Drought forces GrainCorp to import wheat to east coast of Australia

It was an unusual sight to see cranes start to unload around 33,000 tonne of wheat at Port Kembla’s GrainCorp terminal on Friday rather than load it for export.

IMPRESSIVE: One of many trucks to leave Port Kembla filled with about 30 tonne of imported grain from Western Australia, bound for NSW farms. Picture: Desiree Savage

IMPRESSIVE: One of many trucks to leave Port Kembla filled with about 30 tonne of imported grain from Western Australia, bound for NSW farms. Picture: Desiree Savage

The big dry sweeping the country has meant West Australian wheat normally sent overseas has needed to be imported to the east to keep up with local demand.

The producer’s 2018/19 harvest has so far only netted around 600,000 tonnes of grain, compared to 4.5 million tonne the previous year and nearly 10 million tonne after the 2016/17 harvest.

Graincorp port operations manager Stephanie Jurd said they were in the same boat as other grain producers, but thankfully WA had had a fairly successful harvest.

“In NSW it’s probably 25 per cent of what we’d normally get and that’s mainly the southern regions of NSW rather than the north,” Ms Jurd said.

“We had to act quickly to reverse our supply chain to be able to unload these vessels, rather than load them up.”

The last time this happened was more than 10 years ago during the Millenium drought.

The current shipment of loose grain, worth around $13 million, is the fourth to make its way to the east in the past 12 months – some vessels carrying up to 53,000 tonne.

Ms Jurd said more will need to be imported as the effects of the drought will be seen for months to come. The state’s next harvest won’t be ready until October.

Graincorp port operations manager Stephanie Jurd in front of a ship full of loose grain being unloaded at Port Kembla. A a ship being loaded at Port Kembla takes around two days, to unload a ship at the same port, takes up to 10 days and is weather dependant. Picture: Desiree Savage

Graincorp port operations manager Stephanie Jurd in front of a ship full of loose grain being unloaded at Port Kembla. A a ship being loaded at Port Kembla takes around two days, to unload a ship at the same port, takes up to 10 days and is weather dependant. Picture: Desiree Savage

Usually the eastern states produce enough grain for GrainCorp to satisfy their Australian demand, with 100 per cent of grain from Western Australia sent to places like Asia or the Middle East.

The past 12 months have been incredibly dry for the eastern states with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting the trend to continue.

BOM manager of long range forecasts Dr Andrew Watkins said the first few months of 2019 look dry, especially in central NSW.

A crane "grabs" the loose grain from the ship and drops it to either trucks or train wagon at Port Kembla. Each grab of the crane taking around 9 tonne each time. Picture: Desire Svagae

A crane "grabs" the loose grain from the ship and drops it to either trucks or train wagon at Port Kembla. Each grab of the crane taking around 9 tonne each time. Picture: Desire Svagae

“There’s an increased chance of having dryer than normal conditions,” he said.

“Unfortunately the warm conditions – the chance of heat waves –remains at very high odds of having above normal daytime and nighttime temperatures.”

GrainCorp focuses on three core grains (wheat, barley and canola) with operations in Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe.