Recent debate over industry structures and the future of the grassfed cattle levy, including this item published yesterday from AFI’s Mick Keogh, has sparked this response from a senior red meat industry stakeholder. As the item is too long to run as a comment below Mick Keogh’s original article, we publish it here as an opinion piece. The author asked that his identity not be disclosed, but he has a long history as a respected contributor to industry affairs.
So after 35 months, the future representation of beef producers has come to this.
Let us form a new organisation, let government mandate the amount of money this organisation can collect from producers via the livestock transaction levy (read “contribution tax”), trust the organisation to allocate these funds appropriately and for the long-term benefit of industry, execute programs effectively with broad industry consultation, and be openly transparent and accountable on the progress of effective strategies to provide an acceptable return on investment for industry stakeholders (read “producers”).
How have we got here? Dissatisfaction with current cattle prices? Lack of market opportunities for producers? Power of the local supermarket duopoly? Government influence in live exports? High costs of manufacturing live cattle to beef in Australia? A high dollar when Australia had tremendous grass seasons? Poor communication from industry on industry achievements? Industry programs that underpin the supply chain for customers, but embed additional cost for producers? Centric behaviour by industry leaders, clouding beneficial decisions and outcomes? A minority of disaffected agitators pursuing a personal agenda?
Nearly three years after CCA began a review of their current representation model, there have been more twists and turns than in a World Cup final.
Unfortunately what could have provided the opportunity for real reform within CCA, and build on the good work conducted over the previous decade or more in creating an improved model for producer involvement along with the execution through MLA of progressive marketing, research and development programs within the budget constraints of a fair and equitable levy collection system, has now been knee-capped.
The public commentary has been mind-blowing.
MLA is ending producers to the wall through poor cattle prices?
MSA is letting producers down with inconsistent grading?
AusMeat is letting producers down with an inability to modernise the language and standards?
Processors are running the industry, and reaping all the rewards? Producers give them a free ride using their levy money?
MLA is letting producers down through inefficiencies, inadequate consultation, arrogance and poor management? Add insufficient communication?
RMAC is not a unified forum, cannot agree on important issues and is dominated by processors? Who needs a whole-of-industry approach anyhow?
CCA is starved for funds because MLA has the levy money? CCA is inert in providing oversight of MLA because it does not have the resources?
We have all the answers but no-one listens!
Pacifying the vocal minority
So to pacify the vocal minority, we are about to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Well, can someone please explain where the justification is for completely disrupting an industry that has provided, on many measures, a tangible outcome for cattle producers since 1998?
Can someone please explain why, when the cattle industry is on the cusp of potentially the greatest opportunities in over forty years, that we throw sand in the face of every established institution that industry has developed since 1998?
Do producers not want to participate in a Livestock Production Assurance scheme that provides consumers a level of satisfaction that the beef produced in Australia is safe and healthy?
Are cattle producers now looking to dismantle the National Livestock Identification Scheme that has underpinned our international reputation in all overseas markets?
Is the marvelous Meat Standards Australia eating quality assessment scheme that provides customers with the ability to select meals on the basis of price versus satisfaction going to be weakened to the extent it becomes irrelevant?
Do cattle producers want AusMeat standards and a language that only suits the production capabilities of a minority, or a truly internationally recognised set of standards that ensure that producers and processors can meet the expectations of all beef customers?
Can cattle producers set the strategy for marketing $6 billion in value of cattle on an annual basis?
Can cattle producers manage a sophisticated suite of research, development and extension programs for the continual improvement of industry?
Can cattle producers receive money directly from the collection of a transaction levy via the Commonwealth Government of the day, and yet partition funds appropriately for advocacy in ensuring governments execute policy in the best interests of the cattle industry?
How can a cost-effective model of corporate governance be established to ensure genuine accountability and transparency with a single organisation (and presumably the same people) responsible for all funds collected via the levy? Does this suggest there was no real problem with the previous AMLC model?
The reality of recent times suggests that MLA needed a good kick up the arse, encouraged to stick to their knitting, and re-focus their attention on what producers were looking for in return for their significant investment each year.
The company needed to be more visionary, establish criteria that would enable producers to understand clearly the goals for the future, execute strategy with a precise planning methodology and report to industry using measurable indicators of achievement over time.
But MLA has provided the beef industry with the horsepower to be dominant on so many issues.
Other countries around the globe envy Australia’s ability to unite producers and processors in strategies (both marketing and R&D) that provide beneficial outcomes for industry on the world stage. Industry has the responsibility of ensuring that progress is delivered in a cost effective and timely manner.
Recent initiatives suggested Cattle Council could continue on its path of evolution, moving from a convoluted, expensive formula of representing cattle producers, to a more responsive, inclusive and manageable organisation that welcomed people in to the tent – not cajouled them in by making membership compulsory through levy collection.
In providing value and benefits of membership, by engaging with small and large producers on so many levels, the organisation could establish the base for building a truly united and forceful group of like-minded producers to lead industry in the next phase of development.
The hard work at the Red Meat Advisory Council table has been paying recent dividends as industry addresses some of the “big ticket” items in association with Government. Despite the complexity and various pressure points in the beef supply chain in Australia, a whole-of-industry approach to the issues in the European Union, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and more lately China, have all provided a platform for increased market access to countries that are in love with Australian beef.
I am passionate about the beef industry. I want extraneous cost out and performance in. I want all of industry to contribute to our sustainable future in the wise management of levy dollars. I want people to contribute to industry at whatever level they can. I want leaders in industry (who divest an enormous amount of personal capital when making a contribution) to be encouraged, visionary, supported and passionate.
I do not want to re-invent the wheel every decade or so to pacify the vocal few whilst the silent majority go about their business of making money.