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2009 Grains Industry Forum

Like all other sectors the grains industry is battling to come to terms with a world, seemingly, in a constant state of change, offering new challenges - but also new opportunities.


I recently attended the 2009 Grains Industry Leaders Summit where industry representatives highlighted the need to work together to gain resolutions for a more sustainable future. The summit was organised by the Grains Council of Australia (GCA), and was held in Sydney on 31 March with more than 90 attendees present. The summit focused on three critical issues:


  • Facilitating Trade - a need for greater transparency in a de-regulated marketplace
  • Biosecurity and quarantine - one biosecurity: a working partnership for all Australian players, and
  • Research and development - the changing face of research.


Facilitating Trade:


The clear message from the first panel, chaired by Peter Woods, CEO of Wheat Exports Australia was that a flow of relevant, understandable information to growers is essential if they are to make informed business decisions.  Once directed, largely, by AWB Ltd, information now flows from a plethora of entities and challenges growers to know "Who's right?" This discussion also high-lighted the urgent need to address infrastructure challenges, particularly rail, as several growers noted that this was the biggest risk to their business.  Thus far the Federal Government doesn't seem to have picked up on the opportunity to enhance rail links - an excellent means of meeting industry needs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (as compared with road transport).


Biosecurity and Quarantine:


The second panel was chaired by Rob Delane, Executive Director, Australian Quarantine and Inspection Services.  Rob is well known to the industry from his former roles with the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA and as a Board member of Plant Health Australia Ltd.  The message from his panel focused on the increasing costs of exports, including bulk charges and the issue of phytosanitary certificates, increasingly essential in the market place. The increasing importance of managing quarantine offshore (pre-border) was also emphasised.


Research and Development:


The third panel Chair, Peter Reading, Managing Director, Grains Research and Development Corporation presented data to demonstrate that the rate of gain in grains productivity is slowing. He averred that a target of 3% gain in total factor productivity should be a medium term target. In order to meet this target the industry would require clear identification of paths to market, including for genetically modified crops and their products. It would also require continued support for research and development.  A ‘bioeconomy' based on ‘designer plants' would be a huge leap for an industry committed to ‘FAQ' wheat production not so long ago.


The message from this panel was the absolute need to maintain R&D - with effective delivery and adoption - in the changing world of grains. The industry must continue its excellent record of preparedness to embrace technological change as well as understanding issues such as climate change.  To attain both of these objectives, sustaining the industry's commitment to research and development is critical.


The three critical issues highlighted as essential to the industry were:


  • information flow - including an organised system and structure for communication in what has become an agri-food industry
  • infrastructure - including bulk transport and storage, and
  • industry code of practice - in a value chain, rather than a supply chain, grains industry for the twenty-first century.


Finally, contributions at the forum indicated that the industry is prepared to take on the challenges identified.  However, the matter of leadership and resourcing necessary initiatives is challenging.  If the GCA is to continue to provide the leadership shown in organising the summit, identifying and tackling a small number of core issues may prove to be the most effective route to follow. 


John Lovett Signature 


Professor John Lovett