In this wide-ranging discussion, GPA Chief Executive Colin Bettles tells Jack Cresswell what’s front of mind for grain producers, from livestock exports to autonomous machinery, scholarships, biosecurity, the Federal Budget, mice, farm labour and trade.
After three big harvests, including the most expensive crop ever planted, Colin said growers were still waiting for details of the new biosecurity levy proposed in the May federal budget.
Colin said it was a mixed budget for the grains industry, and while it didn’t quite strike the right balance, was at least heading in the right direction.
“We’ve got concerns about this new 10% levy in terms of whether there’s going to be any oversight and in particular from our point of view whether people who grow grain, we’re going to be contributing the most in levies,” he said.
“The minister talks a lot about preventative biosecurity as well, stopping these pests and diseases getting in. And he’s done a pretty good job since coming in around FMD (foot and mouth disease) and lumpy skin, but we’ve been actually dealing with varroa.”
With 26 different crops, grains is the biggest member of Plant Health Australia which administers emergency plant pest response mechanisms.
Even though the grains sector is not directly affected by varroa – a tiny mite found in NSW in 2022 that can decimate bee colonies – Colin said it was contributing to the financial cost of eradication because of potential secondary impacts on hybrid canola seed production.
“They’re the sort of things we’d like to make sure as part of this process of designing this new levy, that is clearly understood,” he said.
“When they’re calculating the funding, when they’re considering the actual biosecurity job that their targeted investments, they’re going to make sure that we stop things like khapra beetle coming in. That’s really where our main focus has been in terms of the budget.”
Colin said GPA had not given up on its request for a container levy to be imposed on importers who were creating the risk of exotic pests and diseases reaching Australian shores.
“That’s what we’ve been asking for,” he said.
“We didn’t ask for another levy; we would like to see (Agriculture Minister Senator Murray Watt) fix that missing piece of this sustainable biosecurity funding model first.
“We know that he’s put charges up in the budget from bigger contribution from taxpayers and importers through other mechanisms and we welcome that. But this container levy was the first order of business, not the last.”
Khapra beetle is the second most threatening plant pest for Australia. Since 2020, it has been detected in shipping containers and the packaging of imported fridges, high chairs and mixed retail goods.