Port’s Forgotten Days as “Wheatopolis” echo through New Grain Venture

Port Pirie’s historic legacy as a major grain shipping port has been re-kindled by one of the world’s largest grain trading companies.

United States-headquartered Archer Daniels Midlands has made a major investment  in establishing new grain receival facilities to the city’s south, and so once again grain ships have been loaded from an area of the wharves dating back to the 1870s.

The ADM’s new loading area was once known as the Federal Wharf, and prior to that was attached to the big mill of J. Dunn and Co., built in 1877 at a cost of more than £10,000.

Dunn’s Mill was internationally known as one of the most efficient mills of its era.

It stood over a series of docks which were so successful that for a generation before the Port Pirie was known to the world’s shipping merchants as Australia’s “Wheatopolis”.

That was a long time ago.

Pirie’s “new” silo and port facilities were built more than 50 years ago.   They have not been used to ship grain since 2005, after major grain trader Viterra changed its local operations to limit use of the vast complex to operations as a bulk receival and land transfer facility.

Changes in the economics of bulk grain-handling and the increasing size of freighters left the southern “Viterra” berths impractical for shipping.   For all of that, the wharves further along the north-western side of the river have retained their potential for direct loading – as the city’s new operators have clearly proved in the last three months.

Local ADM manager Kevin Brice says the company has successfully received and transported more than 42,000 tonnes of grain via two coastal vessels.   The grain, which was of feed standard and high miller grade was sent to Queensland, where it was in high demand to alleviate the effects of the drought.

The ADM start-up has engaged 12 to 15 employees on site and intends to expand in 2020.  Flow-on benefits include work for Port Pirie’s wharf-side and shipping staff.

“We’ve been really happy with it all,” he says.

“From what we are hearing from the growers they seem pretty satisfied with the first year and we’re already getting things sorted out for the coming seasons… I’ll be the one walking around the place with a big smile on my face if we can get some solid rain.”


Archer Daniels Midland is a publicly listed company based in Chicago, Illinois.   Established in 1902, employs more than 40,000 people in 200 countries and is currently ranked at 48 among the US Fortune 500 companies.   Globally, the business was dealing in revenues of more than $AU90 billion over the most recent reporting period.

The company expects to continue using Port Pirie as a direct receival and port facility increasingly over 2020 – and expects to begin advertising for more staff prior to the harvest.

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