MOTHER Nature is a constant trickster.
After years of crippling drought, reducing grain movements through the port of Newcastle to a trickle, a bumper harvest in NSW has raised the prospect of a boom around the harbour.
However, on Monday, the season's first shipment of wheat being loaded into the bulk carrier Ince Point from the Newcastle Agri Terminal's silos at Carrington looked as though it could be slightly delayed - due to rain.
The ship was due to depart Newcastle in the early hours of Tuesday, destined for Vietnam, carrying 35,000 tonnes of wheat. But the prospect of rain meant the hatches may have had to be closed, and the departure pushed to later in the day.
Not that a few drops of rain could dampen the excitement of Jock Carter, co-CEO of Newcastle Agri Terminal.
"I'll still be smiling," said Mr Carter.
After all, rain finally arriving in the state's inland helped put the smile on Mr Carter's face.
According to the September edition of the federal Agriculture Department's Australian Crop Report, the conditions have been excellent for winter cropping, with wheat production in NSW forecast to be just under 10.3 million tonnes in 2020-21.
"It's lovely to see the transformation from the beginning of the year to now," Mr Carter said. "We've gone from one of the worst droughts in history to what could be the biggest ever grain crop in NSW."
As the drought took hold, the volumes of wheat being exported from the port plummeted from a record of more than than 1.8 million tonnes in 2017 to just 41,000 tonnes in 2019. The export of other grains also suffered, with volumes dropping to just 14,600 tonnes in 2019.
The shortages meant there wasn't even enough grain to meet local demand, so Newcastle port became an importer, including shipments from Western Australia and South Australia.
But now at the Dyke 2 berth, wheat was pouring into Ince Point, which Port of Newcastle said was the first of up to 60 ships likely to be loading grain this season.
"All the indications are that they will be pushing at the record for wheat exports from Newcastle," said a Port of Newcastle spokesman.
"We're on track to do more than a million tonnes," Jock Carter said, adding the other major Newcastle terminal, GrainCorp, was likely to move about the same volume.
"So we're probably on track for the biggest export in Newcastle for grains, and wheat will make up the lion's share of that."
Jade Mann, GrainCorp's site manager at Carrington, said the business had employed 23 casual terminal operators to deal with the demand.
"We're fully booked from this Saturday through to August 2021, which marks an incredible turnaround of fortune for growers on the east coast of Australia," Jade Mann said.
"The ship this weekend will take around 50,000 tonnes of wheat and barley to south east Asia, and from there, we'll be loading ships back-to-back to manage the winter crop receivals seen at our up-country sites."
Jock Carter is preparing for the next ship at his terminal. It is due to load wheat for New Zealand on Friday.
"It's a lot more fun exporting grain than importing it," said Mr Carter.
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