TWO large southern Queensland chickpea growers have waved off their first private train load this week, destined for the port of Brisbane.
The haulage was one of three 1700-tonne loads, totalling 5100t, which would be delivered privately from Thallon by rail this year, in a bid to get personal harvests running more efficiently.
It’s the result of a partnership between Andrew Earle, Bullawarrie, and Ed Willis, Bullamon Plains; two of the biggest growers to supply grain to the Thallon GrainCorp depot.
Mungindi grower Malcolm Harris is also involved in the group, but didn’t send any product on this occasion.
It is the first time in Queensland Rail’s records that chickpea was loaded directly onto the main line, instead of the typical spur or loop line, received directly into carriages from a purpose-built private site, just a short drive from the local GrainCorp depot.
Mr Earle said the group first became interested in engaging a private train three years ago when he began exploring options to keep up with the speed of his harvest.
“In a traditional system you can potentially harvest up to 5000 tonne a day and the local depot struggles to keep up. We run 24 hours a day, but the local depot runs 18-20 hours at most,” he said.
Mr Earle noted that the majority of the grain below the border was stored on-farm to combat this issue.
“So I thought rather than on-farm storage, we should try use rail as well,” he said.
He then formed a partnership with Mr Willis and Mr Harris. The group purchased 150-acres of land where the rail line runs through on Bullamon Plains, to install the infrastructure required for a personal depot.
“To get to the stage of being efficiently out-loading we would have spent $2m on infrastructure,” Mr Earle said.
Between Mr Earle and Mr Willis, they placed about 47,000t of wheat and chickpea in the private site this year. A further 10,000t was put into the local GrainCorp depot by all three partners to fill contracts. The duo’s load is contracted through exporter GrainTrend and will set sail for India next week.
While it’s been a lengthy process to get to this stage, Mr Earle said he sees rail as becoming a more viable transport option for growers in years to come. Currently the cost of rail out of GrainCorp is $55/t. In the long term, Mr Earle hopes to reach a savings of $20/t through site storage and rail.
“Achieving $40/t when the potential road rate is $60/t – that’s the potential savings we’d like to see,” he said.
But Mr Earle said bringing down overall running costs will require more farmers choosing rail over road trains for multiple commodities, seeing the “big picture” as a shire freight hub.