Attendance at the inaugural general meeting of the newly-formed Grain Bulk Handlers' Association Incorporated in Narembeen last Friday was much lower than expected.
In the lead up, organisers were unsure how many graingrowers would attend, but had hoped for more than the 21 that did.
"I am disappointed there's not 400 people here," said committee member Bob Iffla.
As the group represents CBH shareholders, the meeting was chaired by Bill Cowan, alongside committee members Mr Iffla and James Ferguson, with the focus on CBH's coherence to co-operative principles.
Before the meeting started, Mr Cowan said it was a "litmus test".
"If no one turns up we don't want to waste our time trying to do the hard work for people if they aren't interested," Mr Cowan said.
"We formed this group because we didn't think the farmers were being heard, we didn't think people were listening to them enough.
"We pick up the stuff that farmers are not happy with because a lot of them can't get to the meetings."
Issues raised by the committee and those in attendance were governance, freight costs, net profits, the engagement of Aurizon and Arc Infrastructure (formerly Brookfield Rail), access fees, land values, allocation of funds, road and rail transport systems, load capacity and frequency.
"Compared to last year's harvest, this year's issues are different," Mr Cowan said.
"Freight has gone up hugely, and the biggest thing that we worry about is they [CBH Group] are using all the money that they're making from marketing and trading and putting that into infrastructure.
"So that means that the people who sell their grain through CBH are paying unfairly higher than other people and are contributing more than their share towards infrastructure.
"I am a firm believer that those that use the facilities should pay for their facilities and not those that sell their grain through CBH."
Mr Ferguson is concerned about CBH and the grains industry.
He said the objectives of the association were to represent, protect and promote the interests of CBH shareholders, improve farmgate returns for shareholders consistently with co-op groups and the growth of CBH to match the growth of the grain industry in Western Australia.
"Perhaps growers are not conscious of how their own viability, profitability, and even their land values are to a very large extent determined by efficiency and effectiveness of CBH," Mr Ferguson said.
He said if it wasn't for CBH, the Wheatbelt would never have got to the size it has and would never be able to produce the amount of grain it has, but there are significant concerns.
"The two are inseparable," Mr Ferguson said.
"Without the logistic system put in place by shareholders, you wouldn't have the confidence to put in a crop somewhere, you can't separate the future of the Wheatbelt, the future of the grains industry from CBH.
"It seems to me that it's a vital concern to graingrowers where CBH is in terms of its performance.
"We've seen a growth of the industry and increased production, but we haven't seen a growth in the rail service of that, on the contrary we've seen it shrink."
Mr Ferguson said a plan was needed to make CBH listen to growers, as shareholders and find ways to deliver harvest to port on time at least cost.
A petition was tabled that the association will present to the co-operative.
Mr Cowan said the group had not communicated directly with CBH lately, but it would once the petition had been circulated through association members in all zones.
Mr Ferguson asked members to share the petition with their neighbours and to spread the word.
More information about the Grain Bulk Handlers' Association email to firstname.lastname@example.org
THE GRAIN BULK HANDLERS' ASSOCIATION ASKS CBH TO...
- Return to the fundamental principle of a grower co-operative where trading surpluses be returned to the members based directly on the volume and value of patronage. If necessary, reconfiguring the trading arm as a grower owned co-operative.
- Lift the self-imposed limit of offering a price for no more than 50 per cent of the harvest.
- Ensure that staff incentives reward higher farmgate returns.
- Develop the least cost path to port, extending and improving the use of rail, with the aim of containing and over time reducing the average cost of handling and transport.
- Fund system upgrades in the traditional manner which ensure that the cost is not borne disproportionately by those who sell grain through the CBH trading arm, but is spread equitably over every tonne in the system for the life of the asset.