Opinion | The Gauge
By now we've all heard about the Red Meat Advisory Council white-paper for structural reform in red meat organisations.
Quietly, there are those comparing this reform to the state of the grains industry's efforts. Last week I had the privilege to present views on this to the Australian Summer Grains Conference, and it was a pretty daunting prospect.
I listened on the first day to expert corn scientists from Illinios, guru sunflower agronomists from NSW and professors in climate impacts on sorghum from Queensland, then followed by expert upon expert within their field of rural science or technical innovation... and I was worried.
See the only scientific discovery I had made was this: reading old grain industry restructure documents is a sure-fire cure for insomnia.
Yep it's dull. It's a long way from the agronomic gurus carving a per cent yield improvement through a brilliant new breeding technique, or an IOT enabled field monitoring system. It's not shiny like the new singulation planter or interesting like a new market opportunity opening up. Industry structures, systems and industry good activities seem a long way from the paddock and a long way from our day to day issues as farmers. Irrelevant and dull to many of us.
Yet there are reasons why we with the dust (or if you are lucky, mud) on our boots need to have a focus. One reason is we pay for it, when we turn over our levies to the Federal Government. If you pay for something you want to make sure that money is spent well, in a well-coordinated way, with correct oversight. Can we say that is true in the grains industry? There are 25 different cereal, oilseed and pulse crops that fall under these levy paying arrangements and most growers, when asked, could probably name under half of the organisations that receive or benefit from our levy funds. A loud "GRDC!" followed by a mumble or two.
I got a laugh at the conference when I compared the structure of the Australian grain industry with a picture of my chaotic work shed. Ad hoc formation, bits everywhere, impossible to work effectively. But to fix my shed just needs me to get around to it, in a day, all sorted. The quests for GRDC to be turned from a government body into an Industry Owned Corporation (IOC), and formation of an industry good company that can consolidate the work of various organizations like AEGIC, GTA, NGR, GIMAF, WQA or....
(Sorry dear reader, have you drifted off? Indeed, the plethora of organisational acronyms alone are enough to send the most sleepless soul into the land of nod.)
The quest for this industry good company has been long and fairly fruitless to date. Yet the main reason we should care is that services to our industry that these groups provide could be so much greater with effective coordination and sound producer oversight and steering. We could be gaining more value from our crops. Money in our pockets is foregone by delay. So, growers should remember is that these efforts to reform the Australian grains industry have been going on for at least seven years, in some cases longer, and that's certainly long and costly enough.
We are lucky that the current leadership of Grain Growers, Grain Producers Australia (and their state farming organisation members), and also GRDC are very much aware of the urgency of reform, and the need to cooperate well to get it done. There are hard deadlines for the "industry good organization", and GRDC have ready plans to enable transition to an IOC if industry and government told them to do so.
So as we watch our winter crops growing (or not, depending on your rainfall), lets remember that a little pressure from producers can go a long way to ensure delays don't continue. Let's remember to ask a few more questions on these reforms at farmer group meetings, when talking to our federal politicians, or when interacting with our levy recipient organisations themselves.
Cleaning the shed isn't an urgent issue, but it's very good idea to do it well, from time to time.
- Oscar Pearse is a 6th generation farmer at Moree in NSW, a member of the NSW Farmers Association's Native Vegetation taskforce, and can be contacted via Twitter at @Oscarthefarmer
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