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Pacific National is geared up for this year's bumper harvest, quite literally.
The major rail freight company expects to haul up to one million tonnes of grain each month, with approximately 410 return services between major grain receival sites and the ports/processing plants.
Pacific National chief executive officer Dean Dalla Valle said to get ready for the expected record harvest they had rapidly mobilised 400 people, put on 60 freight locomotives and 1300 grain wagons.
Mr Dalla Valle was speaking from their partner GrainCorp's Junee receival site on Thursday, on a visit with the Pacific National executive team to see first hand the challenge that was ahead of them.
Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle and GrainCorp COO Klaus Pamminger at GrainCorp's Junee receival site.
"We have to be agile, we have to be prepared and we think that we're up for it," Mr Dalla Valle said.
"We've learnt a lot of lessons out of what happened in 2016 (the last bumper harvest), we've had long discussions with GrainCorp to make sure we understand the movements, volumes and timings to ensure we can do it the most efficient way possible."
Last year drought in NSW had meant Pacific National were mostly hauling grain to the Junee receival site from other states, including South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, to supply the domestic market.
This year, the set up looks a little different.
"It's all about picking up the grain here and taking it to the ports," Mr Dalla Valle said.
GrainCorp chief operating officer Klaus Pamminger agreed that the focus on export was logistically a key difference between this season and last.
"We're sending it to our ports, from here to Port Kembla or Newcastle in the north and Geelong in the south, to make sure we get the grain on the vessels and service our customers in Asia and the Middle East," Mr Pamminger said.
A truck unloads canola at the Junee GrainCorp receival site.
For GrainCorp this harvest represents the first real test of their infrastructure since significant investment went into the network, especially at their country sites.
"There's no doubt in northern NSW and southern NSW we will be testing our capability and capacity," Mr Pamminger said.
"So far everything's performing well, we're setting daily records on receivals and the feedback we're getting is very positive."
Mr Pamminger, who estimated they were about a third of the way through harvest, admitted that there would always be some bottlenecks in the system and gave examples of new dual weigh bridges, and double sided sample stands as ways they had tried to remove them.
"This year we also brought on some new stacker equipment and drive over hoppers, so we continue investing in our network on a annual basis," he said.
Start-stop beginning of harvest at JuneeAt Junee, site manager Jeremy Kelleher said the beginning of harvest had been a very start-stop affair.
"We got going, had a weather delay, got going, had another weather delay," Mr Kelleher said.
"Everyone's crops are at varying stages, usually they're all about the same, but this year we've found some people are even still windrowing, while others have finished their canola and are getting onto barley.
"Usually we've seen the bulk of the canola and barley before we start the wheat but I think this year it will be all happening at the same time unfortunately."
GrainCorp Junee site manager Jeremy Kelleher said it had been a stop-start beginning of harvest in the region with weather delays and crops at various stages of maturity.
However, one advantage of the slow start was it had given Mr Kelleher and his team some breathing space to train up their casual recruits and get new practices, brought in due to COVID-19, down pat.
"We try and get in a lot of people from the start, overstaff even, we buddy up, getting people in little groups learning the ropes from the full-time guys," Mr Kelleher said.
"Every harvest is different so it's going to have it's different challenges but we've got a fair bit of experience on site which is great, one of our guys have been here for 42 years."
COVID-19 has meant the days of truck drivers having a yarn in the sample stand are largely gone, with a maximum two people allowed in at the one time.
While, instead of passing around a clipboard to identify a truck's commodity and quality to determine where they're going - drivers hold up signs from the cab.
"We've worked around it pretty well and everyone's pretty happy with how it's going so far," Mr Kelleher said.
He expected that they would be going until after Christmas this year, working 24/7 operations when needed.
While, Pacific National are expecting their grain hauling program to continue for up to a year given the volumes seen already this harvest.
This article first appeared on www.theland.com.au
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