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By GPA Chair and WA grain producer, Barry Large.

GRAIN Producers Australia recently provided sobering evidence about the difference between grain prices, and retail prices consumers pay for products such as beer, at a hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture's inquiry into food security in Australia.

This public hearing gave GPA an excellent platform to speak about the issues that matter to Australian grain producers and our industry's vitally important, but often understated role, in helping to feed and fuel Australians and the world.

GPA was represented by our deputy chair and Northern grower director, Andrew Earle who farms at Mungindi on the NSW and Queensland border, and chief executive, Colin Bettles.

Our representatives provided good ideas and feedback on how growers are continually striving to do more with less, and can become even more productive, profitable and sustainable with the right support mechanisms, to meet increasing food security challenges locally and other countries.

GPA's opening statement highlighted the fact we've had some big crops recently including producing a record crop last year, estimated at more than 67 million tonnes and value at more than $28 billion.

Strong returns over the past three years have seen grains now become the largest contributor to Australia's agriculture sector and economic contributor.

This record effort has not been without its challenges with inputs - especially fertiliser costs - having also reached record levels, with last year being the most expensive crop we've ever planted.

Pic: GPA Chair, Barry Large.

This public hearing saw GPA answer a diverse range of questions about the food security challenge and future opportunities for Australian grains, from different Committee Members.

Members included the Committee Chair and NSW Labor MP Meryl Swanson, Deputy-Chair and WA Liberal MP Rick Wilson who is also a grain producer, and SA independent Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie.

Also representing the Labor government were Matt Burnell MP (Spence SA), Dr Mike Freelander MP (Macarthur NSW) and Brian Mitchell MP (Lyons Tasmania) and for the Opposition it was Aaron Violi MP (Liberal, Casey Victoria) and Andrew Willcox MP (LNP, Dawson Queensland).

Mr Mitchell asked whether five million tonnes of carryover grain, from recent big harvests, has led to a flat price on the domestic grain market, and the same for retail prices at the checkout, for Australian consumers.

Mr Bettles noted that when the storms and floods hit last year, some media articles were misleading in terms of what farmers are getting paid, versus what the consumer actually pays.

He referred to GPA's inquiry submission which said one media report had suggested the price for a case of beer would increase by up to $10 per carton in Australia, by Christmas (about 15-20pc).

But GPA's submission highlighted research by the US based farm representative group, the National Farmers Union, which shows a six-pack of beer may cost USD$11.99 but the US farmer only receives USD$0.07.

This analysis also showed that the US farmer only receives USD$0.20 cents from a retail loaf of bread that retails for USD$4.19.

"It is not unrealistic to expect similar numbers derived from the retail dollar, paid to Australian grain producers, through the local supply chain," the GPA submission said.

Mr Bettles told the inquiry, "......if you're paying $15 for a pint of beer in Sydney, I think that Andrew (Earle), if he's growing any barley, might be getting 2c or 5c of that. If people want to produce sustainable beer, we welcome them to set up a supply chain where maybe 50c from a pint of beer in Sydney makes its way back to the farmer."

The food security inquiry was initiated by a referral from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt, with 167 submissions received from across a broad range of groups.

The Committee's Terms of Reference are clearly relevant to the current priorities and interests of Australian grain producers and our sector's future:

· National production, consumption and export of food;

· Access to key inputs such as fuel, fertiliser and labour, and their impact on production costs;

· The impact of supply chain distribution on the cost and availability of food; and

· The potential opportunities and threats of climate change on food production in Australia.

The Committee has so far held six hearings in Canberra to date, and they'll be having more including upcoming public forums in Tasmania and Adelaide.

Other groups that presented at the recent hearing with GPA included the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Australian Security Leaders Climate Group, Farmers for Climate Action and Murray Irrigation Ltd.

Another interesting and thought-provoking topic raised during the day was about the Holy Grail of nitrogen fixing wheat.

GPA looks forward to seeing the inquiry's final report and recommendations, and how these can improve the opportunity and ability for Australian grain producers to increase our profitability and sustainability, to help feed and fuel more Australians and other people across the world, in future.

· Article published in ACM Farmonline, 14 April 2023 HERE


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