By GPA Chair Barry Large
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.
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 in a record 58.4 million tonne harvest, 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 Deed (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 National Residue Survey (0.015pc).
According to the latest report, between 2014-15 and 2018-19 the average paid in grower levies per year 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 ADF 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 is already boosting our engagement on national issues into Canberra, as well as making a notable difference with 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 a stronger GPA to keep delivering better outcomes for our members and all Australian grain producers.
GPA 2021 Policy Achievements and Priorities
• Developed a National Policy Plan to advocate grower concerns and promote practical solutions on grains industry workforce shortages; including calling on and writing to rural retailers, such as Elders and Nutrien Ag, to allow staff to take leave without pay to work at harvest throughout Australia, to support farmers and communities in need.
• Delivered Emergency Use Permit – ZP50 Mouse Bait – to provide stronger crop protections for growers to help battle mouse plagues
• Advocated against use of bromadoline mouse baiting and support to secure zinc phosphide supply
• Continued to oversee transition of Grains Australia to consolidate industry good market functions
• Advocated concerns on ISCC canola certification system/need for Australian certification program
• Advocated concerns on high fertiliser prices and other key inputs eg chemical, calling for more local manufacturing, including GPA hosting Green Fertiliser Roundtable with industry and Federal MPs/Ministers
• Initiated GPA Biosecurity Committee to increase engagement on biosecurity issues across industry and governments; especially on Grains Farm Biosecurity Program, where GPA works with Plant Health Australia, to promote biosecurity awareness and preparedness strategies in grain growing States
• Initiated project to develop biosecurity policy to increase protections for growers, with greater accountability and shared responsibility on importation arrangements in the biosecurity system
• Initiated project to gather ‘evidence’ to support request for ACCC grains supply chain market study
• Submitted Code of Practice for Autonomous Farm Machinery to WA Government for endorsement and adoption and initiated State 2 of the project focussed on future use, with secured re-commitment from partners – Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia and Society of Precision Agriculture Australia
• Ongoing responses, inquiries and consultation to protect and improve growers’ access to chemical products – including review of Australia’s pesticides and veterinary medicines regulatory system – led by Dr Rohan Rainbow, providing technical advice/support on contract to GPA
• Advocated opportunities for grain producers in the development of alternative protein products, and concerns about truth in labelling and ‘demonisation’ of livestock producers, in marketing campaigns
• Signed GrainCorp, Qube Agri and other Bulk Handlers to GPA Training’s online ‘Grain Site Delivery’ induction course, to increase safety standards and efficiencies across industry – ongoing farm safety promo.
• Continued to engage on issues with closure of barley market to China, and WTO dispute – and other trade and market access issues, as required engaging with Federal MPs, Ministers and Departments.