LEADERS from the world’s fourth largest seed breeding and marketing company have been given an insight into farming in the WA Wheatbelt after a tour of Coorow recently.
Although not typically a tourist destination, more than a dozen representatives from French co-operative Limagrain travelled three and a half hours to the Wheatbelt’s northern agricultural zone, where they toured farms and grain handling facilities and met with local industry members on Friday.
The tour was part of the company’s visit down under for the opening of Australian Grain Technologies’ (AGT) new $20 million Southern Crop Breeding Centre at Roseworthy, South Australia, which officially opened its doors last Tuesday.
Limagrain has been a shareholder of AGT – Australia’s largest plant breeding company – since 2008 and has since worked closely alongside fellow AGT partners the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the South Australian government and the University of Adelaide, South Australia, on plant breeding ventures across multiple crops.
Based in central France, Limagrain is the world’s biggest wheat breeding company and employs more than 10,000 people in 55 countries across the globe.
The farmer-owned co-operative has an annual turnover of more than $4 billion (2.5bn euros), made through its production and distribution of field seeds, vegetable seeds, garden products, cereal ingredients and bakery products.
Limagrain Asia-Pacific chief executive officer and AGT director Cécile Richard said the company’s relationship with AGT had been extremely successful, and travelling to Australia for the opening of the new research facility was seen as a high priority.
Ms Richard said the week-long tour of Australia had given the delegation of Limagrain board members and executives a greater insight into the company’s relationship with its Australian partner.
“We have a lot of genetics moving from Australia to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world back to Australia,” Ms Richard said.
“We are also conducting very big research products with AGT like DNA analysis and we’ve working to strengthen their genomic selection projects, and all of these projects work as common projects.
“It’s not a purely financial relationship and I think that’s why it works.”
Ms Richard said the delegation – including six farmer directors – was keen to visit an Australian grain farm during its visit, and GrainGrowers deputy chairperson and former AGT director Rod Birch’s Coorow property was a selected as an ideal option.
Limagrain Field Seeds Division chief executive officer Bruno Carette said while the WA farming environment was vastly different to the agricultural landscape in France, French growers on the tour were very keen to learn from their Australian counterparts.
He said the group left the Wheatbelt extremely impressed by the State’s farming practices.
“What is really interesting for us is to see how well thought-out, structured and run agriculture is in WA, I think it’s a unique place,” Mr Carette said.
“I don’t think there is any other region I can think of where there is such a serious focus on sustainability of operations, of trying to really use sustainable, smart agricultural practices to try to extract the best value of what, at the base, is a really sub-optimal environment.
“Travelling around we can see that farmers here know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it with great attention to managing their ecosystems.
“It’s quite impressive – rarely in my career have I seen people who are paying so much attention to crop rotations.”
The tour group was given an overview of the WA grains industry by representatives from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre, GrainGrowers, Landmark and the Liebe Group.
Mr Carette said the French could learn a lot from WA’s wheat industry participants, whose knowledge and investment in the cereal was highly regarded by Limagrain.
“As a breeding organisation we have two strategy crops – one is corn and one is wheat – and what we have seen here in Australia is an entire region that is really specialising in wheat with a very well-structured philosophy on how to approach its overseas markets, mainly in Asia,” Mr Carette said.
“I think Australia will continue to play a big role in wheat supply worldwide so Limagrain needs to maintain or if possible continue to develop its connection with not only our AGT partner but also with the expertise and knowledge that exists here in WA around wheat.”
Mr Birch – who hosted the delegation – described the visit from Limagrain as a great honour, which benefited both Australian and French parties.
He said those involved in the experience learnt that Australian and French farmers had a lot in common, and hoped the relationship could be continued in the future.
“Limagrain really interests me because it’s a French farmer co-operative on global stage - from a province in France it’s grown like crazy into a global behemoth,” Mr Birch said.
“I think we’ve got so much to learn from people that are doing similar things in other parts of the world and this is just an example of that.”