October 19, 2011


Australian farmers aiming for the best grain harvest



Australia's southeast farmers are all set to shape one of the best grain harvests in years.


Canola harvest in the Riverina and Victoria's Mallee is expected to begin next week, with wheat to follow by the middle of next month.


Following last year's nightmare harvest, when rain caused long delays and crop downgrade, farmers have spent millions of dollars on new and used harvesters and handling equipment in a bid to get this season's crop off as quick as possible.


However, the big spending spree to increase harvesting capacity has growers worried that bulk handlers will not be able to cope with an expected rush of grain deliveries to storages.


Hampering the problem, lots of storages in Victoria and NSW still carry large amounts of last year's crop.


Labelling this year's harvest as near bumper, Victorian Farmers Federation grains group vice-president Peter Tuohey said that growers had geared themselves up to harvest the grain crop quickly but were worried industries like GrainCorp, Viterra and AWB GrainFlow would be unable to handle such big deliveries.


Recent rain, lifts growers' yield prospects, with better than average crops expected in Victoria, South Australia and many parts of New South Wales.


Increased sales of new grain harvesters and silo equipment have been made to ensure there's no repeat of the last harvest when wet weather downgraded the crop before it was stripped.


Machinery dealers report they had almost sold out of second hand harvesters as growers snap them up as soon as traded by others for new equipment.


Mr Tuohey, a Pyramid Hill farmer and a member of the Grains Logistics Taskforce, said the rain three weeks ago, came just in time for most growers.


"We are not far off a bumper crop in Victoria. Though there are some patchy areas around where mice did some damage" he said.


Case IH dealer O'Connors reported "excellent" sales of new harvesters, saying it could have sold more if stock was available.


While not disclosing how many had been sold, the industry was rife with talk O'Connors had sold 80 new machines this year. Group sales manager David Hair said the company had sold 60 second hand harvesters from trade-ins.


AGCO harvest product manager Marcus Paul said it had been a "very busy" season. "We've launched a new Gleaner back in May and we only bought in a select amount of machines. We've sold all of them and they're being delivered," Paul said.


In southwest New South Wales, growers said poor quality grain left over in storages from last year and potentially the best crop in a decade had prompted them to build their own receival site in the region.


A Riverina farmer, who did not wish to be named, said he and some other farmers were so worried about the extent of storage problems they were considering setting up their own storage co-operative.


It was believed that farmers who sought to be part of the co-operative would be asked to fork out tens of thousands of dollars both before and after harvest to fund the storage facility. The farmer said major grain handlers were extending facilities, but there were fears this would not be enough.


New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Hillston agronomist Barry Haskins said the problem had been exacerbated by local growers planting more crop than normal this year.


"Traditionally there's about 30% of this region in fallow, but that has slipped down to 5% this year," he said.


GrainCorp corporate relations manager David Ginns said the company was building temporary bunker storage at a number of sites in southwest New South Wales.


Mr Ginns said GrainCorp realised there was going to be a lot of pressure on at harvest and it was likely to have a lot more receival sites open 24 hours at times this season.


"We need to be flexible," he said.

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