AFTER spending the week in Canberra for the Federal budget, Grain Producers Australia (GPA) chairman Barry Large rushed back to his home farm at Miling to resume seeding last week.
Chatting in his homestead, it was clear that the new biosecurity levy announced by the Albanese Government last Wednesday had raised many questions, with limited answers.
GPA has requested to meet with Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt in the coming weeks, where it hopes to both understand the issue and develop a fully-formed stance.
Mr Large was sure to emphasise that any investment into agriculture, and biosecurity in particular, was a movement in the right direction - and he couldn't be disappointed by a government that was investing in the industry.
"The bottom line is any investment from the government that benefits the rural population, you've got to respect it," Mr Large said.
"My first impression is any investment in biosecurity, wherever it comes from, it's got to be good - now we're going to work out how we're going to pay for the investment."
The question does linger in the minds of graingrowers - will just the grains industry bear the responsibility of a biosecurity levy?
In a recent Episode article, Andrew Whitelaw said the grains industry has pulled a lot of "additional weight" during the past two years, and this might be the newest addition.
Mr Large said it would have been nice if the government had consulted with industry bodies, such as GPA, prior to the announcement of the levy so it could be as equitable and efficient as possible.
When looking over the past five years, most biosecurity risks had not come from the grains industry, and he believed a container levy may have been more effective.
"When considering the cross-industry contamination of incursions that have all come from other industries, we need to make sure that everyone's paying - they can't expect the grains industry to wear the burden of it," he said.
The industry is struggling to understand the levy, and there is discourse from graingrowers that the levy is just another tax being piled onto farmers.
With GPA's calculations - based on value estimated for last year's grain crop ($28 billion), the total levies potentially collected (at the current rate of 1.02pc of total grain sale value) would be $285.6 million.
At the new rate of 1.122pc (1.02 + 0.102) with the added 10 per cent announced in the budget, the total levies collected, based on the $28b crop, would be $314.16m.
This represents an increase of $28.56m.
With 21,000 levy-paying grain producers, at this 10pc added rate, the grower average will rise from about $13,600 each to about $15,000 each.
With high input prices and tighter gross margins, Mr Large said it was important that the levy gave tangible value to growers and was a full supply chain approach.
"We've got to have good controlled investment where growers can see value, otherwise it's just undermining the growers bottom line," he said.
Despite this, Mr Large was counting the investment in biosecurity as a win.
However he was a little disappointed the government hadn't announced an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into bulk grain handling.
A proper review into the industry hadn't been undertaken for a long time (and never concurrently) and Mr Large hoped it would become a priority to the government soon.
"It would clearly be, we think, a good investment that would maybe return more dollars to the growers' pockets," he said.
He said perhaps growers don't "squeak the wheel" enough and the countryside could be forgotten by those in the metropolitan area at budget-time.
This year the Federal budget focused heavily on social welfare, which Mr Large believed was important, but the mental wellbeing of those in the country remained high on his list of concerns.
"Any investment in mental health is strongly respected and we are very big on helping each other - it's a passion of GPA's to look after its own," he said.
Connectivity also remains a big issue in the country, which continues to be under addressed by the government.
Mr Large said it was important that if farmers did need to ring a mate or a helpline when they are feeling down, they could do so without any connectivity issues.
"They're not going to ring six times, are they?" he said.
"It's incredibly important they have this ability to be able to chat to someone."
Mr Large believed keeping mental health in check this year will be important, off the back of two big harvests, high input costs and pressure on abattoir killing space.
When Farm Weekly visited Mr Large, his seeding program was in full swing.
His 13,000 hectare Miling farm was being seeded to wheat, oats, canola, barley and hay - and he has a Merino sheep and crossbred enterprise.
Mr Large wasn't too optimistic about the future of sheep farming in the area and was sad to see the industry slowly declining.
"Sheep have always been very important to me and this farm has grown on the sheep's back," he said.
"There's been good times, but I don't think I see a huge future for the sheep industry."
He believed to have a successful sheep enterprise, there needed to be a firm market, labour to handle the sheep and live export opportunities.
"At the end of the day, live export is an important part of the culture here in this country - and I think the efforts that everybody has put in to make sure that it is done properly and humanely need to be congratulated, everyone's trying."
He said most people would rather spend their Christmas Day with their family than fixing a water trough and the labour intensiveness of sheep was a deterrent.
While Mr Large planned on keeping his sheep, he was unsure whether his children would feel the same.
A new boomsprayer stood in one of the paddocks, but Mr Large said rotation-wise he was sticking to what he knew and wasn't trying anything different this year.
The farm had received about 60 millimetres of rain this year, and the sheep hadn't had as much green germination to graze on as Mr Large would have liked.
He was hoping for an average season this year, and would be happy with a bit of rain to kick his crops off in the next month.
Mr Large has a large export program, and was slightly more optimistic about barley since China announced they may reconsider anti-dumping tariffs against Australia.
He planted slightly more barley following the announcement, but would most likely modify his rotation if the tariffs were removed.
The farm had three full-time employees running the seeding program - one of which was Sam Harley - who is on seeding duties.
Mr Harley had been working on the farm for the past two years, and enjoyed the country life so much that he was hoping to buy a country block with his partner near Miling.
The move to the country two years ago became a no-brainer when his son, six-year-old Zeke, was diagnosed with a severe cancer at birth.
Zeke was born with a cancer tumour in his neck and a second tumour in his brain, and is the first child - out of 13 diagnosed with his condition around the world - to survive, and Mr Harley lovingly refers to him as a "miracle".
Zeke is now multiple years in remission, but is immuno-compromised.
After homeschooling Zeke for multiple years during COVID-19, Mr Harley was given the opportunity to come work with Mr Large on the farm, and the family jumped at the opportunity.
It is evident that Mr Harley is passionate about his job, and he said he loves the freedom and opportunity to work on such a large-scale farm.
"I go above and beyond to do my job, I've always wanted to be out here," he said.
"Personally, it's been a lifelong dream that never really got any wind, so as soon as it got wind, it took off like a wildfire."
Mr Harley said his family, including his other two children, Logan and Lailah, were "flourishing" - and there had been a noticeable difference since relocating to the farm.
Since both of his boys attend such a small school, teachers are able to implement independent learning strategies - which Mr Harley said had helped both of them succeed academically.
He said often Zeke would come from school and sit in the tractor with him, but would usually fall asleep pretty quickly.
Mr Harley hopes that one day he might be able to purchase a small farm of his own.
He said Mr Large had been extremely supportive of this goal - and was hopeful it will eventually become a reality.
"The cost of land is absolutely through the roof, it seems like a far off goal, but not unreachable," Mr Harley said.
"So as long as I can stay focused and put in the hours, I can get there."
Prior to working at Mr Large's farm, Mr Harley hadn't driven such large machinery and he was excited to continue learning.
He has only experienced two big seasons, and the farm had received 100 millimetres less rainfall this year than the same time last year, so Mr Harley was interested to see what happened.
"So it's learning more equipment, learning more about the fields and learning about the seeds and seed rates and the different types of years because I've only ever seen two good years," Mr Harley said.
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