Navigating through a COVID harvest
By Nicholas Robertson
As Australian farmers prepare for another harvest, this one has a feel of something different about it as the world and Australia grapples with a global pandemic. After Australia looked to have things under control, recent virus surges have again put the agriculture industry (and most other industries) deep into uncharted waters. As I write today, Victoria has declared a state of disaster and NSW and QLD are dealing with clusters and watch their own numbers with nervousness. With this year’s crop progressing along well in many parts and the expectation that grain will be heading to port in a big way, preparation for harvest logistics will be even more important than ever.
After the first global lockdown, markets watched as food and energy saw massive demand reduction as a result of people not traveling or eating out. Some of this demand showed signs of recovery, but with the current resurgence in cases domestically and internationally and the reinstated workplace and industry shutdowns, the demand destruction for some commodities will not be recovering anytime soon. Australia is optimistic on the prospects of a bumper season for grain production and the expectation is that this will mean an increased export program. With the uncertainty over demand and an increased local supply, this may not bode well for commodity markets heading into harvest.
When you spend close to the whole year growing the crop, harvest planning and logistics can be the icing on the cake if you can get it right. This year will be no different and will require extra attention with lockdowns, driving permits and social distancing probably now part of the equation. For cities and states that are in lockdown, this puts a heightened risk on travelling additional distance required especially heading into denser populations. As we approach the 20/21 harvest, heading to your local bulk handler might be the best option this season with current market pricing confirming appetite for premium rail sites. Staying in your own community for harvest delivery may be the best plan should tighter restrictions continue. Contactless delivery of grain is now an option available at some delivery sites , which ensures staff and truck drivers can remain safely socially distanced. For the upcoming harvest, drivers can submit a delivery ticket into AWB GrainFlow site via the Grower Delivery App for a more contactless delivery by allowing testing and weighing of grain to be completed with drivers staying in their truck.
Further to the above, the agricultural community has already expressed concerns on getting labour with backpackers not able to enter the country. Harvest logistics at border crossings for a number of states will pose an issue, with permits required to cross borders and potential wait times that need to be considered during harvest.
For a harvest that some growers have waited years for, its feel like this one will be like no other. In any good business there has always been a good plan. Harvest 20/21 will be no different except it may require a little more thought than just dusting off last year’s plan, as the one thing that is for certain this virus will continue to throw curveballs at us all.
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