GrainCorp snaps back at Kembla truck talk


GrainCorp has taken a hefty swing at critics following the granting of Planning Assessment Commission alterations to 24/7 operations and tonnage limits at its Port Kembla terminal. The issue is a sidelight to the a greater problem facing grain logistics that has been masked over the past decade by the effects on harvest volumes of prolonged drought and the running down of grain-related rail services and infrastructure in NSW. GrainCorp has gained more permanent approval of changes instituted to deal with last year’s record harvest, one that may be topped in this harvest.

By Rob McKay | December 12, 2011

GrainCorp has taken a hefty swing at critics following the granting of Planning Assessment Commission alterations to 24/7 operations and tonnage limits at its Port Kembla terminal.

The issue is a sidelight to the a greater problem facing grain logistics that has been masked over the past decade by the effects on harvest volumes of prolonged drought and the running down of grain-related rail services and infrastructure in NSW.

GrainCorp has gained more permanent approval of changes instituted to deal with last year’s record harvest, one that is not expected to be topped for this harvest.

Along with continuous opening, the annual road receival tonnage limit will rise from 200,000 to 500,000 tonnes.

Critics in local Wollongong media have claimed the changes will mean 200 extra trucks a day on already congested roads and have questioned the approval process.

GrainCorp spokesman David Ginns rounded on the claims, describing them as "hysterical", "erroneous" and "incorrect", especially relating to the amount of control the agribusiness is said to have over transport issues.

He says
GrainCorp did not expect to regularly test the limit.

"Once in 25 years we’ve got close to the ceiling, which was during the course of this year," Ginns says.

"That indicates changes to the structure of the industry since 2008 and the structure of the rail sector."

Added to this was competition regulations that meant agribusinesses with control over terminals are unable to discriminate between exporters due to mode of transport.

Ginns says the a slot-system for trucks and a marshalling yard in the port precinct would actually make the impact of operations less concentrated at particular times and therefore less noticeable to the public.

Meanwhile, there were now fewer grain train "rakes" available – "about half what it used to be" – than before 2007.

In that year, Pacific National, which had bought the state-owned rail firm FreightCorp, was unhitched from its community service obligation to keep to the government’s level of service.

Rural councils in grain-growing areas throughout the state have warned the NSW Government for years that the that lack of upkeep, let alone investment, in grain lines would lead to increased truck usage of underfunded and deteriorating country road networks.

Such concerns have been met with the response that such spending was uneconomic, especially given low harvest yields.

A similar problem is being faced in Western Australia.

Last Monday’s December quarter crop report by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) forecast a record grain harvest on the back of WA’s near doubling of volumes.

If realised, this will make it the third year in a row of harvests above 40 million tonnes, though ABARES noted that NSW wheat would likely be down 22 percent on last year’s record, to 8.3 million tonnes.

Asked how his members were bearing up under the strain of such massive numbers, Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Executive Director Philip Halton replied: "In a nutshell, they are working like mad!"

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