THIS year has been another huge one for Australian grain producers presenting multiple challenges to navigate, but all spurred by the ultimate goal of a bumper grains harvest with record returns.
We dealt with worker shortages, ongoing COVID-19 disruptions, mouse plagues, frost damage, storms and flooding causing a stop-start harvest, down-graded grain quality, supply chain disruptions hitting input costs and supply, and record high fertiliser prices - just to name a few of the bruises and headaches.
But, with a record $22.3 billion national crop forecast ias part of a 58.4 million tonne harvest, also a record, the big picture outlook remains positively optimistic, as we near the finishing line.
This mixed dynamic was also reflected in Grain Producers Australia's 2021 agenda, where our core role of representing growers' interests to governments and industry was balanced against needing to respond and find ways of fixing different problems which surfaced throughout the year.
As always, GPA worked with our state members - Agforce Grains, Grain Producers SA, NSW Farmers Association, Victorian Farmers' Federation Grains Group, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, WAFarmers Grains Council and the WA Grains Group - to deliver on these priorities.
Especially in doing our main job representing about 23,000 levy-paying grain producers, to meet various requirements under different areas of Federal Legislation.
These legislative responsibilities include; biosecurity, through Plant Health Australia with roles protecting growers' interest under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deedm (EPRD) (responding to incidences such as Khapra Beetle); strategic oversight of the Grains Research and Development Corporation's investment of grower and government funds into RD&E projects and activities; and managing market access and chemical use and application, through the National Residue Survey.
This is a critical part of GPA's work and focus, given grain producers contribute 1.02 per cent of our net crop sales towards compulsory levies each year which comprises; the GRDC (0.99pc); EPPRD (0.005pc); Plant Health Australia (0.01pc); and the National Residue Survey (0.015pc).
According to the latest report, between 2014-15 and 2018-19 the average paid in grower levies to all of these bodies was about $124 million.
That's why, through GPA, we need to maintain a strong and united voice which ensures grain producers are clearly heard and understood on these issues, in order to influence effective change at the highest level.
One of the biggest issues faced in 2021 was harvest workforce shortages caused by the second year of Covid-19, with persistent State and Federal border closures causing ongoing uncertainty; especially anxiety with harvest preparations and planning.
GPA identified the core issues for grain producers early on and developed a national policy plan in response, to advocate our concerns and promote practical, workable solutions.
This approach led to several positive outcomes such as Operation Grain Harvest Assist, led by our State Members WAFarmers, AgForce Grains and NSWFarmers, which connected former Australian Defence Force members to farmers needing skilled labour, via social media.
This plan also saw a national roundtable held for the grains industry involving key Federal Departments, to address core issues such as visa and quarantine arrangements. This process then led to an Industry Working Group being established, which will now look further into developing medium and long-term solutions, with growers' needs central to outcomes.
GPA is also contributing to the federal government's process to design the new agricultural visa, to ensure it delivers specific outcomes for the grains industry such as skilled workers to operate heavy machinery and seeding and harvest.
GPA's board and operations also underwent important changes this year, aimed at strengthening strategic advocacy for Australian grain producers.
In September following our AGM, it was my honour and privilege to replace fellow founding GPA director, Andrew Weidemann, as GPA Chair.
Andrew's experience and expertise won't be lost to GPA, however, as he'll continue serving on the board as GPA's RD&E Spokesperson and at the forefront of managing Special Projects.
Northern director Andrew Earle also became GPA deputy chair and former NSWFarmers grains committee chair, Matthew Madden, replaced Luke Arbuckle as a northern director.
GPA southern director Steve Ball also announced resignation shortly after the AGM, with Mark Schilling recently appointed as his replacement, to be another strong voice for SA growers.
In May, former rural journalist and strategic communications and policy adviser Colin Bettles was appointed GPA's Inaugural Chief Executive. His experience, knowledge and contacts will help boost our engagement on national issues into Canberra, as well as communications and collaboration across industry.
As we look ahead to 2022 and reflect on the challenges of 2021, we do so with great optimism knowing the important changes made this year, as well as the lessons learned, in producing an even bigger crop, will help deliver better outcomes for GPA members and all growers.
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