Farm storage puts a price tag on efficiency

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Man standing on silo spiral staircase

Brad Jones sees on-farm storage as the way for growers to get closer to the value end of the supply chain.

PHOTO: Evan Collis

If you were an observer on Brad Jones’s Tammin property during the last harvest you would have seen a road train driving onto a weighbridge adjacent to a vast silo complex, the driver spearing the load, measuring the samples for protein and moisture, and then unloading into the appropriate silo.

This outwardly simple routine belies, however, the sophistication of the set-up. There is no specialist storage operator, just the driver, armed with his samples data, making the decisions on how to blend loads or aggregate, according to the specifications requested by a buyer or the business’s broader marketing plans.

The silos’ operations are fully automated. They can dry and aerate the grain and use low temperature to enhance insect control.

The objective is to achieve the efficiency and flexibility needed for Brad to pursue his ambition to put his on-farm production closer to the consumer – closer to the end of the supply chain where the value of the grain is highest.

He explains how the key to this is establishing “value share” relationships with buyers, based on the farm shouldering more responsibility for supply and storage efficiencies in return for a share of the cost savings his buyers achieve as a result.

“On our farm we’ve created an open management system, so when harvesting starts any one member of the team – myself and five others – knows what goes where and why,” Brad says.

“For example, if everyone knows we have an 800-tonne contract for buyer X, whoever is driving the truck knows what protein range can be blended to achieve that target. If we’re working on a protein range for a particular silo of 9.4 to 9.8 and the driver sees it holding at the top end of the range he can include a load of, say, 9.2. He has the data and experience to make that call.

“Also bear in mind that we already have a reasonable idea of how the grain is going to measure according to where the crop falls in the rotation, the soil type and condition, and paddock history.”

In the future Brad hopes to have protein analysers in the headers, potentially eliminating the need to spear the load on the weighbridge and so achieve another incremental increase in operational efficiency. A measure of that already is that he can now service two headers with one truck; previously the operation required two trucks.

Brad says efficiency is the key to profitability and risk management: “Our biggest limiting factor is rainfall. So we pursue an achievable production goal, work towards the required return on capital and limit risk by driving efficiencies as hard as we can.”

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