AWB: Symbolism outweighs reality
The news that growers candidates for the AWB board wish to oppose the normalisation of the company is completely understandable.
Who wants to hand over control of a company to a corporate sector that does not have the growers’ interests at best heart? It’s an emotive topic for growers already set to lose the safety net of the single desk.
However – at closer inspection, this symbolism is outweighing the reality of the situation.
To all intents and purposes, grower control has already left the building – with the obligation to maximise returns to shareholders AWB’s major focus.
The executive team form the power base and there is little to suggest the grower directors have done much more than rubber stamp the official party line.
But the attitude prevalent among the farming community remains that in order to have a company focused on grower needs, there needs to be grower control – which is not the case.
There is an attitude that farmer satisfaction and an agribusiness making a healthy profit margin are mutually exclusive – that agribusinesses need to gouge the growers to make their money. Its an absolute fallacy.
By creating a healthy AWB, which is able to compete on the open market without the millstone of the dual share structure around its neck, farmers will see a company that is able to further its investment in the grains industry.
And if they don’t like it, if AWB does turn out to be a corporate monster that exploits growers, then go elsewhere – AWB will have to make itself attractive to growers if it wants to win its share of the wheat trade.
The relationship between agribusiness and farmer need not be parasitic – there is scope for a win-win there, even without the scrutiny of a grower-controlled board.
Relinquishing symbolic control of AWB is a hard step for growers to take, but the reality is that even if the constitutional amendments are not passed, the shareholders will always take precedence.
But remember, shareholder and grower satisfaction need not be mutually exclusive.
Meanwhile – long-time grains industry analysts have noted the delicious irony in AWB being faced with the backlash of single desk hardliners.
For years, AWB cultivated this single desk ideology and raised a fanatical band of grower support – a wedge of rusted-on agrarian socialists that are now diametrically opposed to AWB’s reforms.
AWB knowingly raised the gorillas – now they’re out the cage.