On 21 November 2017, the Australian Government released a report outlining new modelling by CSIRO that will drive down transport costs for farmers and cut delivery times by mapping existing agricultural transportation routes and comparing them to potential, optimised routes generated by a new digital tool.
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Luke Hartsuyker said CSIRO’s Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TraNSIT), the development of which was backed by $1 million in federal funds, was designed to guide infrastructure planning and to streamline the transportation process for farmers.
“One of the top priorities of this government is to boost farmgate returns, making it easier and cheaper for farmers to transport their livestock and commodities to market,” Minister Hartsuyker said.
“TraNSIT will inform Australia’s future transport infrastructure investment decisions across the agriculture sector. This matters because transport is one of the highest costs in the value chain.”
Why so costly?
In Australia, many agriculture supply chains involve traversing long distances – frequently, livestock and other ag produce must travel more than 1,000 kilometres between farm and processing facilities, saleyards or markets. Long distances and the high cost of fuel mean transport costs account for up to 40 percent of the market price of food and fibre products.
Changes in policy, coupled with investment in well planned infrastructure, could lower transport costs across Australia’s agricultural enterprises, CSIRO states; however, to date “it has not been possible to evaluate the whole system to ensure that infrastructure investment maximises whole-of-industry productivity”.
Modelling the most cost-effective transport options
The TraNSIT tool was developed by CSIRO scientists to model current and potential agriculture transport routes and iron out inefficiencies.
TraNSIT is able to analyse small and large-scale investments in the agriculture supply chain, with applications covering almost all Australian agricultural logistics.
The tool currently accommodates 142 million tonnes of agricultural transport and more than five million vehicle movements and 15,000 rail trips per year. At present this includes the transportation of cattle, pigs, dairy, poultry, grains, cotton, sugar, horticulture crops and stock feed; forestry and sheep will be added next.
Its scope encompasses transport from farms to storage and processing facilities, feedlots, export ports and domestic distribution hubs and retailers.
The new tool can be used by individual enterprises or entire industries to manage logistics costs.
How does TraNSIT work?
“TraNSIT identifies current bottlenecks and problems in our transport infrastructure and is able to model how changes to transport routes and new infrastructure will help drive down agriculture transport costs,” said Minister Hartsuyker.
“It models current transport movements and allows us to see how infrastructure development will benefit different farming communities across Australia.”
TraNSIT weighs several relevant factors including the condition of the roads/rail lines along a given route, temporary closures and diversions; and availability of supporting facilities such as truck stops and holding yards.
“The tool works by analysing possible combinations of transport routes and methods, and determining those that optimise vehicle movements between enterprises in the agriculture supply chain,” explained Dr Andrew Higgins, Senior Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO in Brisbane and lead author of the TraNSIT report.
“Planned future enhancements of TraNSIT will also seek to maximise agricultural supply chains by increasing their resilience to flood and other adverse weather events, to deliver greater farmgate returns for producers,” Higgins said.
Who can benefit from using TraNSIT?
Primary producers, processors, shippers, distributors, exporters and retailers all stand to benefit from the precise modelling TraNSIT enables – as will government infrastructure planners, Minister Hartsuyker said.
“Farms across the country will be able to access comprehensive modelling and information about transport logistics costs and mapping across the supply chain, from farmgate to market,” he said. “The TraNSIT tool... [will help] farmers, industries and government to make sensible and efficient future infrastructure plans.
“TraNSIT will also have significant ancillary benefits of better animal welfare, improved driver and road safety and more informed policy development.”
Minister Hartsuyker said the tool will allow industry and government departments easy access to information that improves transport planning.
Applying TraNSIT to improve infrastructure
TraNSIT has been used to analyse various possible infrastructure projects for the beef industry, including:
- upgrading the Buntine Highway and Duncan Road from the Victoria Highway to Halls Creek in the Northern Territory: TraNSIT found that this upgrade would save $183,584 per year or $5.39 per head in transport costs along this rough but popular cattle route to Darwin, also reducing cattle truck movements along the Great Northern Highway – currently the only sealed road link between the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.
- upgrading the 340-kilometre road corridor between Roma and Toowoomba to enable triple road-train (Type 2) access, estimated by TraNSIT to save a total of $4.9 million annually in transport costs or $1.24 per head. “This segment of highway is a critical section in the broader cattle transport network, used to transport nearly four million cattle per year, or about 35,000 trailers,” CSIRO states. “Upgrading this section of highway to Type 2 class would save thousands of hours in travel time and distance per annum.”
Recently, CSIRO applied TraNSIT to inform the federal government’s $100 million Northern Australia Beef Roads Programme, the aim of which is to “maximise transport cost savings” in beef supply chains across Australia’s northern regions.
Currently, it’s applying the tool to the transport of 25-plus ag commodities Australia-wide as part of the government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.
In the pipeline...
Further applications of TraNSIT include:
- testing the potential outcomes of changes in regulations regarding driver fatigue, animal regulation, biosecurity, etc;
- upgrading transport infrastructure to improve accessibility over the wet;
- upgrading road sections and bridges to allow access for “higher productivity” vehicles;
- sealing and/or widening of road segments along key routes;
- improving rail track infrastructure;
- constructing new road links, bypasses and/or freight hubs;
- enabling industry organisations to optimise their own supply chains;
- using TraNSIT as a predictive tool to forecast likely road conditions and weather along a particular route;
- using TraNSIT to forecast future freight flows under various production and climate scenarios; and
- using the tool to apply agriculture logistics to the transport of agriculture produce in developing countries.
For more information on TraNSIT, visit the relevant sections of the CSIRO site and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources site.
Download the final TraNSIT report, published June 2017:
Read the long version:
Check out the Northern Australia Beef Roads Programme report, published April 2016:
- Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TraNSIT) [pdf · 3mb]
- Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TraNSIT) [rtf · 2mb]
- Better roads for beef transport in northern Australia