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Tough times for regional ports

FOLLOWING a dry winter season last year and even worse conditions this year, trade flowing through WA’s regional ports has taken a battering. And this situation looks set to continue for at least the next year, if the summer harvest meets poor market expectations.

Geraldton Port Authority chief executive officer John Durant said the low export volumes of grains also was affecting imports, particularly fertilisers and farming equipment, coming into the regional port.

During the 2000-01 year, exports out of Geraldton fell by a third to 2.5 million tonnes – the lowest level in more than five years.

Wheat exports fell from 1.7 million tonnes in 1999-2000 to a little more than 900,000 tonnes last financial year.

Lupin exports also were affected by a poor harvest, falling from 619,000 tonnes to 376,000 tonnes during the period, with little hope of respite this financial year.

As a result, farmers’ demand for fertilisers in the region has fallen from 365,000 tonnes to 290,000 tonnes between July 1999 and July of this year.

“We have had an economical year but not a good year,” Mr Durant said.

While Geraldton has been aided by the Mid West region’s strong mining industry, Albany has been less fortunate, with a heavy reliance on agricultural exports.

Canola exports more than halved in the past year from 321,000 tonnes to only 126,000 tonnes, while wheat exports fell from 1.37 million tonnes to 963,000 tonnes, bringing total exports down from 2.33 million to 1.43 million tonnes. As a result, the number of cargo vessels entering the Great Southern port fell from 141 to 90 during the past year.

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