ABOUT 200 angry farmers fronted Viterra's executive staff last Thursday as they searched for answers to problems that led to silo confrontations, delays and storage inadequacies during the 2010-11 harvest.
They were attending a meeting held by the company at Tailem Bend to explain its plans for a post-harvest review.
The meeting followed widespread criticism about Viterra's decision to visually classify grain - instead of using falling numbers machines - its storage inadequacies and long delays at silos.
A number of farmers were involved in heated discussions, with one accusing Viterra of being "amateurish at best", while another claimed the foreign-owned company was looking out for the best interests of shareholders at the cost of a fair go for farmers.
There were also calls for Viterra to spend money upgrading its silo facilities and to install a higher number of falling number machines at all its silos and storage facilities.
Viterra argued that it would cost $5 million to install the machines at every facility, while the company's executive manager (grains) Dean McQueen said an investment in Viterra's storage network would be influenced by South Australia's transport network and infrastructure.
"Rail and road infrastructure is critical for our business to quickly and efficiently move grain to port," he said.
"This harvest, we have invested in sites with good access to efficient road and rail infrastructure."
And while the meeting revealed the extent of farmers' frustrations with the company, McQueen said the opportunity to be involved in discussions about harvest operations was "appreciated".
"We expect the meeting is the start of ongoing dialogue as we begin our post-harvest review," he said.
Karoonda Silo Committee chairman Graham Buchanan said the State's silo committees would meet with Viterra soon when grain testing would be the focal topic.
He said he would like to see a joint initiative launched with the Grains Research and Development Corporation to develop a testing machine that performed grading faster than a falling numbers machine.
"But my biggest concern at the moment is preparation for the coming harvest," Mr Buchanan said.
"We can't afford to waste too much time not making any decisions on extra storage and handling; it's got to be done a lot earlier than things were done this time."
Member of the Legislative Council Robert Brokenshire said he would move for a Select Committee to conduct its own investigation into the way grain was received and graded during the recent harvest.
He said the inquiry would be more independent and transparent than Viterra's and added that it was not about Viterra alone, but rather the entire industry. Mr Brokenshire also hit back at the State Government's recent decision to allow Viterra to complete its own review before considering the need for a parliamentary inquiry into the 2010-11 grain harvest.
"Letting a monopoly run its own review for several months and then [offering] the faint hope of a review by a Standing Committee is unacceptable," he said.
"We intend to have our Select Committee reporting by end of winter recess of Parliament so we can push recommendations prior to the next harvest."
Full report in Stock Journal, February 10 issue, 2011.