Spitting chips over representaion

A NEW organisation that wants to formally represent potato growers must “step out of the shadows” and reveal its true identity, says Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan.
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In a fiery statement to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Senator O’Sullivan demanded public transparency of the “unnamed” potato industry group and its membership.

He accused the group of lobbying to replace AusVeg as the $690 million potato industry’s eligible industry representative body – under federal legislation governing research and development spending – without proper public disclosure.

Fairfax Agricultural Media understands Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has asked for submissions from the two groups vying for the potato industry’s representative role.

They’ve been asked to make final submissions by February 27 outlining their individual credentials based on structure; governance; financing arrangements; membership, and how they’re best-placed to benefit levy-payers.

Mr Joyce has also held private meetings relating to the issue and is expected to conduct due diligence in considering the two applications before making his final response mid-March.

The situation shares sharp similarities to the long-running rivalry between Grain Producers Australia (GPA) and GrainGrowers over the grains industry’s Representative Organisation role.

Currently, GPA has legislative oversight of the Grains Research and Development Corporation which has an annual budget of $180 million; combining grower levies and matching government funds.

But GrainGrowers has waged a long-running campaign to assume the legislated representative role and displace the grassroots-based GPA, citing greater financial grunt and membership numbers.

Senator O’Sullivan said he’d been contacted by multiple potato growers across Queensland recently who’d expressed frustration and anger at the lack of transparency attached to the budding potato industry lobby group’s dealings with government and industry.

He said the lobby group would never have credibility in the eyes of Australia’s 1088 potato growers – which it hoped to serve as the new eligible industry body (EIB) under federal regulations – if they did not reveal their identities, plans and motives before the review was concluded.

“This group is actively lobbying to represent our potato growers, yet they are not willing to tell these same growers who they are,” he said.

“I have had many individual growers contact me fearing this unidentified group are controlled by processors, supermarkets or a cohort of big growers.

“They are demanding that government does not consider this lobby group unless grassroots growers are provided with an opportunity to assess who the group consists of and what their motives are as well as see a plan detailing how it can fairly and equitably represent the interests of the broader potato industry.

“This group will never be trusted by growers unless it is open and transparent about who they are and what they hope to achieve.

“I don’t care if it is potatoes, bananas, widgets or lollipops – without transparency we have nothing – it is time for this group to come clean and face the industry.”

But Potato Processing Association of Australia (PPAA) chair Peter Hardman confirmed he was heading a group that’s making a business case to be the potato industry’s peak body, under federal regulations.

“We’re not challenging AusVeg at all or replacing AusVeg,” he said.

“We are putting up a business case, or submission to the minister that we were asked to do as part of the HAL (Horticulture Australia Limited) review which was completed about 6-months ago.

“HAL have a new structure now but at the time of the review the minister decided it was time the potato industry had their own peak body.”

Mr Hardman said he believed the potato industry was “bit splintered” and had a large supply chain that’s “not fully represented”.

“For an industry worth $690 million, we believe we should have a stand-alone peak body and not one diluted by being under AusVeg,” he said.

“We believe potatoes should be represented as a stand-alone industry and it’s certainly big enough.”

Mr Hardman said he’d seen Senator O’Sullivan’s media statement which made some incorrect claims about his group’s membership and intentions.

He said potato processors and growers are involved in the group but not supermarkets.

“We’re part of an alliance of concerned potato growers and industry groups but the supermarkets are not involved,” he said.

“There are growers of all sizes, big and small.

“Each state is represented and each sector of the potato industry is also represented; seed growers, process growers, and also fresh market growers so that covers the three sectors.”

Mr Hardman – who also works for Simplot Australia – said it was decided not to identify the entire group “because we did not believe it was in interests of our business case”.

“The reason why we’ve kept it reasonably quiet is because we want our business case that we’re putting forward to the minister to be valued on its own merits and the same for AusVeg,” he said.

“We don’t want to get into a political fight or game, which it looks like they (AusVeg) and some parliamentarians are trying to do.

“We don’t want to make it a political fight or in the (media) fight and we want our submission to stand on its merits.

“We hope the minister will make a decision on who will be the peak body for potatoes based on those two submissions and not because of lobbying by parliamentarians and others.”

Mr Hardman said the PPAA was a peak industry body that represented potato industry processors.

He said the potato industry was unique in that growers and processers all paid the same levy of 50 cents per tonne which contributed to R&D projects with matching government funding.

“We were a prescribed industry body when HAL was set up 18 years ago, similar to AusVeg, and others,” he said.

Asked how he rated his group’s chances of becoming the industry’s peak body, Mr Hardman said he only hoped for a fair hearing from Mr Joyce.

“We’d like to think the minister takes a fair view of both submissions,” he said.

“We’re making a statement that we’re going to be an organisation that’s transparent and consultative with our grower base and accountable.

“We’ll be working with the grass roots growers and will look for genuine input from growers into R&D projects because we don’t believe that’s been happening.”

