Baxter takes out PGA award

15 Aug, 2014 07:30 PM
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15
 
Michael Baxter.
Michael Baxter.

INDOMITABLE Kojonup farmer Michael Baxter has been crowned winner of the WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association’s (PGA) Achievement Award for 2014.

Mr Baxter received the prestigious prize at the PGA’s annual convention dinner at the Crown Perth Casino tonight before about 150 guests.

The award recognises the humble Kojonup farmer’s continuing legal battle against his neighbour Steve Marsh over genetically modified (GM) canola use and property rights.

In the decision handed down in late May, Justice Ken Martin comprehensively rejected Mr Marsh’s claim for $85,000 compensation and permanent injunction to stop his neighbour growing or swathing GM canola.

In June, Mr Marsh and his wife Sue announced they would appeal the decision, with the grounds for the appeal lodged on July 25.

The PGA grains committee backed Mr Baxter’s campaign from the outset, in line with its support for individual farmers being able to access profitable technologies.

In his presentation speech, PGA president Tony Seabrook described Mr Baxter as a strong supporter of new cropping technology. He said the Kojonup farmer “remains instrumental in championing the rights of farmers to grow legal and safe crops”.

“Nowhere was this more evident than during the recent Supreme Court of Western Australia case where an organic farmer in Kojonup tried to stop his neighbour from growing GM canola,” he said.

“Our winner played a pivotal role in this court case because he was the defendant. His unyielding determination to not back down to the bullying tactics and relentless persecution from anti-GM groups placed a heavy toll on his professional and personal life.

“Thanks to his efforts, growers in Western Australia are not restricted in the choice of what they grow and how they grow it.

“This attitude and sheer doggedness in the face of adversity, exemplifies the very foundations of what this Association stands for.”

The dinner was told Mr Baxter graduated from Narrogin Agricultural School and started working as a shearer throughout the Kojonup District before taking over the family farm about 20 years ago.

His three sons, Cody, Reece and Ash and sister Ros were also present when the award was made.

Mr Baxter’s legal battle ignited when his neighbour’s organic farm was decertified by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) in late December 2010 due to the presence of GM canola swathes.

But the final judgment dismissed the plaintiff’s claims in terms of negligence and nuisance pointing to concerns with NASAA’s certification rules.

Mr Marsh was supported by various groups including the Safe Food Foundation which raised $750,000 to support his case, including holding public rallies and fundraising functions, while Slater & Gordon Lawyers acted pro-bono.

However, Mr Baxter was advised against making public comment leading up to the two week trial in February as pressure mounted on his family.

Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media after the judgment was handed down, Bradley Bayley Legal partner Brian Bradley praised Mr Baxter’s resilience.

“I’ve got to know Michael Baxter very well over the past three years and he’s a typical Australian farmer who’s as honest as they day is long,” he said.

“He’s an intelligent, well balanced, fair minded man and I’ve found him to be a person of great integrity.”

“He had to sit back and virtually suffer in silence while this campaign against him was being run.

“Fortunately he had great support in the Kojonup community, from the vast majority of the farming community there and a lot of moral support from other quarters.”

PGA Grains Committee president John Snooke also praised Mr Baxter’s resilience to the ongoing anti-GM campaign.

“Mick was initially very stoic in the face of uncertainty but he had a gut feeling that he was right and that he had done nothing wrong and wanted to defend himself,” he said.

“And that’s why the PGA supported him and his right to farm the way he wants.

“He was absolutely resolute in his position and was never going to change that position and give in to the demands for damages and in the end he won the case and good on him.”

When the court judgment was handed down in late May, Mr Baxter said his on-farm practices would remain unchanged “because there’s nothing wrong with GM and the court proved that”.

He said his neighbour only found nine plants growing on his property 12 months after the GM swaths blew over from his farm.

“They carried on and said it was all a huge contamination but really, only nine plants isn’t much of a problem is it?” he said.

The PGA conference also held a forum on GMs where experts outlined the technology’s future to producers.

