Australian pulse exporters have resorted to sending bulk shipments overseas, to avoid the continuing high cost of containers and unreliability of their supply.
Wimpak general manager James French, Minyip, said the company said three-quarters of this year's exports had gone out in bulk shipments.
"Instead of being spread over the year, we have gone down to shipping them out over six months," Mr French said.
"The main reason is decent container rates and accessibility to containers."
Bulk freight was delivered by b-Double to Portland, instead of the SCT intermodal at Dooen.
"It's not as though one is easier than the other, but it has allowed us to compete in the marketplace this year," he said.
"It's not a huge advantage, but you can move volume - it's not 250 tonne lots, it's 25,000 tonne lots."
Wimpak had sent out 75,000 tonnes, mainly of small red lentils, so far this year.
He said Wimpak was keen to return to containerised exports, through Dooen
"We are trying to support it as much as we can, because we definitely see the future in rail, as it makes it safer, greener and better for our roads," he said.
Christian Roeloffs, cofounder and chief executive of Container xChange, said as China came out of COVID-19-inspired lockdowns more containers would come online.
Initially, Mr Roeloffs said Container xChange expected prices to rise, due to strong competition from customers with immediate delivery needs, but in the medium term prices would trend downwards.
"Not only was Shanghai in lockdown, right now Beijing and its biggest harbour Tianjin is still in lockdown, so we are expecting a surge of containers to hit the Transpacific region," Mr Roeloffs said.
Rabobank also believes container prices are set to come back but warns there will be no return to pre-pandemic values.
In its report into global ocean freight, the agribusiness banking giant said Australia's agricultural sector can expect to contend with elevated ocean container prices for at least another year before they stabilise.
RaboResearch global supply chain analyst Viet Nguyen said the global container shipping industry was now facing the impact of broader structural factors, including a weaker global economy, higher operational costs, geopolitical uncertainty and imbalanced trade flows.
The uncertainties have also hit efficiency of shipping, with Rabo reporting that the reliability of ocean container freight schedules had dropped from almost 80 per cent pre-pandemic to approximately 30pc as disruptions and uncertainties created issues.
Pulse and canola exporter Agri-Oz Exporters managing director Francois Darcas said the lack of availability of containers and erratic performance of shipping lines had been the main problems facing exporters.
He said container prices were still high, jumping from US$ 800 for a twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) between Melbourne and Jebal Ali, United Emirates, in the July-September quarter two years ago to US$ 4265 for the equivalent period this year.
From Melbourne to Chittagong, Bangladesh, rates were US$ 800 per container in July-September, 2020 compared with US$ 4265 this year.
"As far as rates are concerned, for the third quarter, they were generally up - in large part due to higher bunker prices," Mr Darcas said.
"We haven't seen a softening in rates yet."
The bunker surcharge (fuel) was included in those numbers and went from US$ 115 per container a year ago to US$ 313 now.
Additional costs were borne by producers and end-users, he said.
Southern Grain Storage director Campbell Brumby, Winchelsea, said there had been no relief in the availability of containers, which was reflected in the prices being charged.
"Shipping brokers and exporters give no indication of seeing any light, at the end of the tunnel, if ever," Mr Brumby said.
"We will often be given access to empty containers seven days before the vessel cut-off time, they are shortening that up, we are only getting five days.,
"Logistically that puts greater pressure on regional packers, like ourselves, to get the empties picked up out of the container yard, back here, load and back to find shipping slots, before cut off."
Last season, the company got through the container shortage by doing bulk exports of faba beans.
"It's not quite as convenient, loading a bulk vessel you have a super busy period for a week, or 10 days when you are loading the port sheds or the vessel, then it goes quiet.
"With loading containers you can spread out workload over a longer period and park those beans into more diverse markets.
"It's tight, the exporters are saying they are struggling to find access to a vessel and also empty containers," he said.
"It is impeding our ability to trade."
He said Southern wasn't buying beans at the moment, as it could not be guaranteed they could be shipped.
"We have warehoused beans we own and we are looking for a home to move them to," he said.
Beans went to markets in Egypt and Vietnam, where they were used in fish food.
"We will be able to sell them but at the moment is quiet," he said.
"The end user is having to pay more for the beans, but it doesn't seem to have moderated their demand."
While the percentage of the freight cost of delivered beans was far greater than what buyers had been paying previously, the actual purchase price "was not anything unusual," he said.
Excellent yields for beans, particularly in the south-west, meant they returned a higher gross margin than canola.
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