Silo closures anger SA farmers
Canadian grain monopoly Viterra continues to make life difficult for working farmers in regional South Australia.
We have previously reported on the anger caused by its decision to discontinue using rail to move grain on Eyre Peninsula (see here ).
Now farmers in South Australia's mid-north are threatening to boycott Viterra after the bulk-handling company closed 16 grain silos and bunkers.
In a cynical explanation for the closures, a Viterra spokesperson said “To best meet the changing needs of growers, Viterra's investment is focused on its larger sites where it can provide the highest level of service to growers".
However, growers and their communities say it has nothing to do with their needs and everything to do with the needs of the big overseas-owned corporation.
When I asked one small-business owner in Orroroo’s main street what she thought of the closure of the town’s silos, she left no room for argument.
“It stinks,” she said, adding that it was just the same as when the banks had closed up and left the town.
Following Viterra’s announcement, about 20 farmers in the Robertstown district held an impromptu protest outside that town’s silos see above).
They said it was not just the extra hours that would have to be put in to move grain to silos further away, but that grain testing and use of the weigh bridge would no longer be available.
The Robertstown silo closure means farmers will have to go to Eudunda or Roseworthy, a four-hour turnaround. It would cost farmers an extra $10 per tonne of grain freight, or $25,000 per year. Farmers will have to pay for extra on-farm storage and suffer crop damage because lack of storage means they can’t reap.
"Most of us had little or no income last year so another cost such as this at a time when we're struggling to stay afloat — it really hurts," said one farmer.
Across the mid-north communities there is concern about extra freight trucks on the deteriorating regional road network. “It will be Viterra’s responsibility if someone is killed on the roads because of this”, said a farmer. Others said it would add to mental health problems – it was a kick in the guts when farmers are already down because of prolonged drought. Some have only had a quarter of their average annual rainfall.
Communities want the closed silos handed over to them to run through their local governments.
And they are contemplating a boycott of Viterra, noting that several other grain companies operate in the mid-north, and that the extra distance to bypass Viterra silos would be worth it.
"Let's boycott them, let's make them hurt, we don't have to sell them our grain, we can sell to the other buyers," said a farmer from Robertstown.
Regional Australians are not well-served by the big corporations that dominate the Australian economy.
The potential to build unity around a demand for independence from foreign monopoly dictate certainly exists.