A lot of the art of running a grain carting business is all about bringing two contradictory imperatives together. On the one hand the supply of grain from the paddock is extremely cyclical. The supply is full on for a certain period of the year and then there is nothing.
On the other hand, the demand for the finished products like flour or malt is consistent all year round. Customers need a guaranteed supply at all times to meet the demand for their products. The two competing elements are both the issue for and the reason for the existence of the operation. Castlemac Traders (CMT) in Narromine also carts chickpeas, wheat, lupins for human consumption and barley for malting in China as part of the Agrigrain business.
Agrigrain store around 140,000 tonnes of grain at the Narromine facility, with the same again at the Coonamble site. At the time of Diesel News’ visit the facilities had been absolutely at their storage limit a couple of months previous, but already 65,000 tonnes had been shipped out. This was being topped up with grain flowing in from on-farm storage to keep the supply moving.
A lot of farmers put their grain into storage and wait on the market, and sell when the conditions and the prices are right. 2017 has seen a lot of grain being stored wherever it can, after the particularly big harvest kept prices low.
“We started in trucks back in 1998,” says Peter Parslow, Castlemac Traders Operations Manager and Freight Coordinator. “CMT was formed as the transport division of Agrigrain. They are a seed business and grain trader, so we needed trucks to cart our own seed. We had had some people cart some seed for us and it had got contaminated.
“The transport division has got to pay its own way, we have to make our own profit, even if we are hauling our own company’s product most of the time. We bring all of the grain into Narromine, which has to be consolidated and packed into containers. The grain comes in to be stored in silos, ready to be packed into containers and shipped out by train, to the port.
When the pressure is on for CMT, the two sites are capable of packing up to 60 containers a day, if required. There are three trains a week out of Narromine alone, with each train carrying 58 containers. The company’s biggest problem is getting empty containers out to Narromine to be filled. CMT struggle with an issue that is reflected nationwide, empty containers in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“The train pulls in next to our yard and we can strip a train and load it again in less than three hours,” says Peter. “We use one big Yardmaster reach stacker, which puts on the full ones. Then we have two seven-tonne forklifts to take off all of the empties.
“Sometimes, if we are pushed for empties, we may have to take twenty or so off at a time. Then we pack them and put them back on, loaded. When we load a train it can go to any of three ports in Sydney. It can go to either Patricks, Hutchison or DP World, so the containers have to be in the correct position on the train.
“Our bottleneck is empty containers, and at the same time they are complaining about sending empty containers out of the country. The problem is a lot of the containers have got to be food grade, because they will come in as general purpose, but they have to be cleaned properly to bring them up to food grade.”
To complement the grain and seed work, CMT also handle fertiliser back out to the rural areas, after hauling grain to the coast. The trucks in the fleet do handle about 95 per cent of Agrigrain’s haulage work. CMT also take on work for outside operations to keep the wheels turning all year round and fill in the gaps.