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Custom grain auger delivers mainline loading from Hunter farm

The Australian Rail Track Corporation says it has executed its first ‘direct from farm’ mainline train loading event at Milguy in northern New South Wales’ grain belt, thanks to an innovative loading solution.

The ARTC says the innovative mainline loading solution is the first of its kind on the Hunter network.

Through the use of a customised grain auger, the ARTC says it has slashed freight costs for a large local farmer, and demonstrated the kind of flexibility being explored by ARTC in the rail industry.

“This week we have had trains literally arrive at the farm gate loaded direct from the paddock to the wagon,” ARTC executive general manager for the Hunter Valley Jonathan Vandervoort said.

“This has all come about thanks to some local ingenuity and a close working relationship between farmer and the supply chain – and as result we will see tens of thousands of tonnes of farm produce loaded direct from the paddock into the wagon.”

The farm in question belongs to the Boolah Partnership, which predominantly grows broad acre crops producing barley, wheat, sorghum, legumes and cotton.

The ARTC said the Partnership has invested extensively in local farm storage and loading facilities enabling them to directly load into grain wagons at a rate of around 600 tonnes an hour with a custom grain auger.

“With one wagon loaded roughly every 6 minutes without additional loading or handling in between, and leveraging our own on-farm storage, our supply chain costs have been dramatically lowered for this delivery,” Boolah’s part-owner Stuart Tighe said.

“We are looking at a minimum of $5 per tonne being saved through this approach – this massively alters our logistics cost base and sets a template for how we do things in the future.”

Boolah’s southern operations manager Sam Conway said that with the scale and volume of the Boolah Partnership operation, and being close to both a rail siding and the main railway line, they have always been keen to see how they could leverage rail better.

“Rail is by far the most efficient and cost effective transport mode for farmers, if done right – and in recent times working closely with ARTC we have been able to realise the opportunity,” Conway said.

“We have a big focus on how we can work directly with producers and the supply chain on looking at ways we can help rail ‘work’ for our customers in different markets,” Vandervoort added.

“With farmers, this is about understanding their cost drivers, looking at the broader supply chain and infrastructure capability and seeing what we can do to improve productivity through rail for them.

“By collaborating with Stuart and [co-owner] Lyndall [Tighe] and tapping into their innovation and drive – you can realise a different way of doing things and demonstrate the kind of flexibility rail is able to offer.

“This is an important signal from us, asking farmers to see rail from a different perspective, and understand there are a variety of ways that rail can be utilised by the farming community.”

The first trains will contain chick peas heading for the international market (largely South Asia).

Later, Boolah-produced barley will be railed to Minto for processing at a malting plant prior to use by brewers.

“While this particular supply chain solution may not be the answer for every farmer – and is highly dependent on volume and the nature of the rail network – it demonstrates we are serious about making rail work for all of our customers,” Vandervoort said.

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