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Opening Statement: Grain Producers Australia

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture inquiry into Food Security in Australia.

Friday 24 March, 2023, Canberra.

Thank you for providing Grain Producers Australia (GPA) with the opportunity to submit our members’ views, to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture’s inquiry into Food Security in Australia. We welcome the Government’s initiative and moves to examine ways we can strengthen and safeguard food security and deliver shared benefits.

GPA represents the interests of our grower members, which includes those from state farming grains councils and direct members. Our policy and advocacy work helps boost the profitability and sustainability of broadacre, grain, pulse and oilseed growers throughout Australia.

GPA also has responsibilities representing an estimated 22,500 levy-paying grain producers. These levies – with Commonwealth co-contributions – provide investments in RD&E, biosecurity protection and grain quality and market access, to support sustainability and profitability outcomes.

Last year our industry produced a record crop – estimated at more than 67 million tonnes and a value of more than $28 billion. This follows a record crop produced the year before of 62 million tonnes, with a similar record value, and another large harvest the year before that.

These strong returns over the past three years have seen grains now become the largest contributor to Australia’s agricultural sector. GPA is extremely proud of our growers in helping to achieve these record returns, which also build greater resilience and strength for rural communities and the national economy.

GPA Deputy Chair and Northern Region Grower Director, Andrew Earle, and Chief Executive, Colin Bettles, in Canberra for the Food Security inquiry hearing, on 24 March 2023.

These strong returns have not been without their challenges, however. COVID-19 has had serious impacts on supply chains, not only for delivering and exporting grain from farms to markets in Australia and overseas, but also access to vital farm inputs. We’ve seen mouse plagues, farm labour shortages, storms and floods during harvest and biosecurity challenges.

Also, the war in Ukraine has caused serious challenges for growers, in particular dramatically escalating the prices farmers pay for key farm inputs – fertiliser, fuel and chemicals. These inputs have also reached record levels. Whilst high grain prices have helped ease some of the production pressures, last year was also the most expensive crops ever planted.

GPA’s post-harvest survey showed input prices are now a major challenge for our members.

More than 80 per cent of respondents said last year’s cropping production costs were ‘significantly higher’ compared with previous years, while about 15pc said these costs were ‘moderately higher’.

45pc of respondents identified inputs as the ‘biggest challenge’ they faced with producing last year’s crop – but flooding and storms, grain marketing/pricing, agronomic pressures, transport and logistics (ie road damage) and farm labour were also high on the list.

Our production challenges go to the heart of this inquiry’s terms of reference.

1. National production, consumption and export of food;

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

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

4. The potential opportunities and threats of climate change on food production.

Grain Trade Australia’s submission to this inquiry showed that for the five-year period up to 2021-22, the volume of grain exported was estimated to be about 60pc of the national crop. Based on last year’s winter crop, this number is close to 40 million tonnes.

After exports, about 35 per cent of national wheat production goes towards domestic flour production. A significant proportion of the national crop is also used for livestock feed such as cattle and poultry, making grains a significant contributor to household protein consumption in Australia. Australian grain production underpins one of Australia’s major sources of household nutrition through a range of food items, not only bread and baking products. This is also replicated in the type of products produced and consumed in export countries where Australian grains are exported.

As demonstrated by these current and future supply and demand calculations, the Australian grains industry clearly plays a significant, and leading role providing food security for the nation – and will continue to do so in future. Continued grain surplus for exports at 50-60pc of the national crop also supports the industry’s capacity to deliver food supply and security for consumers in other nations.

Whilst these forecasts suggest a continuing high volume of surplus grain production available for exports into the future, this output cannot be taken for granted and complacency is not an option. Good policy and strong investments are needed to ensure Australian producers and our industry can remain internationally competitive and can withstand the multiple serious challenges being faced, such as high input costs, supply chain constraints, climate volatility with droughts and floods, increasing biosecurity risks etc. This support will help maintain a high level of productive output, enabling strong contribution to food security, here and overseas.

In essence, any moves to strengthen and safeguard Australian grain producers, who are central to these outcomes, and our industry, also contributes to significantly boosting national food security, and in other parts of the globe.

GPA’s 2022 Federal Election Policy Priorities document calls for policy initiatives and support measures, which collectively contribute to strengthening the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Australian grain producers and our industry. These policy requests and priorities can also be used by the Committee as recommendations to consider, in examining ways to help strengthen and safeguard food security in Australia and more broadly.

Examples of these are: calling for an increased supply of skilled workers; improved digital connectivity in regional communities, optimising competition in the Australian grain market; removing supply chain constraints and improved efficiencies; increased local manufacturing of key farm inputs to help mitigate risks; and stronger preventative biosecurity measures.

Once again, we thank the Committee for this opportunity for GPA to provide evidence on behalf of our grower members and welcome any questions you may have.


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