AN impromptu meeting was held for local farmers around Robertstown and Eudunda last Thursday, following bulk handling company, Viterra’s, announcement it has closed several grain silos and bunkers.
The meeting was organised by local farmer Simon Niemz, and attended by around 20 farmers at the now closed Robertstown silos, who spoke of their concerns moving forward after this announcement.
“We needed to get farmers together, not only to chat to each other but express how this will affect us to the media, which will hopefully evoke a reaction from Viterra,” Mr Niemz said, who runs a property at World’s End.
Viterra announced 11 sites, including Robertstown, that haven’t opened for a year or more, will not open in the 2019/20 harvest and will not play a future role in the Viterra network.
The other 10 sites are Long Plains, Redhill, Orroroo, Stockwell, Wunkar, Alawoona, Cungena, Waddikee, Kielpa, Wharminda.
This is in addition to six sites that were open last year but will also not open in the 2019/20 harvest and beyond – Brinkworth, Paskeville, Millicent, Walpeup, Minnipa and Kyancutta.
The future of these sites will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The Robertstown closure means farmers will have to travel for hours to deposit grain to other sites, with the only option to go to Eudunda or Roseworthy.
“The Eudunda site will not handle the influx of grain, therefore we will have to travel to Roseworthy which has a four-hour turnaround,” Mr Niemz said.
“With a lack of transport trucks in this region, it will be extremely difficult for farmers to find options to cart, along with adding transport costs which farmers can’t afford while they are still suffering the effects of drought.
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“The closure would easily cost farmers an extra $10 per tonne of grain freight, adding up to $25,000 per year,” he said.
Viterra operations manager, Michael Hill, said it is making changes to its site footprint which reflect the changing delivery patterns of growers and the changing environment, and is looking at providing customers with the most sustainable and efficient supply chain.
“Based on a five year average, these sites represent less than two per cent of total receivals,” Mr Hill said.
“To best meet the changing needs of growers, Viterra’s investment is focused on its larger sites where it can provide the highest level of service to growers.
“This includes the ability to handle all truck configurations, segregation options, elevation capacity, turnaround times, opening hours, infrastructure and staffing.
“Since 2010, we have spent more than $350 million on capital projects and maintenance and we continue to invest $40 million in our supply chain each year, targeted to where it will have the greatest impact and benefit for growers,” Mr Hill said.
While local farmers understand the previous closure due to the drought, they are concerned what will happen in the future when the drought shifts and the supply is increased.
“We understand past closures due to the drought, but soon enough the drought will break and then what?” Mr Niemz said.
“We will have to invest in extra farm storage, and who will pay for the damaged crops we can’t reap because we don’t have the storage?”
Simon Schmidt, who farms at Robertstown and Burra, also raised concerns about extra freight trucks on the road.
“Having a lot more trucks travelling to and from Roseworthy is not ideal with the roads already unsafe,” Mr Schmidt said.
“Viterra will be responsible if someone is killed on the roads because of this.”
“We can harvest for around 10 hours per day, then will have to make time to make the 180km round trip to Roseworthy – this is just lethal.”
While local farmers are concerned with the future of their farming, Viterra is not fazed by the recent decision.
“Viterra plans to open 67 sites across South Australia for the 2019/20 harvest (compared with 73 in 2018/19) with no changes to the overall provision of storage capacity and segregations for the major crops grown in South Australia,” Mr Hill said. “We have released our preliminary segregation plan for the 2019/20 harvest to assist growers with their harvest planning.”
“We are very confident about the future of the grain industry in South Australia and the important role we play in connecting growers with end-users.
“We will continue to invest in our people, infrastructure and services to provide most value to customers safely and sustainably.”
Total storage capacity of Viterra remains at approximately 10 million tonnes as it continues to invest in additional storage capacity at its major sites.
In the last four years, Viterra has added more than one million tonnes of storage capacity to its network, with new bunkers being built at Cummins, Snowtown and Roseworthy ahead of this year’s harvest.
Local farmers hope to set up a meeting with both the Robertstown and Eudunda silo committees and a representative from Viterra to voice their concerns and get some answers.
“After two and a half years of drought, this will definitely affect the mental state of people – essentially they have been kicked while they are already down,” Mr Niemz said.
“The little person needs to stand up, hopefully they can think of something to accommodate everyone.”
• Pictured: Local farmers gathered to raise their concerns following the announcement of the closure of the Robertstown silos.