OPINION: Grain on rail gives us bang for buck

Wally NewmanThe West Australian
One of the last trains to use the Tier 3 narrow gauge track between Narambeen and Merredin.
Camera IconOne of the last trains to use the Tier 3 narrow gauge track between Narambeen and Merredin. Credit: Mogens Johansen

Rail is essential to both lower costs and meet carbon neutral targets.

National Farmers Federation has an objective of “farm energy sources to be 50 per cent renewable by 2030 and for agriculture to be trending towards carbon neutral by the same year”.

Without a doubt, rail has the greatest potential of reducing the carbon footprint in Australian Grain Production than any other area of the grain supply chain from paddock to port. Grain production is a renewable resource and will be around forever, unlike mining which is a limited resource with limited life span.

Capital spent on rail can have a very long benefit for government and community.

Former CBH board chair Wally Newman on the farm in Newdegate.
Camera IconFormer CBH board chair Wally Newman on the farm in Newdegate. Credit: Cally Dupe

In 2004, a report from the United States claimed rail to be 17 times more energy efficient than road transport in its supply chain.

In the 1980s — to produce 3000 tonnes of grain — we used 60,000 litres of fuel, and to cart all the grain to port by road 360km with our truck, we used another 60,000 litres of fuel.

With minimum till farming practices and a reasonable year we now produce 15,000 tonnes of grain and still only use 60,000 litres of fuel.

If we were to cart that grain to port with the same truck equivalents we would need 300,000 litres of fuel, plus five times the number of trucks, tyres and drivers.

The Federal Government has as a priority an Emissions Reduction Fund of $3.5 billion in investment to deliver Australia’s 2030 Paris climate commitments.

On ABC Radio last Friday, it was quoted that: “The European Union has adopted new targets to cut carbon emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030, and that by the year 2035 no internal combustion engines would be produced there”.

This coming harvest — as has happened in many recent harvests — there will not have been enough road trucks or rail capacity to meet the demand for shipping. It has been a very expensive exercise with huge demurrage costs as a consequence.

In the past, CBH has had an excellent turnaround for shipping with demurrage costs very rare.

On the east coast, in past years there have been discounts on grain prices from $20 to $40 a tonne compared to the same grain here.

This is as a consequence of the inefficiencies in that grain supply chain.

This is an indication of the costs we could incur should we not improve the grain supply chain to port.

We do not need road transport carting grain where it can be put on rail. CBH has always prioritised rail over road in the past, with up to 80 per cent going on rail.

The shortage of road transport, the impact it has on our roads, the inefficiencies compared to rail, and the impact it has on our communities and other road users makes capital spent on rail a no-brainer for directors, management and government.

We must give some credit to our State Government for the regional forums on WA Agricultural Supply Chain Improvements, which will start in Geraldton on July 22 and end in Esperance on August 3.

To register, visit mysaytransport.wa.gov.au.

Every grower should consider seriously attending one of these forums.

Your CBH board, management and the Government need to hear from you if you want to keep grain on rail as the least cost pathway to port, including tier 3 rail, and do our bit to lower the grain carbon footprint for all Australians.

Forum Dates and Times

Thursday, July 22: 12-2pm, Geraldton (Batavia Coast Conference Centre)

Monday, July 26: 11-1pm, Wagin (Eric Farrow Pavilion)

Monday, July 26: 5-7pm, Merredin (Merredin Community and Leisure Centre)

Tuesday, July 27: 12-2pm, Dalwallinu (Dalwallinu Recreation Centre)

Tuesday, July 27: 5-7pm, Northam (Bridgeley Community Centre)

Thursday, July 29: 12-2pm, Albany (Master Builders WA, Albany)

Tuesday, August 3: 12-2pm, Esperance (Noel White Pavilion)

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