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Rail freight row threatens to spill Qld bumper harvest

<p>Time is running out to resolve a freight row between the grain industry and QR that could undermine this year’s harvest in Queensland.</p> <p>Discussions for a new rail freight agreement to replace one that expired on August 31 have collapsed and growers could be saddled with the extra costs of moving the entire harvest to port by road.</p> <p>Export Grain Logistics (ExGL), a joint venture of AWB and GrainCorp, said it had been negotiating with QR since February but baulked at a number of proposed changes to price and conditions. </p> <p>AWB manager for government relations, Queensland, Lachlan Benson, said the industry felt the proposed changes would leave growers exposed to unacceptable financial risk.</p> <p>"The high fixed costs put forward by QR in discussions did not take account of the seasonality in the grain industry," Mr Benson said.</p> <p>The price had been set at the levels appropriate for a bumper harvest and the industry felt it was unable to commit to such an agreement given the uncertainty of future harvest volumes.</p> <p>ExGL had then opted to take the 100% variable rate but QR had come back with a price of 11% above the former fixed rate and also put forward new liability clauses that would remove grower protection in the event of accidents and failures in rail freight, he said.</p> <p>"This would expose growers to significant costs above the freight rate increases," Mr Benson said.</p> <p>With the harvest already under way in the north of the state, time is running out to clear grain still held in storage in southern Queensland as cropping moves further south.</p> <p>"Queensland is facing its best harvest in five years," he said.</p> <p>"It’s in no-one’s interest to have this crop transported by road.</p> <p>"Not the growers, who will have to wear the increased costs and not the communities the truck will have go through."</p> <p>ExGL was now "working positively" with Queensland transport minister Paul Lucas on breaking the rail deadlock.</p> <p>A QR spokeswoman said the proposed increase in freight rates was an average weighted figure of 11%.</p> <p>"The increase needs to be viewed in the context that grain rates have only increased by an average of 11.5% since 1992 whereas CPI [consumer price index&#93 has increased by 39% for the corresponding period</p> <p>Queensland growers were also the recipients of "substantial freight rate benefits" as a result of QR system improvements, she said.</p> <p>"However, there is a need to increase rates to ensure that QR can provide a commercially sustainable transport service for our grain business, which in turn will provide growers with a competitive supply chain to move grain to port."</p> <br />