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Great escape masks inadequacies

There's no doubt Victorian agriculture has dodged a bullet in the past fortnight

THERE’S no doubt Victorian agriculture has dodged a bullet in the past fortnight, with the majority of farmers just scraping by in terms of diesel supplies through a combination of stored on-farm diesel supply, neighbourly co-operation and judicious rationing by the fuel companies.

However, let’s not let the agricultural version of the Great Escape lull us into a sense of complacency.

Commodity volatility is nothing new to the farming community and it is appreciated that fuel companies need to manage their risk and don’t want to be caught holding expensive stock should the price of crude oil suddenly drop.

Yet harvest happens at the same time every year, and the amount of fuel required to get the crop off is a relatively static figure – there’s no reason these shortages should happen.

Fair enough, this was the old fashioned ‘act of god’ at the Shell Refinery – but shouldn’t provisions be in place for the worst case scenario. A simple Plan B to source emergency stocks at the drop of a hat would be a good start.

It’s not something that is required year-round, but at times of peak demand, having an arrangement whereby extra capacity can be brought onboard locally or interstate supplies can be brought in swiftly would ensure fuel headaches are one problem already stressed farmers don’t have to deal with at harvest.

Perhaps the companies could work in conjunction with their interstate refineries and Victoria could provide back-up supplies for NSW during November, when that state is flat out harvesting and then the arrangement switches.

Whatever the solution, farmer lobby groups need to attack the issue and ram home the importance of ample fuel supplies in December. It’s not the first time there have been problems with diesel supply at a crucial period of the agriculture calendar and it is something that has to be attended to.

We may be mischievous in suggesting this, but if there are December shortages in future, perhaps a state government rationing policy, where urban-based 4WDs are placed at the back of the queue, with essential agriculture, mining and transportation machinery getting first dibs at whatever supplies there are.

With the luxury of a public transport network that rural Victorians can only dream of, we don’t think it would hurt for Melbournites to leave the Toorak Tractor at home for a day and tram it to work.

This might sound like a bit of fun, but on a more sober note, let’s just think if this had happened during the La Nina years of 2010-11, and a serious rain event smashed growers who had been forced to halt for a week prior due to fuel shortages. Its an ugly scenario to think about.

Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first

READER COMMENTS

JCV
27/12/2012 10:16:16 AM

An excellent article and I am surprised it received no comment. The Warrnamabool telephone exchange fire proved how we as a society rely on communications and this shows how easy the nation can be brought to its knees. I suggested to the member for Wannon that the royal commission into the telecomunications failure look beyond that incident and take a serious look at all the issues that keep this nation running. But there are big issues in regards to national security in regards to power, fuel and telecommunications being destroyed making invasion a walk over.
Percy
3/01/2013 12:13:17 PM

Take note any terrorists; just knock out a couple of telephone exchanges and fuel supply companies and Australia is on its knees. Also take note those in authority that such a scenario is not out of the question in future so emergency protocols should be in place now. That begs the question "Does the Labor government have a Minister of Defence capable of working through such protocols?"
daw
10/01/2013 2:46:59 PM

Quite right JCV I've only just looked at the article and couldn't agree more with your comment
Grain of TruthRural Press grains writer Gregor Heard on the big issues facing the broadacre farmers today.

COMMENTS

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Sorry Chops, but the reality is already here, we have been relegated to a nation of price takers
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I am in Dubai at the moment staggered by the price for Australian beef at any one of hundreds
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Rob an underpinning principle of a spot market that needs to be embedded is that the producers