broomehill, $46m for seven additional grain rail siding upgrades at Avon, Kellerberrin, Dowerin, Konnongorring, Ballidu, Mingenew and Perenjori North and $60m for upgrading the Midland line from 16 tonne axle loading (TAL) to 19 TAL between Carnamah and Mingenew.
All are much needed and will be complemented by investment from CBH in upgrades to its network, which will make the grain flow faster to port.
The final $72m is tagged for the "Southern Wheatbelt region towards the progressive recommissioning of the Narrogin-Kulin rail line and associated works to service grain and other potential customers in the Narrogin-Wickepin area."
Sounds promising, but there is a catch.
"The first stage of this project will be a study to assess the most useful way to make this investment for the benefit of all potential freight users and the community."
Earlier in the media release trumpeting the ASCI funding, the government said, "the projects to be funded have been determined in close consultation with CBH, rail network manager Arc Infrastructure, grower groups and local government".
Except, apparently, the Kulin line.
For that we need another study.
Which means another delay.
Ms Saffioti should fast track additional work on the network that will get grain to port quicker.
I'm sure CBH and Bunge and the other smaller grain handlers have outlined where the issues are.
There are other "potential freight users" on the Kulin line - why weren't they included in the initial "close consultation"?
What has the minister been waiting for?
Get the best bang for the buck - invest the ASCI funds, or at least make firm commitments to do so, and then go back to the Commonwealth demanding further ASCI money.
It would be a difficult conversation, even for a State Labor transport minister talking to a Federal Labor government, to ask for more money when WA is still doing studies on how to spend the first round of funding.
The Albanese government has many mouths to feed, including Labor premiers who are envious of WA's iron ore royalties and GST deal.
The grain freight task is growing.
Predictions are that by the 2030s 24 million tonnes will be closer to the average than a once-in-a-lifetime bumper event.
Hectares continue to swing from livestock to grain, particularly in WA's higher rainfall areas.
Varieties yield more and have a better disease resistance profile, fertiliser and other inputs are better targeted and growers continue to get more grain for every millimetre of rain.
Obviously, the increase in crop size will not be a steady rise.
Graingrowers know all too well that a dry season or heavy frost could be just around the corner.
But the trend is clear.
WA growers will produce larger crops and its freight network has to be up to the task.
Don't hold up the $72m investment that is parked waiting for further studies.
As growers have discovered, delays cost money.
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