THE NATION'S major grain bulk handling organisations have been working overtime to formulate an operational system that allows for the added complexities thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luckily, standard occupational health and safety (OH&S) procedures over the past couple of years have moved in the direction of limiting unnecessary movement around grain receival sites so alterations to be COVID-19 compliant have not been as significant as in other ag sectors.
However, it will be a different look harvest for many, with GrainCorp, whose footprint includes Victoria, the state hardest hit by the virus, banning customer access to the sample and weighbridge stands, along with requiring all samples to be submitted in zip-lock bags as part of its commitment to safety.
GrainCorp, general manager of operations Nigel Lotz said there had been extensive planning for virus protocols and that the company's sites were now virtually contact-free.
"A revised delivery process across our east coast network reduces human contact, allowing almost all delivery functions to be contact-free," said Mr Lotz.
Technology will play a key role in keeping human interaction to a minimum.
"GrainCorp's advanced contact-free technology platforms - FastWeigh for grain sampling and receival and CropConnect for digital transaction - are central to the revised plan, as are the changes to existing practises."
In order to be able to contain any possible outbreaks of the disease Mr Lotz said the GrainCorp workforce would be grouped by sites, with as little overlap as possible rather than workers going to different locations.
"It means if there is the event of a case being detected at one site we are still able to keep the supply chain going."
Regarding cross-border access for truck drivers he said he did not think it would be a problem.
"Truck drivers are able to get freight permits so we don't think it is likely to be an issue at this stage, but obviously if you plan to move grain across state borders you need to be up with the latest advice."
Ben Macnamara, CBH operations manager, said the Western Australian co-operative would also be using technology to combat the risk of the spread of COVID-19 through its sites.
"This year, site preparations include developing COVID-19 preparedness plans which seek to reduce the risk of transmission during the grain delivery process and by utilising technology to automate processes and train our people," Mr Macnamara said.
He said the business aimed to make the grain delivery process as contact free as possible by eliminating activities or reducing steps that require growers or transporters to leave their truck and enter a sample shed or weighbridge.
The development of the CDF app, which has been available to growers for the past three harvests, will help with COVID-19 protocols.
"The CDF App allows growers and transporters to deliver a load and accept each stage of the delivery process from sample, weigh in, discharge and weigh out, without the need to enter the sample stand and weighbridge," Mr Macnamara said.
This cuts out a vital stage of interaction by meaning that weighbridge tickets can be emailed and paper copies of transactions do not need to be exchanged on the weighbridge.
In the pre-harvest space, Mr Macnamara said CBH was using virtual reality to simulate a sample stand and weighbridge which has reduced the duration of in-person training sessions by half.
At Viterra, operations manager Michael Hill said the company had put in measures to help balance safety requirements with business continuity.
"Current measures at our sites includes restrictions on the number of people in different areas to ensure physical distancing and hygiene measures such as cleaning of work areas and provision of personal hygiene and protective equipment," Mr Hill said.
"We are planning for different scenarios to align our operations with what the government COVID-19 advice and guidelines could be at the time of harvest," he said.