A draft Beef Industry Strategic Plan and a proposed new representative model for Australia’s grassfed cattle industry will begin to take shape in coming weeks after a four month consultation process wound up this week.
The Cattle Council of Australia has been gauging the views of cattle producers on industry issues and structural preferences since February.
Cattle Council chief executive officer David Inall said that more than 1000 Australian cattle producers had contributed to the process via phone, online and face to face discussions.
Mr Inall said the consultation process showed that producers wanted a strong, well-resourced and powerful voice on public policy issues.
Cattle Council, which operates on an annual budget of $1.3m a year, has stated that greater resources are needed for the national body to speak with a stronger voice.
The CCA board has also suggested the possibility of accessing part of the $3.66/head marketing component of the $5/head transaction levy to fund industry policy and representational activities in future.
The use of statutory levy funds for industry advocacy or representational activities is not permitted under existing legislation, and would require Federal Government support to change.
Asked how much money a revamped Cattle Council would need, Mr Inall said the answer would ultimately depend on what the current restructure process defines as its role.
“But we’re talking cents – from the $3.66/hd that goes into marketing I’ve heard suggestions ranging from 5c to 30c.
“We don’t have a landing place yet, because we need to determine exactly what this body is going to do.”
In addition to working out how to best fund a national producer representation, another challenge revolves around how to structure a new body.
At present Cattle Council has a federated structure comprised of State Farming Organisations (SFO).
By virtue of that structure the cattle council represents producers – SFO members – in every state and territory. The national representation also means it can access funding from the Red Meat Industry
Fund managed by the Red Meat Advisory Council. (CCA receives $550,000 per year from the fund).
However with several SFOs experiencing financial difficult that system is under pressure.
Producers have also expressed a strong desire for a direct pathway to contribute to national policy issues.
“We certainly need to build a model where we still maintain a very strong SFO representation because so many laws that effect producers are still state legislation, so they have a key role, Mr Inall said.
“At the same time producers are telling us they want to have a direct voice, so we need to explore if and how direct representation may work, that was certainly one of the principles agreed.”
Cattle Council is meeting in Alice Springs next month and hopes to have a more detailed strategic plan and structure model in place to consider at that meeting.
Delegates at Tuesday’s meeting, which was facilitated by an independent consultant, included representatives from Cattle Council of Australia, the Australian Beef Association, northern and southern
Research and Development groups, pastoral companies, the feedlot industry and Government departments. Processing industry representatives were invited but were forced to turn back to Sydney when heavy fog closed the Canberra airport.
Mr Inall said that while the process was about delivering a strategic model to represent grassfed cattle producers, input and perspective from the live export, feedlot and processing sectors was essential to the process.
He said that while there was disagreement at yesterday’s meetings, he described the overall town as constructive.
“For the last 15 or more years this industry has had divisions and a lot of public comment out there which makes the single voice ambition very difficult,” he said.
“With the declining voice of agriculture, now more than ever we need to be able to have that speak with one voice and hence we have held an olive branch out and we’ve made it very clear that we talk to everybody, nobody had been excluded.”
The spiralling cost of farm inputs was identified by beef producers as the most important issue facing their enterprises. Other issues to rate strongly included low cattle prices, the Australian dollar, and market access.
Interestingly, for the dominant focus on industry ‘agvocacy’ and the perceived need to build a positive public profile for the beef industry, topics such as “animal welfare and green groups” and “consumer awareness” rated well down the list of important issues.
When asked to nominate the most significant opportunity for their beef enterprise, “better market access” was the most common answer, following by “improved/clean product” and “improved production strategies”.
The research showed moderate levels of industry optimism, with 38pc of producers expecting the beef industry to improve over the next five years, 41pc believing it will stay the same, and only 12pc expecting it to worsen (9pc answered that they did not know).