AFTER ‘burying’ the release of the Wheat Industry Advisory Taskforce findings on Christmas Eve, Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce now faces a backlash from grain growers concerned by the “half-baked” report.
The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) and Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) have come out swinging in response to both the government’s adoption of Taskforce reporting recommendations and the timing of their release.
Mr Joyce announced on Tuesday he supported all six recommendations in the Taskforce report into stocks information, including monthly stocks disclosure by port zone.
The Taskforce found while there was no market failure in the current levels of wheat stocks information, there would be benefit in improving access to the information.
“I have asked my department to work with industry to implement the recommendations,” Mr Joyce said.
A key recommendation of the report was to identify an independent provider to publish monthly wheat stock information, including total wheat stocks by port zone and the individual volumes of the top three grades in each zone.
Mr Joyce said this would give industry members better stocks information to develop production, marketing and technical strategies, but growers in the west reacted angrily to his support for monthly reporting.
PGA Western Grain Growers chairman John Snooke said the proposed move to monthly reporting “mimics” aspects of the failed wheat single desk system, and could have a significant adverse effect on the competitiveness of West Australian grain farmers, who export 95 per cent of their wheat.
Long-time supporter of the west’s grain industry WA Liberal senator Dean Smith said a voluntary approach to stocks information would be welcomed “at face value”, but warned “anything that has intended or unintended consequences that diminish competition in wheat exports will be challenged by wheat farmers and their political representatives”.
In turn, VFF Grains Group president Brett Hosking said the group had long argued there is a severe lack of transparency on wheat stocks and inventory data, which has hindered real competition in the supply chain.
Mr Hosking said: “As everyone knows, information is power”.
“The lack of information on what wheat is in storage and along the supply chain is driving up transaction costs and reducing returns to growers.”
He said the Taskforce had fallen well short of growers’ expectations.
“The Taskforce delivered six recommendations that fail to ensure we have a fully transparent marketplace for trading up to $5 billion of wheat each year,” Mr Hosking said.
“I also want to know why the federal government waited until Christmas Eve to release the Taskforce’s report, which is dated December 6.”
He urged Minister Joyce to go beyond the taskforce’s recommendations and deliver real transparency to the market.
“The taskforce has recommended monthly reporting of only the top three grades of wheat, but this will create a meaningless mess of numbers,” Mr Hosking said.
“Is the Taskforce seriously suggesting that we only get stock information on just the top three grades of wheat, when there are dozens of grades out there?
“Wheat is priced, traded, and exported across every individual grade, not just the top three grades.
“Anyone who’s done Marketing 101 knows that price is a function of supply and demand, and stocks information is the key determinant of supply.
“We need full disclosure. Not a half-baked set of numbers,” Mr Hosking said.
Mr Hosking said the VFF vehemently disagreed with the taskforce’s finding that “market failure cannot be established”.
“That’s just wrong,” he said. “Market failure is defined as one party having better access to information than others in the marketplace.
“Without full disclosure of stocks, market failure will continue to plague the nation’s grain growers,” he said.