Growers beat the harvest rain
By Rebecca Thyer
[Photo by Vic Dobos: Cleaning up: grower Scott Pickering is an investor in the Cascade Grain cleaning and drying facility.]
In the 2003 growing season Esperance district farmer Mark Roberts decided he needed to get to grips with the high moisture content of his grain. Grain grown at Esperance, in WA"s south-east, often suffers from high moisture content, rain damage or mould because of the area"s end-of-season rainfall. Esperance receives much of its rain in summer, often limiting harvest time and causing weather-damaged crops to be downgraded.
But instead of buying another header or hiring more labour to speed up harvesting to try to beat the rain, Mr Roberts decided to harvest early and buy a grain dryer.
It is an initiative that has since paid handsome dividends, not only for Mr Roberts but also for five other growers from the Cascade district north-west of Esperance, who have joined him in a new grain-drying venture. Mr Roberts prompted the creation of Cascade Grain, a grower-owned and operated drying and cleaning plant.
In 2003 he early-harvested and dried one-third of his wheat and barley, enough to allow him to maximise use of his existing equipment, labour and maintain grain quality.
"There was a big mould problem in 2003, but only 200 tonnes out of our 10,000-tonne wheat harvest was downgraded. It was drying that allowed us to maintain grain quality."
Following this, Mr Roberts and five other growers decided an investment in a permanent, large-scale facility would be money well spent and became partners in a $2 million drying and cleaning facility next door to the Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH) depot at Cascade. Cascade Grain"s facility can dry and clean grain with an intake of 250 tonnes an hour and movement of 150 tonnes an hour. And instead of smaller on-farm units, the group initiative has allowed all six members to benefit from economies of scale, the use of a more sophisticated facility and reduced labour costs. During peak season, the group employs a manager and two casuals. Members also use the facility to clean seed before seeding.
Cascade Grain is now looking at making the drying and cleaning service available to other growers as a commercial venture. Mr Roberts says it is too early to quantify the monetary gain from the plant, but the 5000 tonnes he cleaned last year was delivered into higher grades. "It is a way to add value to our grain, and it is also a risk management tool. If the weather is good, we don"t necessarily have to dry and clean, but if the weather is against us, we are prepared,"he says.