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Since 2017, almost five million tonnes of grain has been shipped from WA to the east coast, with most of it arriving in Queensland to feed cattle, pigs, and chickens — markets which would usually be filled with local grain.
Graincorp Northern Supply Chain Manager, Josh Connell said this year was the first chance for most farmers in southern Queensland to grow a crop since 2016 so it was exciting to see just under 2,000 tonnes of grain, ideal for breadmakers, come from its Thallon site.
"The quality has been awesome. We are seeing a lot more protein than what everyone expected, so that's been fantastic," he said.
"Screenings have been low, and test weights have been high, it's clean, it's bright, it's beautiful.
"We will be accumulating it for a number of vessels, but most likely it will be heading to South-East Asia."
While quality had been impressive. The size of the Queensland crop was not.
"Unfortunately, Queensland is not to the level that we had hoped. There was a really promising start at the beginning of the season [and] unfortunately there was no follow-up, in crop, rain," Mr Connell said.
Western Australian grain the saviour during drought, but at a priceDuring the drought years, the Graincorp's Port of Brisbane site was kept busy handling grain imports from Western Australia.
Chief Economist at the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre, Professor Ross Kingwell, said, at times, the east coast took up to 20 per cent of WA's crop.
"The domestic market for grain became the main market for the export of grain out of WA," he said.
It meant wheat that would normally go to countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and China, instead went to the east coast of Australia.
"When you have severe drought in eastern Australia, and there are attractive prices on offer then a large volume of the grain from WA heads east," Professor Kingwell said.
"In some of those years, the prices WA grain growers received meant that the rates of return to capital were the highest they had received in the last 20 years."
A new grain train is being filled at Thallon in south west Queensland.(Supplied: Graincorp)Domestic shipping costs double that of international routesProfessor Kingwell said the cost of coastal shipping [sending ships domestically] added to the high grain cost for New South Wales and Queensland.
"Coastal shipping rates are much higher than international freight rates because of the requirement that any coastal ships have Australian labour on board," he said.
"If I had to move a container of grain from the port of Fremantle in WA, I could send that container of grain to Rotterdam in the Netherlands for $40 a tonne.
"I could send the same container of grain from Fremantle via coastal shipping to Sydney, and it would cost me $75 a tonne."
Unloading grain at export facility posed challengesThe Graincorp site on Fisherman's Island at the Port of Brisbane does not usually handle imports of bulk grain.
Port operations manager, Jason Hare said special equipment had to be hired to get the WA wheat off the bulk carriers.
"We engaged some contractors who brought, onto the port, hydraulic bucket grabs that lift the wheat out of the ships' compartments and crane it into hoppers," he said.
"Semitrailer trucks then fill with the grain from the hopper and move it to our terminal where it is then stored until it is put onto more trucks and sent to the market."
Mr Hare said at the peak of operations, Graincorp loaded more than 200 trucks a day to send in all directions across Queensland and NSW.
"It's been a busy two and a half years," he said.
"The team did a fantastic job of learning how to reverse a supply chain and do it efficiently."
In September, ABARES predicted the Queensland grain harvest to be around 1.7 million tonnes, which is 4 per cent below the 10-year average to 2019–20.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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