Conference closes farmer-consumer gap

Conference closes farmer-consumer gap


THE question of "who you feed - closing the gap between farmers and consumers" was the theme of the Farmanco conference last week.

Science commentator Karl Kruszelnicki speaking on a wide range of topics at the Farmanco conference last week.

Science commentator Karl Kruszelnicki speaking on a wide range of topics at the Farmanco conference last week.

THE question of "who you feed - closing the gap between farmers and consumers" was the theme of the Farmanco conference last week.

More than 240 clients gathered in Perth, with a wide range of speakers including science commentator Karl Kruszelnicki, Interflour general manager of operations Nicholas Trim and farm case studies by Reece Curwen and Victorian grower Rob Ruwoldt.

During his talk, Dr Karl covered everything from biodiversity and renewable energy through to the lack of political will to invest in the future.

"The Sydney Harbour Bridge was built before our great grandparents and even when it was finished all the cars in NSW could not have formed a traffic jam over the bridge," he said.

"They were building infrastructure for the future and not just the next election cycle."

The Zero Carbon Australia project was a hot topic, as Dr Karl gave a snapshot of it and the challenges it faces due to a lack of political will.

"What we could spend on developing this project annually is almost equal to what we spend on gas, coal and uranium investment - and for this investment nothing is actually built," he said.

Launched in 2010, the $800 billion project would provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels, using solar, thermal and wind energies to provide Australia's power.

"When the United States decided to go to the moon they had a total of 16 minutes of space experience - they hadn't even done a single orbit," Dr Karl said.

"The only thing stopping us from doing Zero Carbon Australia is political will."

He pointed to other countries such as China and Japan, which were investing and planning projects that would not come to fruition until the next generation.

"Japan is already planning that by 2050 it will be buying 60 per cent of its electricity from us,'' he said.

"What are we planning for?"

Turning to agricultural issues, Mr Trim provided an overview of the South East Asian market for Australian wheat.

Interflour, of which 50pc is owned by CBH, operates seven mills in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Turkey, with a total milling capacity of 1.5 million tonnes per year.

Mr Trim outlined the opportunities that Indonesia offered as the world's second biggest importer of wheat.

"From 2010 to 2014, there was a 23pc growth in Indonesian wheat imports and if that continued, we could see demand double every 10 years," he said.

However, competition from the Black Sea region and Argentina was having an effect as the quality of Russian and Ukrainian wheat improved.

Mr Trim said Australia needed to better promote its grain to millers and procurement staff.

"Australian wheat will always have core demand in Asia and Indonesia and the increased market demand and finite Australian supply will provide a buffer in terms of price," he said.

"However, competition is increasing and millers will inevitably adapt to new wheat types."

An interactive session with V&V Walsh export manager Paul Crane and Adam Laitt, Milne Agribusiness Group, explored how both businesses were adapting to challenges in the market.

For V&V Walsh, the largest multi-species plant operator in WA, changing international markets and regulation remained a challenge.

"Five years ago, Indonesia was a powerhouse market and now it is a 'watch and see' due to the tensions between the two governments and the increasing importation of Indian buffalo," Mr Crane said.

He said while China was a very important market for the processor, it faced continual competition and regulatory challenges.

It was also developing its own sheep and lamb flocks to increase self sufficiency, which could have an effect on demand from Australia.

"Our business is price sensitive and every week we are working how we get competitive pricing," he said.

"Every market in the world has an alternative and one of the biggest competitors to Australian beef is Brazilian beef, which is extremely cheap and they are happy to sell it at any price to move it out of the country."

Understanding what the consumer wanted and being "a bit creative" was the driver behind Milne Agribusiness Group's response in growing its chicken and pork markets.

The group, which includes Milne Feeds, Mt Barker Chicken and Plantagenet Pork, pioneered free range farming models and works with farmers to grow free range pork and chicken.

"We will look at business as feeding those on four legs or two so whether we're eating meat or paleo we are driving demand for feed and grain and building new supply chains that are profitable and differentiated," Mr Laitt said.

"Our pork is a really beautiful system - we work with small farmers with 200 acres and take their worst, sandy paddock and set up a pig farm; the pigs are 100pc free range and live outside in their social groups.

"Every two years the farm moves and the land is then moved back into cropping."

Mr Lait said since introducing the system and signing an exclusive agreement with Coles, it had seen a 500pc growth in Plantagenet Pork and was working with 15 farmers in the Great Southern to raise 40,000 pigs.

"The demand is massive, the quality of the meat is very good and Coles have been a fantastic partner," he said.

"It has also worked well for those smaller farmers as all they need is water, sandy soils and not much else."

He said the innovative approach had allowed Milnes to compete with larger players.

"None of this matters if you can't sell it and we can't compete on price alone with the bigger players," Mr Laitt said.

"It is a hard game but we focus on quality and providing a differentiated product."


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