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19 April 2010 - Editorial Weekly Times

The King is dead, long live the King! The Grains Council of Australia (GCA) has run its course and the race is on to find its successor and the best way to represent Australian grain producers. There are two models currently being considered.

One model aims to recreate the old GCA structure with a membership of State Farming Organisations (SFOs) with an enduring culture of control.

The second model, Grain Producers Australia (GPA), incorporates direct membership of grain producers. GPA will feature direct engagement of growers and accountability to them in a new commercially focused format, born of a culture of service.

The GCA was at the peak of its power and influence in the regulated and protected environment of twenty or thirty years ago and reflected very well the structure of the industry back then. Growers were guaranteed influence at all levels of the grains business through their state farming bodies and, most importantly, legislation.

The Australian grains industry has undergone extensive and profound change over the last two decades. The state statutory bulk grain handling authorities have evolved. Various levels of regulation over grain trading have been unwound. The sovereignty of state based research and development programs including breeding programs have been consolidated and rationalized under national strategies and the process continues.

The industry was artificially divided along state lines under the statutory environment, but with the progression of deregulation the old state centric industry has evolved. The national grains industry has outgrown the traditional model of state based representation.

The industry is now divided more naturally by regions of production. These regions are reflected in the GRDC bio regions. The validity of regional divisions is amplified by the relatively even distribution of production along these regional lines versus state distributions of production. The feed into national issues is more naturally along these regional lines rather than state lines.

This is not to say that there are not critically important functions for SFOs. SFOs have great relevance in the remaining state frameworks. It is critical that SFOs need to be able to channel their resources efficiently to better deal with the plethora of state based issues that face their members. As memberships of SFOs have declined the remaining members have been forced to pick up the cost of national advocacy for SFO members and non members alike, effectively subsidising representation of non members.

With declining membership, SFOs no longer catch the majority of producers or, more importantly, the majority of tonnes of production in their membership. The NSW Farmers Association grains committee not having a representative based north of Dubbo, highlights this breakdown in representation.

The GCA model was crippled by lack of funds to fulfil its duties. GCA was ripped apart by divisive state political maneuvering and a tendency by some state members to play cheque book politics and try to hold the GCA to ransom, by withdrawing membership and the associated subscriptions, unless that member's state policy is carried nationally.

A recent press release from NSW Farmers' Association stated that it "wants a body that will represent the State farming organisation's national grains policy". If growers allow an SFO controlled representative structure to be recreated, one question springs to mind. Which State's national grains policy will they be?

Einstein's definition of insanity was to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome. It is time for grain producers to embrace a new model of representation that reflects the nature of the industry we live and deal in today, delivering real value to growers and industry alike.

Pete Mailler
Spokesman for GPA

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