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Grain import options reviewed

27 April 2020

With ongoing dry conditions putting a squeeze on grain supplies for Australian lot feeders, a new report has explored how the industry can better position itself to prepare for future droughts.

The report, Review of grain devitalisation methods, outlines the opportunities for importing bulk grain and plant-based stockfeed to offset a supply shortfall or excessive cost pressures resulting from drought in Australia’s east-coast production regions.

Commissioned by MLA in consultation with the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA), with support from Dairy Australia, Australian Pork Limited and the Chicken Meat Federation, the report was prepared by the Colere Group.

ALFA CEO Christian Mulders said increasing climate variability in Australia meant a Plan B was vital for grain and fodder security.

“The grain and logistics industry should be commended for how well they’ve serviced the intensive animal industries during the most recent drought. However, we need to have technologies, systems and protocols tested and in place, ready to be implemented to keep our livestock industries in business.

“That’s why we’re exploring options and technologies to facilitate the safe importation of grain while ensuring Australia’s biosecurity reputation is protected.”


Key findings from the final report

  • The successful importation of bulk grain and plant-based stockfeed for the livestock industry is a process of risk management for best-practice of the eradication and sterilisation of grain pests, pathogens and weed seeds.
  • There’s an opportunity for a multi-product processing facility to be established in Australia and operated from within a seaport quarantine zone. To match the feed demands of the intensive livestock industries, the facility must be able to treat whole-grain when it is imported, at a capacity of 10,000 tonnes per day.
  • The research outlines the cost and effectiveness of several grain-sterilisation techniques, and found that an irradiation-based heat treatment, plus one of the fumigants investigated (Ethanedinitrile), has the ability to meet the needs of grain importation as stand-alone treatments.

Risk management

Colere Group Managing Director, Paul Meibusch, said the review team investigated grain treatment techniques and their capacity to meet Australian biosecurity requirements for foreign grain importation now and into the future.

“The principal challenge associated with importing bulk grain or plant-based stockfeed is the requirement to devitalise or ‘sterilise’ the product in order to minimise any biosecurity risk associated with pests and pathogens,” Paul said.

“Devitalisation treatments need to ensure that any grain or weed seed material is rendered incapable of germinating and that any insect pests and pathogens are killed or rendered non-viable.

“Importing bulk grain is considered to carry greater risks than plant-based stockfeed, as the latter has generally undergone processing and as such, devitalisation.”

The other key risk management requirement relates to transit. Prior to devitalisation, it’s important to ensure there’s no spillage in transit – this is particularly important for bulk-grain.

“Post-treatment (including any devitalisation), bulk grain and plant-based stockfeed still need to be handled appropriately to avoid the possibility of additional contamination,” Paul said.

Potential all-in-one treatment

Among the report’s key recommendations is that ALFA and MLA assess GRAIN EDGE™ technology as a potential all-in-one treatment for any and all grains coming into Australia.

Australian-based company IRtech developed the technology to pasteurise, devitalise or micronise (i.e. gelatinise starch to increase digestibility) grain.

“GRAIN EDGE has the potential to address all specific importation requirements around devitalisation, disinfestation and sterilisation while also offering a potential value-add to grain in the form of improved digestibility,” Paul said.

“For this technology to progress in the grain importation space, there are several trials required to confirm its efficacy and allow it to be added to the ‘approved treatments’ list.”

The Review of grain devitalisation methods report identified an opportunity for a multi-product processing facility to be established within a port quarantine zone that could take advantage of the inland rail system that passes through regions where end-users are located.

“This would effectively take what was formerly a bulk grain importation issue and turn it into a plant-based stockfeed ingredient issue,” Paul said.

“The viability of such a facility would rely on having at least some of the capacity being utilised for more regular activities, such as the importation of whole soy, with the ability to expand when domestic supply conditions become tight.”

The authors concluded that to meet import biosecurity requirements, a combination of treatments and supply chain management factors are critical (e.g. product source, ultimate destination and in-transit management).

However, risk management feasibility alone doesn’t account for the commercial viability of such an undertaking, which is largely determined by the grain or stockfeed price differential.

The other key consideration is the commercial case for any domestic treatment facility that historically has not been required more than a few months each decade.