GM and Tier 3 dominate grain headlines

25 Dec, 2014 01:00 AM
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Yorkrakine grower Quentin Davies, Cardiff stud, in a paddock of Hindmarsh barley that was completely destroyed by the severe hail storm that struck the property in October. Mr Davies said 1600ha of wheat and barley had been damaged by the storm.
Yorkrakine grower Quentin Davies, Cardiff stud, in a paddock of Hindmarsh barley that was completely destroyed by the severe hail storm that struck the property in October. Mr Davies said 1600ha of wheat and barley had been damaged by the storm.

THE year 2014 started with confirmation that the 2013/2014 harvest was WA's biggest ever.

The 15.8 million tonne harvest surpassed the previous best of 15.06 million tonnes in 2011/12.

It was also one of the fastest harvests WA had experienced with very few weather-induced hold ups. CBH was roundly congratulated for its handling of the record crop with very few delays at bins across the State.

The record, which came in what couldn't exactly be described as a "bumper" year, also prompted speculation whether WA may hit a 20 million tonne crop at some stage in the future.

After a tough 2012/13 harvest, the record crop alleviated pressure on many WA grain growers and put a more optimistic feeling back into many country towns.

The 2014/2015 harvest won't quite measure up to last year's, with its total being downgraded in the past week to 13mt.

While an early break and good rain through June looked to have this year's crop set up to be a bumper a lack of rain through many parts of the Wheatbelt in July and August caused big yield downgrades.

And then, the rain that was meant to come in the winter months hit paddocks with force in October.

Storms caused havoc in parts of the Central Wheatbelt and Great Southern with crops flattened by hail in the Wyalkatchem and Dowerin regions and by floods in Dumbleyung and Kukerin.

Falls of 100mm in a short time were recorded in Dumbleyung, while other areas reported rain anywhere between 50mm and 85mm.

The storms made their way through the eastern Wheatbelt and down to Esperance, with farmers starting to count the cost of quality issues from the precipitation. Luckily most crops escaped reasonably unharmed but with sporadic storms hitting parts of the Great Southern through November, it will amount to one of the later finishing harvests in recent times.

GM case

The Kojonup GM case, between two neighbours and former friends, generated many headlines throughout the first half of the year with the long-awaited trial kicking off in February.

It would prove to be a landmark trial with the result to have ramifications across the country.

Kojonup organic farmer Stephen Marsh took legal action against his neighbour, Mike Baxter alleging GM canola contamination. The trial kicked off on February 10 and would run until February 27 with many statements from witnesses on both sides of the case.

Anti-GM supporters made their presence felt during the trial, holding a rally on the eve of the case beginning and protesting outside the court on the first morning of the trial.

It would then take presiding judge Kenneth Martin almost four months to hand down the verdict, with the result going in favour of defendant Mike Baxter on May 28.

It took Justice Martin only five minutes to hand down his vedict in favour of Mr Baxter.

In a written summary of his verdict made available, Justice Martin pointed to evidence given at the trial by both sides that Roundup Ready (RR) swathes were "physically harmless to persons, animals or land, even if consumed".

He summarised that GM canola only posed a risk of transferring genetic material if canola seed germinated on the Marsh's farm and then later cross-fertilised through its pollen being exchanged with another compatible species (such as canola).

Justice Martin's summary made clear the fact there was no evidence presented during the trial to suggest any genetic transference risk was posed by the RR canola found on the Marsh's property because the Marshes didn't grow canola.

The summary statement said that Justice Martin dismissed both the Marshes' causes of action in common law negligence and private nuisance.

"For private nuisance, his Honour assessed that it had not been shown that there had been any unreasonable interference by Mr Baxter in the Marshes' use and enjoyment of Eagle Rest," the summary said.

"His Honour focused relevantly upon Mr Baxter's decision to harvest his RR canola crop by the swathing process, rather than his decision to grow RR canola in 2010.

"Mr Baxter had grown a lawful crop in 2010.

"In deciding both to grow and to swathe that crop that season he had acted with advice of a local agronomist.

"Mr Baxter had used an orthodox and well accepted harvest methodology by swathing his RR canola crops in 2010".

CBH Board

This year saw some changes to the CBH Board. In what some may term as a surprise win, Morawa farmer Rod Madden took on Clancy Michael for the District 1 board seat and won.

