Grower unrest mounts over wheat imports

Grower unrest mounts, calls for lobby groups to intervene, on wheat import issue


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The decision to allow Manildra a permit to import wheat from Canada has met with overwhelming disapproval from Aussie grain growers.

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Culgoa, Victoria, farmer Georgie Warne believes wheat imports are unnecessary and a biosecurity risk.

Culgoa, Victoria, farmer Georgie Warne believes wheat imports are unnecessary and a biosecurity risk.

THE AUSTRALIAN grain growing community is unhappy with the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) granting Manildra a permit to import Canadian wheat.

While grain grower lobby groups have expressed their dislike of the decision they have also acknowledged that grain imports, providing the importer complies with the biosecurity conditions, are part and parcel of participating in a global market.

However, grassroots growers are calling for their representatives to block the move, saying it is not in the grains industry's best interest.

Georgie Warne, a grower from Culgoa, in Victoria's Mallee region, was so incensed by the decision she has started a petition against the decision to allow the imports on website Change.org.

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As of Tuesday evening the petition had attracted over 1800 signatures.

Ms Warne, who also has a role as regional manager with Swan Hill-based grain business Flexi-Grain, said she did not feel the wheat needed to come in.

"There is the wheat, even of that specific quality, around, I just do not feel we need to jeopardise our grains industry for the sake of a 60,000 tonne shipment, especially when it is not a matter of the grain not being available any other way," Ms Warne said.

She said her primary concern was for the biosecurity safety of the nation's grains industry.

"There are pests in Canada we don't have in Australia and I don't think the wheat should be allowed just to come in and move around agricultural areas."

She listed the noxious weed Canadian thistle, the fungal disease karnal bunt and residues of genetically modified corn and soy, neither registered to be grown in Australia, as potential incursion risks.

Her second point was the economic implications for growers.

"Last year was a drought year but by virtue of the high prices related to the drought farmers were able to make the best of what little grain they did have," she said.

"I don't feel this decision should have been made, at least without the growers being consulted and given a chance to voice their point of view."

However, Brett Hosking, Grain Growers chairman, said while he found the decision unpalatable, it was the by-product of free trade.

"We can't sit here in good faith and say that grain should not be imported here, so long as the biosecurity standards are met, should a buyer want to do so, then complain about cases like India where we appealing their tariffs on pulses, in good faith," Mr Hosking said.

"As a grower I don't like it and I'd love to know more about Manildra's decision to go down this path, given the wheat appears to be available, but if the permit has been issued then that is the way trade works."

Central NSW farmer Damien Doyle, Euabalong, near Lake Cargelligo, said it was disappointing to see wheat being brought in.

"I understand Manildra has probably done it tough with the drought and that they would have their reasons for wanting to bring grain in, but I'm worried about the biosecurity risks and don't want to see wheat coming in on a regular basis."

Mr Hosking said he doubted grain would be imported regularly.

"We're an exporting nation most of the time, even this year there is a solid exportable surplus by the time you factor in WA, what we have here is a specific grade of wheat the customer is looking for.

"Most years, its going to be a lot easier and cheaper for buyers to purchase their grain locally."

Grain marketers, while not wishing to go on the record, have expressed scepticism the import news has influenced domestic grain prices.

Many speaking to Australian Community Media have said rumours have been strong in the trade that there would some form of grain imports this season for months now and that it had already been factored into the price.

The ready availability of WA grain is the major factor for the massive drop in east coast prices this calendar year, which has come in spite of a lack of available grain locally, but some marketers suggest the possibility of imports has also kept a lid on prices.

Ms Warne said grain end users needed to be careful to continue to support their local industry or risk a drop in supply, particularly if they wanted a specific type of wheat.

"The threat of further imports could be used to keep the foot on the throat of Aussie grain growers, but it could the other way and the local supplies may not be as easy to come by in, even in the good years, as people look to other crop types."

Ms Warne said there were rumours a second shipment has been booked to leave Vancouver, however neither Manildra or DAWR confirmed whether a second permit had been granted prior to publication.

The story Grower unrest mounts over wheat imports first appeared on Farm Online.

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