A memorable year in grains

Wally Newman, Newdegate farmer and CBH board memberCountryman

For the grains industry, 2011 had and still has the potential to be the best year on record for production.

Unfortunately, it has not been even across the State and although some areas have been exceptionally productive, such as around Geraldton, others such as Salmon Gums and Southern Cross struggled.

Overall it was a year to remember for most growers, whether it be exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, they'll still remember 2011.

In terms of CBH, 2011 was the year the structure was cemented down after 15 years of looking at it.

CBH's tax exempt status, also in conjecture since 2000, was validated by the Federal Court of Australia.

The tendering of the rail contract on the international stage to find the best options for rail services and electing Watco as a partner in operating CBH's own train sets was a big leap forward for the WA industry.

And, finally, CBH was able to offer growers load averaging.

Growers have been talking about load averaging since I was a boy and now we've got quality optimisation.

The major hurdles of 2011 probably centred on managing the risks associated with the weather and the season. They're there every year, although the new one is marketing grain and fluctuating prices for commodities.

It doesn't matter if they're input or output prices, if you get it wrong, it's can be the difference between making a profit and not making a profit for the year.

One of the biggest issues of the year was the grain on rail debate and I can see that remaining a huge issue, possibly even be an election issue.

I don't think it will go away and in the long term it probably will be in the best interests of the State and the nation to find a solution.

I also believe there is still room to extract more out of the supply chain to give back to growers.

Some of that can be done with automation, both on the farm and within CBH.

An example of that is the new train sets. Their loading is fully automated and we need to be able to replicate that in other areas of the industry.

Going forward, agriculture is looking better and better.

Since I was at agriculture school in the 1960s, there has always been talk about the world running out of food.

I haven't seen that happen yet but the world is in a lot of turmoil and food security is a significant issue.

As this continues, I can foresee the average family probably spending a larger percentage of their income on food than they have in the last 30 to 40 years.

That being said, agriculture and the grains industry are not without their challenges.

For some farmers, the big hurdle will simply be getting access to finance for this year.

From talking to growers, some are hoping 2012 will be a really good year so they can get out of the industry, which is unfortunate and it's not good for our rural communities.

But they see it as an opportunity to consolidate and get out with something that's worth having, rather than carrying on and risking their money all over again.

Overall, the WA industry has coped very well with the financial situation many growers found themselves in during 2010. Agriculture, and grains in particular, has got a future and it's looking very promising in WA.

On a personal note 2011 was a good year for me, although testing at times. It's not our best but it's been an above-average season.

In 2012, I'm hoping to do less work and let the young bloke do more.

We'll just keep going with our usual program, with roughly 50 per cent sheep and 50 per cent cropping.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails