PGA calls for GRDC cut

17 Oct, 2014 01:00 AM
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PGA Western Graingrowers committee member Leon Bradley wants to see an overhaul of the GRDC.
Our confidence in the GRDC reforming itself is lower than a snake sits.
PGA Western Graingrowers committee member Leon Bradley wants to see an overhaul of the GRDC.

WA growers are demanding a major overhaul of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) including cutting government funding from the researcher's annual budget of about $200 million.

In a submission to the Federal Senate agricultural levies inquiry, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) is also expected to call for a revamp of the GRDC to give WA growers direct control over their levy-spending funds, through a WA-specific board, with voting proportional to levy-spending.

This year's GRDC budget comprised government matching funding of about $69m and $105m in levy revenue and $39m from other revenue and reserves.

But veteran PGA Western Graingrowers committee member Leon Bradley says the best way to arrest GRDC's flagging efficiency levels is to depoliticise its research charter is to remove that $69m and government funding dependency.

"The basis of our argument in a nutshell is that the GRDC is not generating value for growers or grains, for the country," he said.

"Secondly, the levy is a very regressive tax - in other words it takes money off you before you've actually earned it and so it's a great impediment to agriculture.

"Thirdly, at the current level of performance for the GRDC, farmers could actually retain that money and invest it in far more profitable things than the GRDC levy."

Mr Bradley said the PGA's submission to the Senate inquiry would also call for a complete, thorough and independent financial and performance audit of the GRDC's activities, to review the benefits levy payers receive.

"Our confidence in the GRDC reforming itself is lower than a snake sits," he said.

"We know that there's been very little in the way of productivity gains in Australian agriculture and that's been established by several completely independent studies of the productivity in Australian grain production.

"But on the other hand the GRDC never ceases trumpeting its accomplishments.

"A lot of the work the GRDC does is purely propaganda in the media and in the public domain and that's because its revenue is not based on performance (and) is independent of performance."

Mr Bradley said the GRDC's over-focus on maintaining its government revenue stream meant it had lost sight of working for levy payers.

"We think one of the reasons why the GRDC is not effective is because political considerations cover far more weight than the commercial requirements for the farmers to make a profit," he said.

"An enormous amount of money is allocated to funding research into climate change and of course the hidden assumption behind that is that you won't get a grant while you're making applications that don't assume climate change is man caused.

"One of the almost bizarre consequences of this obsession with CO2 driving the world's climate is that CO2 is regarded by the GRDC as a sin gas and in fact, every practical farmer knows CO2 is free plant food.

However, GRDC managing director John Harvey returned fire saying his group understood only a small group of growers had issues with compulsory levies.

He said annual GRDC surveying suggested most growers were either comfortable or very comfortable with the levy system and paying for research work that they benefited from.

"Last year we surveyed 1200 growers across the grain belt and 77 per cent of the growers surveyed were either comfortable or very comfortable with paying the R&D levy," he said.

"One of the reasons why I believe growers are comfortable with paying the levy is because they have seen the benefits of research and development on their farms.

"That may be through higher yielding varieties or it could be better disease resistance or it could be protection from rust.

"They have also seen significant advancements in agronomy."

Mr Harvey said there was also strong grower involvement in all GRDC processes through the regional cropping solutions network and regional panels, comprising growers and researchers.

"Because of the strong grower involvement in our investment strategy processes we're focussed on making farmers more profitable," he said.

"At the end of the day that's what we're about and we only invest in research where there's a win-win.

"If there's no win for the farmer, they're not going to adopt the new practice that comes from the research, so there's no point in us investing."

Mr Harvey said the GRDC was also an apolitical organisation that worked as a partnership between growers and the Federal Government.

"If you look at the objectives of the GRDC we're here to invest in research to get the best possible outcomes for Australian graingrowers," he said.

Mr Harvey rejected Mr Bradley's assertion the GRDC was over-focused on climate change research due to its overt politicisation.

"We only invest were we believe there's a benefit for growers," he said.

"We have certainly invested in managing climate variability and we invest in it where we believe we can provide growers with better on-farm decisions and tools for managing risk.

Mr Bradley was also highly critical of the GRDC's bi-monthly GroundCover newspaper that provides technical information for growers, including updates on research, trials, new grain varieties, farmer activities and case studies."

"I've never spoken to a farmer who reads it," he said.

"All it does is annoy them because it's just full of puff pieces.

"I think it's really camouflage for propaganda."

But Mr Harvey said the GRDC took it responsibility to inform growers on research investment "very seriously".

"GroundCover is a very important tool for us communicating this research work to growers," he said.

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

Deregul8
17/10/2014 5:54:51 AM, on Farm Weekly

Here here! How could anyone not see the logic in Mr Bradley's argument?
A Grower
17/10/2014 10:44:32 AM, on Farm Weekly

If Bradley asked that it be based on proportion to PGA's Grain growing membership then they would receive very little. This is again the vocal minority calling in the wilderness. The Squeaky training wheel looking for oil.
beacon boy
18/10/2014 7:37:13 AM, on Farm Weekly

A Grower, plenty of cockies out east here this year that won't have a profit but will still have paid plenty of GRDC pound of flesh. That is tax without profit cobba and hardly cricket. Maybe you Western Districts farmers could pick up the slack when we cant grow a profit out here. GRDCs no use to me when Im forced to Mandurah like two of my cousins already have been.
GM Spider
23/10/2014 9:40:59 AM, on Farm Weekly

SA rightly or wrongly has done very well from GRDC investment over the last 20 years . It now has 3 directors on the new GRDC board announced yesterday. I predict SA will do very well in the future

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