Line call to curb input costs

18 May, 2005 08:45 PM

NEWLY elected WA Farmers Federation grains section president Doug Clarke wants to draw a metaphorical line in the sand beyond which point input costs can no go further.

The line would be drawn for all input costs related to grain production, and whenever somebody moved to cross the line they would face a better coordinated and more professional response from farmers.

The Lake Grace grower, who outlined his proposal to about 500 farmers at meetings from Borden to Morawa last year and earlier this year, said farmers had to increase their lobbying firepower.

Mr Clarke said while WA farm productivity was the best in the world, no advantage was being gained from it.

"I can get better returns on my money if I put it in the bank," he said. "Return on capital is dismal."

Mr Clarke proposes that a 0.5pc levy be applied to WA grain growers to fund more effective and more professional lobbying to fight increased costs being imposed on the industry.

"For a $2.5 billion industry, look at how big we are and look at our fighting strength," he said.

"If we stay as we are we are going to implode, disappear.

"Growers must stop sitting on the fence.

"You can't expect people to keep doing it for nothing."

Mr Clarke said in the case of the Iraqi wheat debt issue, an effective television advertising campaign leading up to the federal election could have persuaded the major parties to fight for the $70 million owed to WA growers.

He said another benefit of a compulsory 0.5pc levy on the net farm gate value per tonne of grain would be to reduce the reliance of farm lobby groups on sponsorship.

"Sponsorship is not done for nothing," he said.

"I would like to see where we do not need any sponsorship and then we are not compromised or influenced in what we say."

Mr Clarke said that under the levy proposal, growers would be able to nominate which grower group they wanted their money directed too.

He said growers needed to know they were being heard.

One proposal would be to use an e-mail system with a survey sent from zones to growers on issues, and farmers could respond by indicating yes or no.

Under this process, zones would collate e-mail data and circulate results to zones, and the database would help identify issues that needed to be raised at government level.

"We would still have zone meetings but when big issues arise we would use the e-mail," Mr Clarke said.

He said the line in the sand would demonstrate to government and associated businesses what impact their changes had on the grains industry.

"The money will be there to fight the issues that threaten the line in the sand," Mr Clarke said.

"We continually have to fight industry with minimal funds, which is fighting against us with our money.

"Everybody has a crack at us. We need to employ the best people to represent us.

"We need to empower growers - at the moment they do not feel they are achieving anything."

Mr Clarke said farm lobbyists also need to be at the same level of professionalism as organisations such as AWB.

"If the government brings in transport regulations, they just do it and we are fighting a rearguard action," he said.

"We need to get on the front foot."

Mr Clarke said the industry also had to continually defend itself and was constantly being bombarded by changes to the industry.

He said the industry was gaining a bad name and money should be spent on self-promotion.

Mr Clarke said a poll would be needed to approve such a fighting fund-type levy, which would require legislative changes to the state's Agricultural Produce Act.

Mr Clarke said he received favourable response to his plan at the grower meetings, with only one grower saying the 0.5pc levy was too high, but who later changed his mind.

"CBH has a right to spill 0.5pc and nobody notices," he said.



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