An opening video message from Prime Minister Tony Abbott also thanked the PGA for its stance in opposing the carbon tax, which was recently repealed.

“Back in 2011 you called the carbon tax agronomic vandalism and you were right,” he said.

“The PGA has been absolutely unflinching in its opposition to the carbon tax and I am pleased to report that the carbon tax is gone.

“The government is putting in place the policies that will assist Australia’s agricultural sector.”

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

blooper
15/08/2014 11:22:26 PM

Congratulations to Mick & the PGA. Kicked an own goal with that award. How not to convince us of the virtues of GMOs.
GFA
19/08/2014 5:25:40 AM

Nothing against Baxter for defending himself. However Marsh made a mistake by seeking to stop Baxter growing GMO Canola. If he had simply sought damages arising from Baxter negligently , allowing his crop seed to stray onto Marsh's property, it may have been a different result. (It may still be after the appeal is resolved.) After all, Marsh was trying to prove he should be just as free as Baxter to produce his crop, without interference from his neighbor. PGA zealously overlooks the freedom for Marsh that they champion for Baxter. They picked sides instead of justice.
LTF
19/08/2014 5:43:17 AM

The fact still remains that there are no consumers calling for GMO canola to be made available on super market shelves. In fact the GMO producer lobby get very touchy when publicity about labeling of GMO products is raised. It is heavily discounted against non GM canola. Should tell you something. GM canola is only able to sell because of the good reputation of non GM canola. It gets a free ride. I would be keeping my mouth shut if I were the PGA, because if Baxter loses on the Marsh appeal, GM canola will be in big trouble in WA.
LTF
19/08/2014 5:44:04 AM

The fact still remains that there are no consumers calling for GM canola to be made available on super market shelves. In fact the GMO producer lobby get very touchy when publicity about labeling of GMO products is raised. It is heavily discounted against non GM canola. Should tell you something. GM canola is only able to sell because of the good reputation of non GM canola. It gets a free ride. I would be keeping my mouth shut if I were the PGA, because if Baxter loses on the Marsh appeal, GM canola will be in big trouble in WA.
freedom to farm
19/08/2014 7:04:21 AM

The plantiff does not want the issue resolved and continually seeks conflict. Why pursue your neighbor when the verdict so difinitively states the solution lies in the organic standards themselves. If the standards had been interpreted correctly no de-certification was needed. Show me the clause that allows de-certification of an accidental incursion of GM canola? Steve Marsh would have won this case if he had pursued the organic certifier. Baxter was the wrong man to pick on and it facinates me how those opposed to GM believe the court case has helped their goals given the GM act will recind.
LTF
19/08/2014 7:25:09 AM

It would appear you are the pot calling the kettle black "freedom to farm". Are you a closet PGA fan?
THE FARMER
19/08/2014 7:55:48 AM

The earth is not flat hippies .All that gm canola gets used .P.G.a picked the side of common sense not the side of irrational hissy fit .
Kath
19/08/2014 11:47:41 AM

LTF- why can't you see the obvious facts 1) c. 50% of WA canola farmers grow GM canola and make money out of it.2) the overwhelming majority of people using canola oil use the oil from GM canola and are happy with it 3) numerous independent short and long term show GM foods are no more harmful to health than non-GM foods and really there is no GM residue left in the GM oil 4) our organic zero GM tolerance requirement is unique and is absurd - all other countries allow for trace accidental GM incursion 5) the organic industry should accept trace GM levels and farmers should insure v GM
LTF
19/08/2014 2:52:51 PM

Kathy, nothing in your post refutes what is said in mine. I am not opposed to GM canola, and I am not an organic foods lobbyist. I usually avoid the organic products because they are over priced and under valued. However, the GM canola lobby, has never been able to answer the question, "who are the consumers demanding GM canola oil or canola spreads as a preference over non GM canola retail products?
dmmellow
20/08/2014 4:08:39 PM

it is mostly use for feed and biodiesel anyways ,about time they get updated with reality!
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