IT'S BEEN a hectic period for bulk handling business GrainCorp.
Not only has it completed its demerger from its former malt business United Malt but there has been near-record demand for fertiliser out of its ports and a stronger than expected grain export program.
The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has added an extra layer of complexity to the company's logistics program but Nigel Lotz, the company's general manager of operations, said it was managing well so far.
"We've been pretty happy with the way things are working at the moment and we're optimistic we have the systems in place to meet any further challenges that arise," Mr Lotz said.
He said the wet start to 2020 throughout GrainCorp's east coast catchment had meant fertiliser demand was sky-high.
"It's been really busy, with especially big programs out of Port Kembla and Geelong," he said.
"We've been doing a lot of the planting fertilisers, the phosphorus (P) based product, with MAP and DAP rocketing out the door and then we'd expect a second wave if the season continues to look good as people think about putting nitrogen (N) out."
But it has not just been product coming in that has meant GrainCorp operations teams have been busy across its network.
The falling Australian dollar and the drop in domestic grain prices has led to Australian grain being more competitive on the world market than anticipated at harvest, with GrainCorp's Victorian ports in particular out-turning vessels at a solid rate, while in the north there have been vessels of chickpeas leaving.
"The outloading program in Victoria has been flat-out," Mr Lotz said.
He said the business had adapted to the threat of COVID-19 relatively comfortably.
"A lot of things have been reasonably seamless, with no need for people to be in close proximity but then there are things like maintenance which can be more of a challenge.
"The number one priority is looking after our teams and we're managing that at present."
He said the company had eliminated the need for face to face interaction at the ports.
"We used to require physical document signing by the drivers but now we're doing that remotely, we're also really hammering home the message that drivers should not be leaving their trucks."
"The aim is to minimise interaction."
Mr Lotz said GrainCorp had also taken the precaution of setting up separate clusters of operations teams in the event of an outbreak of the virus among staff.
"Having those different layers means we will be able to keep going even if one particular team does need to be off work for a period."
"Within each of these teams there are people capable of doing all the operations-type work should it be needed, they might not be doing it every day but they are familiar with it should the need arise."
He said regional managers were working remotely and minimising contact with the on-site teams.
In terms of potential exposure and worker safety, he said the risk from incoming goods was minute.
"The international shipments have all been on the water for longer than the mandated coronavirus quarantine period of a fortnight and they are subject to all the relevant biosecurity checks, so there is no danger to those unloading the cargoes."
"So far the protocols are working very well, the next big test would come if there are confirmed cases among our workforce but so far we feel we're doing a pretty good job in keeping the Aussie ag sector connected whether it be for the fertiliser imports or the grain exports."