GRDC under fire

28 Jun, 2013 02:00 AM
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Chris Moffet, Morawa.
Chris Moffet, Morawa.

A SMALL group of northern growers have heavily criticised the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and its funding model.

Morawa grain grower Chris Moffet was one of about 10 growers and industry representatives who joined GRDC western panel member and Mingenew farmer Paul Kelly, Dunn Rock farmer and western panel chairman Peter Roberts and a handful of GRDC representatives last week, to discuss what was important to northern Wheatbelt growers.

Mr Moffet said in recent years there had been a distinct lack of funding pumped into GRDC research projects designed to benefit growers in the lupin capital of WA, Mingenew.

He also said GRDC levies were yet another bug-bear.

"I'm sure I speak for a large number of WA growers when I say the financial status of the GRDC astounds me," Mr Moffet said.

"In the last couple of years my gross grain income has been more than five million dollars which means I pay about $50,000 in GRDC levies each and every year."

He said some growers paid less and some growers paid more but that wasn't the issue.

It was a significant amount of cash which, in his opinion, wasn't being translated into dollars on the average WA grain-producing farm.

"Five years ago the research budget of the GRDC was $73 million," Mr Moffet said.

"Today it stands at $183m.

"During that period the GRDC lost $45m of reserves backing overseas investments.

"In other words, if the GRDC hadn't gambled that money and lost, WA growers would be looking to benefit from about $228m worth of research and development projects."

But despite his distaste for what he called "reckless spending", Mr Moffet actually believed the GRDC had too much money in its bank account - it had more money than it knew what to do with.

He said in the corporate world, if a company had more money than it could spend on sound investments it would be compelled by law to ensure it carried out share buy-backs, or returned a dividend to its shareholders because after all, it was their money.

"The GRDC will always say it needs to have funding reserves, in case there is a disaster or string of drought years, and that's understandable because we don't want the research projects to disappear off the table," Mr Moffet said.

"But the monetary reserves needed are probably only a percentage of what the GRDC has at the moment.

"In these tough times the GRDC should be making a pro-active decision to reduce the level of the levy until reserves get down to an acceptable level.

"If the corporation is going to accumulate money for no good purpose other than to prepare for a mythical drought then I want the choice to put into levies what I believe levies are worth to me, in other words maybe 25 per cent compulsory and the rest voluntarily."

Mr Moffet said the GRDC had become just another corporation with a bureaucratic mindset.

"It's growers' and government's money," he said.

"The GRDC board appears to have lost its focus as to what it's supposed to be doing."

Mr Moffet said the production of lupins in WA had fallen from about 1.3 million tonnes in recent years to just 300,000t a year.

He said despite the GRDC's preoccupation with chickpea development, northern growers wanted the human consumption of lupins to be back on the corporation's research agenda.

"Their health value has been proven without doubt," Mr Moffet said.

"If it's only ever going to be Feed, then lupins will never live up to their potential despite the work the GRDC has done on increasing lupin yields."

But at last week's meeting the growers in attendance were told they were board decisions.

Western panel chairman Peter Roberts attended the meeting last week and said it was integral for the western panel to network with all growers in all regions of WA.

He said there were a raft of issues discussed though the rate of the levy and the need for lupin promotion and research were high on the meeting's agenda.

"The rate of the levy is set under the legislated Piered Act and it's set in stone," Mr Roberts said.

"The GRDC board doesn't even get a say in that.

"The monetary reserve is a product of the seasons and we don't have any control over that either."

Mr Roberts said the western panel's yearly budget was set by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

"By the time the GRDC actually gets the money on the ground it takes about 18 months with three to five year agreements with our researchers," he said.

"We have to have sufficient reserves to follow the projects through.

"That's the nature of research and development.

"If there were instant answers to agricultural problems we wouldn't need to do it."

Mr Roberts said there seemed to be some kind of notion the GRDC deliberately accumulated cash reserves via an agreed agenda.

"We do not," he said.

"The accumulated reserves are a product of the seasons.

"After a couple of good years things might have got away a bit in terms of income but we've also been in the situation where we've suffered through four or five years of successive drought."

He said because the GRDC relied on its research partners, like the State departments, universities and the CSIRO, to deliver all the work, many growers didn't realise that almost all grains research in Australia was at least part-funded by the GRDC.

"There is $3.3m a year put towards lupin research via the GRDC and its research partners," Mr Roberts said.

"All that money is absolutely and totally focused on the northern acid sandplain in WA because it's the lupin centre of the world.

"The GRDC spends more dollars on lupins per tonne than any other grain grown in Australia."

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