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CSIRO researchers create most detailed map of routes and costings spanning Australia's entire agricultural supply chain

Image credit: CSIRO

Researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia have provided the most detailed map of routes and costings across Australia's entire agricultural supply chain.

The transport infrastructure moves over 80 million tonnes of Australian agricultural (including horticultural) output between farms, storage, processors and to markets each year and costs close to AU$6 billion annually. Often there are distances of over 1000 km between production, processing and markets, with transport costs accounting for up to 40 per cent of the market price.

Infrastructure investment and policy changes can reduce costs across agricultural enterprises, but before this, it has not been possible to evaluate the whole system to ensure that infrastructure investment maximises whole of industry productivity. This new map could potentially save millions of dollars for the industry annually.

The researchers applied the logistics tool TraNSIT (Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool) to 98 per cent of agriculture transport across Australia including commodities such as beef, sheep, goats, dairy, pigs, poultry, grains, cotton, rice, sugar, stockfeed, horticultural and even buffalo. The information was presented in the final TraNSIT agricultural report, released this week. In addition to focusing on each agricultural commodity, the report also features a flood case study and rail to road scenarios.

TraNSIT was initially built to model livestock supply chains in northern Australia in 2012/13 through an initiative by the Office of Northern Australia and with co-funding from the NT, WA and Queensland Governments. The tool was originally applied to the beef industry before being extended to all agriculture transport across Australia.

The TraNSIT tool identifies ways to reduce travel distance and time, save fuel costs, cut down on wear and tear to vehicles and produce and minimise stress for both truck drivers and livestock. It works by analysing every possible combination of transport routes and modes (road and rail) and determining those that optimise vehicle movements between enterprises in the agriculture supply chain.

It incorporates factors such as road/rail condition, temporary closures and diversions and the availability of supporting facilities such as truck stops and holding yards. It can be used to manage logistics costs for individual enterprises or whole industries.

The tool currently accommodates 142 million tonnes of agricultural transport and over 5 million vehicle movements and 15,000 rail trips per year. This includes the transportation of cattle as well as grains, dairy, poultry, rice, cotton, pigs, sugar, horticulture crops and stock feed. Forestry and sheep will be added in the near future. The tool considers transport from farms to storage, feedlots, processing, export ports, as well as domestic supply chains to distribution centers and retailers.

The first project under the AU$100 million Beef Roads program will be the sealing of 17km of the Clermont to Alpha Road in Central Queensland, which is due to start early next year. The AU$8m works will improve road safety and access for oversize vehicles while reducing freight and maintenance costs.

CSIRO's TraNSIT project leader, Dr. Andrew Higgins, said, "Farmers will be saving money on transport as well as being able to deliver food to the market faster and with less damage and disruption. We expect these savings will eventually be passed onto the consumers."

Case studies

For the final report,several case studies were identified by industry and government, representing TraNSIT's diversity of applications across Australia.

For example, researchers evaluated the impact of road closures and detours on the transport of valuable crops and livestock in Forbes in Central West NSW. The Forbes area is a diverse agricultural region of grain production, beef cattle, poultry, dairy and pigs.

From early-September to mid-October 2016 severe rainfall caused extensive road closures throughout NSW with Forbes becoming particularly isolated.  There was about a AU$2m increase in transport costs created by the short term and long term road closures from this flooding event, and about another 500 vehicle trips that could not occur as there was no alternative routes. The cost would have been even greater if the floods had occurred during harvest season where more cotton and grain are being transported in large volumes on the roads.

Using TraNSIT, researchers can analyse several ways to reduce the economic impact of floods in country regions and throughout Australia including upgrading or raising particular bridges to reduce the frequency of closures from flooding. This will in turn reduce the occurrences where cattle or harvested crops cannot reach their market.

Researchers also looked at the impact of hypothetically shifting all agriculture (grains, beef, sugar, cotton) that currently use rail to be road only.

Grains were more expensive ($208m) when transported by road while cattle (or beef) was much less expensive (about 70 per cent less). These differences were primarily due to rail wagon capacity versus semi-trailer capacity.

Further applications of TraNSIT

TraNSIT could be used for wide range of further applications including:

  • testing potential outcomes for changes in regulation: driver fatigue, animal regulation, biosecurity
  • upgrading of transport infrastructure to increase accessibility towards the wet season
  • upgrade of road sections and bridges to allow higher productivity vehicles
  • sealing or widening of roads segments
  • improvements to rail track infrastructure
  • new road links, bypasses or freight hubs
  • capacity for industry organisations to optimise their own supply chains
  • using TraNSIT as a predicative tool in regard to road conditions and weather forecasts
  • forecasting future freight flows under different production and climate scenarios
  • agriculture logistics in developing countries.

TraNSIT is now being applied overseas, particularly in Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam to address supply chain inefficiencies and cross-border bottlenecks.

More information on TraNSIT and the final agricultural report is available here.

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