Northern cattle producer representatives have had an opportunity to provide direct input into the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee inquiry into industry structures and systems governing levies on grassfed cattle in two hearings held in Broome and Katherine this week.
Common themes expressed by producers during the northern hearings revolved around the need for Cattle Council of Australia to be given more “grunt” resourcing wise to improve its ability to oversee Meat & Livestock Australia, and the need for producers as the biggest contributors of industry levy funding to be given a more proportionate say in industry affairs.
Here is a snapshot of some of the more specific issues raised by witnesses and Senators during the past two days of senate hearings:
Better export access essential for WA
Achieving better export market access for WA boxed beef and live cattle is essential to improving farm-gate returns in the State, Western Australian cattle producers told the Senate Inquiry. WA producers are heavily reliant upon the local WA market to sell boxed beef and on long-established live export markets to Indonesia and the Middle East. Western Australia Farmers Federation meat council representative Geoff Pearson said a local EU accredited export abattoir would improve export opportunities for WA grainfed producers, and said it was hoped mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s plans to upgraded the recently-purchased Harvey Beef abattoir will include upgrades to EU accreditation standards. He said WA cattle producers were also hopeful that the Chinese market would soon open its import cattle protocols to include feeder and slaughter cattle exports.
WAFF backs Twiggy’s Harvey Beef buy
The Western Australian Farmers Federation has given a glowing endorsement of mining billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s purchase of the Harvey Beef abattoir. In comments to Tuesday’s Rural and Regional Affairs Senate Inquiry hearing in Broome, WAFF meat council representative Geoff Person said producers in the State were happy to see the plant returned to local hands. “Given the fact that he is a great advocate of Western Australia, a local person, he obviously wants to market his own product into the world, I believe that can only be a plus with someone like that owning one of the biggest plants in WA over and above foreign investment,” Mr Pearson said.
WA specific research needed
WA cattle producers have expressed a desire to see more of MLA’s research work targeted at WA-specific production issues and also in improving extension of previously-conducted research. WA Liberal Senator Chris Back, a career veterinarian with extensive knowledge of the WA cattle industry, asked WAFF representative Geoff Pearson if there was a feeling that Queensland and possibly NSW voices were dominating levy-funded R&D investment decisions, and as a result the research being conducted was not always relevant to producers in WA. Mr Pearson said WA’s cattle industry was seen to be very live export focused and WA production issues did not appear to be “high on the agenda” in terms of the industry R&D investment decisions. In the following session with WA’s Pastoralists and Grazier’s Association, Kimberley division vice-president David Stoate from Anna Plains near Broome said MLA had conducted a lot of research that would be of relevance to producers in the region, but there was not adequate extension of those results. He said he had read about the recent Cash Cow project in the rural media, but he was not aware of efforts to provide extension of the results to producers locally. “Perhaps they have done more in the other states where they have a bigger staff and DPI,” he said. Projects of direct relevance to WA from MLA had included the development of the polled gene test to eliminate the horns in cattle, he said.
Kimberley moving away from HGPs
Last year’s decision by the Egyptian live export market to reject the import of cattle treated with hormone growth promotants (HGPs) has caused several producers in the Kimberley region to discontinue their use of the product, PGA Kimberley Division president Peter Camp told Tuesday’s Senate inquiry hearing in Broome. Mr Camp said that while some producers still used HGPs, the majority of producers in the Kimberley had now gone away from them because they were concerned about market access in future. “The HGPs have been a benefit to the industry in the past, you get 30-40kg, so taking the HGPs out, certainly the industry will see a loss in weights there, but it is getting extremely risky to use HGPs in an animal,” he said. “Just to give you an indication, we went away from HGPs last year, but to counteract the (loss in) weights we have gone to cross breeding to try and get some hybrid vigour back and get those weights back.”
Grassfed voice should be proportionate to levy spend
Grassfed cattle producers are not represented fairly under current industry structural arrangements, members of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association told yesterday’s Senate inquiry hearings in Katherine. The NTCA’s representative on Cattle Council of Australia, Tom Stockwell, said the grassfed sector was only afforded an equivalent voice to other sectors on the Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC) board and on the MLA Board and the MLA Board Selection Committee despite making the biggest contribution in industry levies. “By having better relativity, in terms of who is putting the money in gets the say, I think grassfed producers would get a lot better say through these existing structures,” Mr Stockwell said.
Production and meat separate industries: NTCA
NTCA president David Warriner told yesterday’s hearing in Katherine that a new industry structure should reflect the fundamental conflict exists at point of sale between the production sector and the meat sector. He said the existing RMAC structure was flawed because it required all industry sectors to agree on an issue before it could speak on behalf of the red meat industry with a single voice, a position that was often impossible to achieve given the conflict that exists between each sector. The fundamental conflicts that exist were highlighted by the division between processors and live exporters during the 2011 Indonesian trade suspension. “There has to be constitutional change, that balances up the representation of the (levy) moneys coming in,” Mr Warriner said. He said RMAC should also then shift to being ruled by a majority vote, as opposed to requiring unanimous agreement, to ensure it always takes a position on each issue.” Mr Warriner said complete transparency was also needed from the meat sector back to the production sector. Processors and exporters totally understood the business of producers, but producers had very little understanding or knowledge about the business of processing or exporting. “We need to get more disclosure from them,” Mr Warriner said.
How should industry advocacy be funded?
In three days of Senate hearings to date (Canberra on March 7, Broome on May 6 and Katherine on May 7), Senators have repeatedly asked producers if they believe that Cattle Council of Australia should be better resourced, and how its industry advocacy should be funded, given the prevailing rules that prevent compulsorily acquired levy monies to be used to fund advocacy or lobbying activities. Producers have largely agreed with the view that CCA needs better resourcing, but few options other than membership fees have been identified to fund advocacy work in future. NTCA representative Tom Stockwell said it made sense that levy proceeds be used to fund policy development work which was for the good of all producers. However direct membership fees would remain vital to fund the separate task of advocacy and lobbying. NTCA acting chief executive Tracey Hayes said that in an ideal world, as CCA becomes better funded and in turn more effective in its work more producers will see value in coming on board and paying direct memberships. NTCA president David Warriner suggested that short-term funding may be required to build CCA’s capability to a level that will attract more paying members. He said the many producers who were not currently paying any industry membership fees represented a significant source of potential funding in future, if they could see a benefit in joining.