Some Australian businesses have been without food supplies for weeks due to extreme weather events. Industry groups are warning of losses in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Food outlets across the country will be in chaos when a critical rail line that connects Sydney to Perth is closed following a 1 in 200 year flood event.

Independent Food Distributors Australia represents hundreds family-owned businesses that transport food from suppliers all over the country.

They are sold to restaurants, cafes, hospitals, nursing homes and child care centres, as well as military bases.

Around 90% of the food it distributes in Western Australia is from the east. About 95% of that travels via the Trans-Australian Railway line. This will likely close for about two weeks because of severe flooding.

The rail line connecting Adelaide and Perth has been damaged, and goods cannot travel from South Australia to Australia via the Northern Territory.

Richard Forbes, chief executive officer, stated that without the railway line, he couldn’t serve his customers.

Damon Venoutsos, managing director of New West Foods, said that his company supplies food to approximately 6500 locations in Western Australia, including pizza shops, kebab shops, nursing homes, and prisons. These businesses might not have the resources to purchase supplies, which could force them to shut down or reduce their menus.

Venoutsos stated that the current crisis was the worst he’d seen in 30 years of working in the business.

He said, “We’ve never seen anything even remotely comparable to this.”

“If this isn’t rectified, the lockdown by Covid will be quite insignificant.”

The severe weather event that hit South Australia caused serious damage to the rail network at least in eight locations located within 100km of Tarcoola.

According to the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), major earthworks will be needed at multiple locations in order to restore the track. This will be even more difficult due to washaways closing highways. Flooding has also caused the closure of other local roads.

“With more inclement weather forecast and repairs continuing, ARTC expects track to remain closed for at most twelve days,” an ARTC spokesperson stated.

Venoutsos stated that the pandemic had knocked some of his suppliers out for a few days, or even a week during shutdowns, but it wasn’t a major disruption.

Venoutsos stated that he could work with one supplier for a week (if they had shut down or did a deep clean), but not all suppliers for two.

It could take up to two weeks for the extensive flooding to repair railway tracks in South Australia, near Tarcoola. All goods will need to be transported by road and not on trains. It will take several weeks before supplies can be restored to normal, even once the line has been reopened.

Forbes states that goods will have to be shipped by road transport in the interim, but that there aren’t enough drivers.

He said, “There are enough trucks, but we need more drivers.”

Forbes stated that he has also heard of trucking companies increasing their rates by as much as doubling their truckloads from $6000 to $12,000.

He stated, “This problem will not be solved tomorrow.”

“I am concerned that we won’t be able supply goods to key priority clients for at least two weeks.”

It is possible that millions of dollars worth of perishable goods may be lost, as freight in transit will likely spoil before it reaches its destination.

Forbes stated that he was looking at a loss in the tens of million range.

“The Western Australian Government must seriously consider a support package to small businesses that have been affected by this natural catastrophe.”

The Western Australia Government spokeswoman said that the state produces a lot of its groceries, and trucks continue to deliver goods into WA from eastern states.

The spokeswoman stated that there is no need for you to purchase more goods than you would normally.

“We will continue to work with the industry and other stakeholders on our supply chain and are currently examining a range if measures to keep trucks and freight running, and essential supplies readily available.”

Supermarkets set buying limits

Coles has its own fleet to transport goods and is warning customers about delays caused by disruptions on roads and railways.

“This will be a difficult time for our customers as we anticipate delays in transport deliveries which will temporarily affect the availability of products at our stores,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The supermarket chain has already implemented temporary purchasing limits in the Northern Territory to purchase things such as chicken, mince sausages, tissues and flour, rick, and milk.

It expects that truck loads of fresh fruits and vegetables will arrive in the NT this weekend. They will be transported through Queensland, not South Australia.

Major emergency declared

The flooding and storm damage that has ravaged large swathes of northern South Australia caused significant flooding and emergency declarations by the South Australian Government on Friday.

Grant Stevens, the State Coordinator and Police Commissioner, will have additional powers to deal with heavy vehicle movement, food security, and other issues that affect isolated remote communities.

The state was drenched in the last week, with the highest waterfalls around the northern pastoral areas of Mt Ive (199.2mm), Yudnapinna (125.6mm), and Woomera (104mm).

According to Vince Rowlands, a senior meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology South Australia, 68.2mm of rain had fallen around Tarcoola. This was due to tropical moisture and an elevated low pressure system.

In the days ahead, more rain is expected. Mr Rowlands stated that there was a risk for thunderstorm activity in the Tarcoola area on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Rain is expected to fall between 5 and 15mm.