Grassfed cattle industry representatives have expressed a strong desire to secure greater influence over the expenditure of their levies during a series of beef industry workshops around Australia.
A meeting in Brisbane on Friday, convened by the Cattle Council of Australia, was the last in a series of national forums which have been focused on generating industry input into the development of a new Beef Industry Strategic Plan (BISP).
The BISP is designed to sit alongside similar documents including the multi-species Meat Industry Strategic Plan and the Sheepmeat Industry Strategic Plan, already completed.
Friday’s Brisbane workshop included representatives from a wide cross-section of the grassfed beef industry including major corporate players, the Australian Beef Association and the Australian beef Producers Group. Other sectors, including grainfed, were also represented.
“The strongest message was that the participants want to see a single voice for grassfed beef producers,” Cattle Council of Australia chief executive officer David Inall said.
“They want to see the Cattle Council, or whatever the organisation is in future, to have more control over the grassfed levies and to be able to provide more comprehensive direction as to where that money is spent.”
Grassfed beef producers contribute the largest slice of levies to Meat & Livestock Australia, but producer leaders have the view that the sector’s contribution is not reflected in the level of control it has over how funds are spent.
A common view expressed was that other sectoral groups that contribute less in dollar terms to MLA have a disproportionately large say in how funds are spent.
“They don’t feel they have their hands on the levers enough as to how that money is spent and they do not feel engaged enough in the process of priority setting,” Mr Inall said.
The use of levy funds, largely generated by grassfed producers, for generic marketing campaigns to promote Australian beef at domestic and export level generated significant debate, and a wide divergence of views.
Some participants suggested generic marketing programs were essential; others called for greater efficiencies in how current marketing programs are conducted; while others believed no levy funding should be directed into generic marketing at all. They argued that the task should be left to brand owners to promote their own brands as they see fit.
Another view expressed was that all money raised from grassfed beef levies should be directed straight to CCA or its future replacement, instead of directly to MLA, with the funds then to be redistributed annually as the peak grassfed producer representative body sees fit.
The series of meetings across Australia were designed as forums to gauge industry opinions on what role a national beef producer representative body should do in future, and what role industry service organisations should perform.
Once that is defined, the process will then look at how representative pathways should be structured, and how a new producer representative body could be funded.
Mr Inall said the BISP process had highlighted that national commodity groups are not well funded and that producers wanted to be better represented.
One proposal already floated by CCA involves redirecting a percentage of the $5/head cattle transaction levy toward future industry advocacy activities.
The concept could include an ‘opt-out’ clause which would allow those opposed to having their levies spent on representation to block their levy funds from being used for this purpose.
The use of statutory levy funds for industry advocacy or representation is not permitted under current legislation, Agriculture minister Joe Ludwig’s office confirmed to Beef Central last week.
Whether this, or a future Federal Government can be convinced to change legislation to allow levy funds to be used in this way is an integral question.
The minister’s office told Beef Central that the question would only be considered if and when a proposal from industry was received.
At least in part, the development of the BISP is clearly motivated towards being able to secure future levy funding.
Without a strategic plan, the chances of convincing Government to allow levy funds to be redistributed would be zero.
Mr Inall said the BISP process was about getting the grassfed beef industry’s ‘house in order’ before focusing on wider reform within the industry.
Asked how confident he was that the Federal Government would consider the option to free-up levy funding for a future national cattle producer representative body, he suggested it would come down to how successful the process was in getting the industry to speak with one voice.
He said the fact that a diversity of groups were currently participating in the process to shape a new national body was positive.
“There has been friction in the past, we are trying to put that aside for the betterment of all beef producers. Once we can get a structure or a mechanism to develop policy wider than what we currently have, I think that will empower us to go to Government to further that debate.”
“As it stands, we can’t do it at present.”
Themes that emerged from the various BISP forums have included producer concerns about the lack of competition in the value chain, particularly in the processing and retail sector; the need for better road, rail and port infrastructure; and issues surrounding foreign ownership levels in the beef supply chain, animal welfare, environment, biosecurity and demand building activities.
Feedback from the workshops will be combined with the results of 675 producer phone surveys and comments on CCA’s online forums to produce the first draft of the BISP. That will then be analysed and refined at a national meeting of industry stakeholders in July.
“We need a structure that is democratic and inclusive, and has a wide mandate. It has to be well funded and it has got to be relevant,” Mr Inall said.
- To contribute to the Cattle Council of Australia’s online forums, visit www.cattlecouncil.com.au