MLA urges levy payers to speak up

09 Jun, 2015 02:00 AM
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Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton is looking forward to hearing from levy payers in local regions, including at forums at Bordertown on June 16 and Clare on June 17, and is committed to continuing the forums from year-to-year.
Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton is looking forward to hearing from levy payers in local regions, including at forums at Bordertown on June 16 and Clare on June 17, and is committed to continuing the forums from year-to-year.

SA BEEF, sheepmeat and goat producers wanting to have a say on their industry's future are encouraged to attend one of two Your Industry, Your Levy forums.

The forums - at Bordertown on June 16 and Clare on June 17 - are part of Meat & Livestock Australia's commitment to engaging more with levy payers about how their research, development and marketing levies have been spent in the past decade, and future priorities.

It has been a busy first 12 months for MLA managing director Richard Norton, who is hosting the forums, with the Senate inquiry into grassfed levies and an independent review of MLA's systems for investment into research funding.

He said these reviews highlighted the need for more grassroots communication.

"One thing that is quite clear from the (Australia-wide) forums so far is that they have not seen the managing director of MLA in their local area for some time," he said.

"It will not be the only time we do this. The senior level management of MLA will continue to travel to local regions and answer to producers on the performance of the levy and answer their questions and receive their feedback."

Although southern Australian producers had previously been able to contribute ideas for R&D projects through the Southern Australia Meat Research Advisory Council, many were unaware of the process. Hence the need for a regional R&D consultation model.

Mr Norton said producers would ultimately decide the value of MLA research but an independent economic review of MLA programs had shown in the past decade that its investment in programs such as improved productivity through genetics had created $2.88 billion in benefits to sheepmeat producers and $2.3b to southern beef producers.

R&D investment in EverGraze, the national livestock, soil and grazing management best-practice on-farm adoption program, had delivered economic benefits to industry of $306 million, through changed pasture management on more than 500,000 hectares and improved nutrient management on 600,000ha in southern grazing systems.

"MLA has invested $93m since 1998 on Meat Standards Australia and the MSA grading system in one year has generated $213m back to the farmgate from the difference between graded and ungraded cattle, and all the legume programs were returning almost $70m a year in improved yields through better varieties," he said.

Many red meat producers had been unfairly quick to blame MLA for industry woes.

"MLA has been in the firing line for the change to the National Vendor Declarations, but it is not MLA that sets the questions or has the power to make any changes - a lot of producers don't seem to appreciate that fact," he said.

Seasonal conditions, currency and the consolidation of the processing sector had the biggest impact on prices but marketing was an important "piece of the puzzle".

"Last year we sold a record 9.3m cattle to be slaughtered and another 1.2m cattle were sent live export," he said.

"If we didn't have diversity, with more than 100 markets, the dynamics of the last year could have seen a diabolical drop in farmgate returns. We need to continue this diversity of markets."

MLA marketing campaigns had contributed to the success of Australia's export destinations and domestic consumption was holding steady, with Australians the fifth-largest beef eaters in the world. But there was no room for complacency.

"We (the red meat industry) are considered by our direct competitors as the strongest competitor in the space, so we need to make sure as an industry that we stay there - MLA certainly has a part to play in that," he said.

"Domestically beef and lamb is a high-value product so we need to sell the benefits of health and taste to the consumer. If we don't do that, other products such as chicken and pork will take their place on the shelf."

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    Catherine Miller

    Catherine Miller

    is Stock Journal's livestock editor and South East correspondent

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