Mr Madden ran an extensive campaign and he was able to regain a seat on the board, which he lost in 2012.

His push for a board seat included his stance against CBH's purported plans for east coast investment.

Then in April, long-standing CBH chairman Neil Wandel announced his intention to step down from the role.

While there has been speculation that divisions within the board drove Mr Wandel to resign, he disputed this and said at the time that he still had "some fairly good support there".

Instead, he said his decision to retire was based on farm, business and family commitments which took priority in his life.

He said he made a commitment to CBH Board members to alert them to his retirement intentions 12 months before calling it quits, thanks to a lengthy succession plan put in place when Mr Wandel replaced his former chairman, Tony Critch, in 2008.

Mr Wandel also said it was now a great chance for young growers to take part in the CBH elections and become members of the board in a bid to return some youthfulness to the co-operative's management team.'

Highly respected within grower circles Mr Wandel said in an interview with Farm Weekly at the time of his announcement that, "At the moment CBH's engagement scores with its growers and employees have never been higher and the business is moving record tonnages to port.

"When I joined the board in 2002, CBH was a completely different business to what it is today.

"Currently the co-op is in a really good position – it's hitting records left, right and centre so it's probably a good time to move on."

He said, for the first time ever, CBH would face export competition in WA and the business would need to make some changes in order to ensure it could compete.

He also said CBH couldn't remain a sole storage and handling business and in order to compete with big, multi-origin, overseas companies the board would need to tackle a number of obstacles in the future".

CBH east coast investment

Speculation mounted in February that CBH was planning to make a $100 million investment into the Eastern States.

A number of growers contacted Farm Weekly about the plans and Morawa grower Rod Madden said he had it confirmed from Eastern States growers.

Mr Madden, who later that month won a seat on the CBH Board, said he had it confirmed that New South Wales producers in the Narrabri, Moree and Burren Junction areas had met with CBH executives, with a view to building state of the art infrastructure at those locations.

In response, CBH CEO Dr Andy Crane said growers in NSW and Victoria had been keen to discuss how CBH runs its operations and explore any possible solutions to their challenges.

He also confirmed CBH was looking at a wide range of investments.

"Investments made by CBH are not to the detriment of the funding made available for capital works or maintenance programs," he said.

"CBH reinvested over $155 million into the network last year and has a commitment to continue to invest for the long term.

"We have a stringent process to evaluate investment opportunities.

"Each has to be assessed by our Board and must adhere to strict criteria, including the ability to create value and return it to WA growers."

The plans created great debate in all farming sectors, with many farmers keen for CBH to invest in WA storage and handling systems first, while others were keen to see the co-operative spread its risk and invest in other grain growing areas of Australia.

Come August, CBH announced that it had shelved plans for the investment...for the interim.

CBH said at the time that "it has been investigating the potential of investing in supply chain assets in northern NSW but given the increased competitor activity in the region the board has decided not to proceed with the project as it stands. But it vows to continue monitoring opportunities on the eastern seaboard."

CBH chief executive officer Andy Crane said there were many other opportunities in the agribusiness sector.

"We have seen an increase in competitor activity both here in WA and in the Eastern States," he said.

"There has been significant activity, particularly in the northern NSW region, in the past 12 months with regards to investment in logistics assets and the supply chain.

"It's a fast changing environment and there are a number of lines of inquiry that need to be explored before any one project is approved.

"CBH considers its investments thoroughly to ensure we make the right decisions at the right time on behalf of our growers.

"Sometimes this takes time but it's important to assess all the risks and rewards."

Bunge Bunbury facility opens

There was some speculation that the move not to proceed may have been due to a need to safeguard CBH's business in WA, with multi-nationals circling the State.

Bunge was the first of the big multi-national trading companies to make its move, when its newly built Bunbury port facility sent off its first load of grain in July.

The vessel carried 18,000 tonnes of wheat and was headed for the Phillipines.

The shipment was a real test of Bunge's processes but its success prompted the company's Australian general manager, Chris Aucote to announce that the coming months would be spent buying more grain and looking at ways to service Wheatbelt growers.

This sentiment was reiterated when new Transport Minister Dean Nalder officially opened the facility in September.

Travis King

Travis King

Is a journalist for Farm Weekly

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