AusVeg CEO Richard Mulcahy said his group had held cordial discussions with the Minister about the matter and was “not particularly concerned by a few people with grumbles, which exist in every agricultural industry, and has always been the case”.

“AusVeg is one of the most successful groups in all of agriculture,” he said.

“We remain focused on getting the best outcomes for our growers.”

At a recent public hearing of the federal senate inquiry into agricultural levies, Mr Mulcahy said AUSVEG was the national peak industry body representing the interests of approximately 9000 Australian vegetable and potato growers who pay national vegetable and potato levies.

He said the vegetable levy contribution from growers for the last year was $7.56 million received and matching a Commonwealth contribution of $7.7 million.

He said potatoes had a much smaller levy, with total income of $926,000 and the government contribution was $808,000.

“Other income was $25,000, giving a total of about $1.75 million,” he said.

Mulcahy said levy funding – which contributed to projects that would otherwise not receive the required attention or investment – was “a major factor in the continued health of our agricultural R&D sector”.

“The R&D projects funded through this system provide very real and significant returns not just at the farm gate but across the industry as a whole,” he said.

“The disbursement of the vegetable and potato levies is subject to strict governance arrangements which ensure accountability and transparency.”

Mr Mulcahy said the levy system was generally working but he believed there are probably too many industry bodies.

“We have 150 commodities yet there are other industries like chestnuts and persimmons that have one industry body for one commodity,” he said.

“It just does not seem administratively very efficient.

“There are 43 bodies in horticulture; I would think you could get away with six… but not 43.”

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Sweet and sour side of Kandy

Sweet and sour side of Kandy Xavier Lane (left) and Marlowe Patch feed elephants at the Millennium Elephant park at Pinawella, Sri Lanka
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Sri Lankans gather on the beach at Pitiwella on a public holiday

Sri Lankans gather on the beach at Pitiwella on a public holiday

Jude Lane on a Sri Lankan train

Talking to the locals at Colombo train station: Lleft to right) Jude Lane, Xavier Lane, Melinda McMillan and Ivy Lane.

Xavier Lane at the turtle sanctuary.

Ivy Lane learns to drive a tuk tuk.

Jude Lane on a Sri Lankan train.

TweetFacebookTRAVEL in Sri Lanka with children is not for the helicopter parent, but if you are willing to take some risks, hold on for the ride and let go of your anxiety, it is a great family destination.

I had visited Sri Lanka over the summer of 1994-95 as a 25-year-old backpacker. I spent six weeks at Hikkaduwa, en route to India. My memories were of an unspoilt coast with an incredible surf break.

In Sri Lanka, I thought I had found paradise with very few tourists due to a civil war raging in the north. A war, incidentally, I was oblivious to at the time.

Returning had me filled with curiosity about how much this country may have changed since the end of the war in 2009, and the impact its fledgling tourism industry may be having.

This trip would be very different; I would be taking my children, 9, 10 and 14. I was more than a little afraid. I bought travel insurance and hoped for the best. It was their first overseas travel experience and they could not wait.

There are no direct flights to the capital, Colombo. The most direct and cheapest route is via Kuala Lumpur. We arrived in Colombo after 18 hours in transit, exhausted and ready to sleep.

Our accommodation had been booked online. When we arrived no one at reception knew about it. There was confusion, phone calls, and eventually a room. The lodgings bore little resemblance to the pictures on the website. Exposed electrical wiring, windows that didn’t lock, shards of glass in sills as crime prevention, and a courtyard was filled with rubbish dropped from the floors above. My danger radar went into overdrive.

“Is this what Sri Lanka is going to be like, Mum?”

The next day, with another family from Australia, we made our way by minibus through Colombo’s congested streets, dodging people, tuk tuks and dogs, for the train to Kandy.

Rail is the best way to see this country. Red rattlers with opening windows weave their way along the golden coast and up into hill country. The trains are old and not clean, and packed to the rafters, but they are cheap, and quite an experience.

On board, hawkers walk the isles with snacks – masala vadai, spicy vegetable roti and deep fried prawns – served in old newspapers. I tried not to think about poisonous ink.

Beggars might ask for a few rupee in exchange for a song and the locals love to chat and find out where you come from. The children couldn’t believe the sights and sounds before them on the trains. But it’s the scenery that is breathtaking as the train climbs towards Kandy, the spiritual home of Buddhist community, capital of the former kingdom, and with a sacred lake at its centre.

We spent our first night in a clean, well run, family-owned lodge, where the children delighted at the sight of tiny squirrels darting up trees and monkeys roving across rooftops. And we enjoyed our first home-cooked Sri Lankan meal.

According to travel guides, there are three “must dos” in Kandy: the relic of the Buddha’s tooth, a traditional dancing show, and an elephant sanctuary.

If you visit the relic, purportedly one of the Buddha’s canine teeth, you’ll be charged the tourist rate, wait in a very long queue and weave your way at a snail’s pace up into an very hot attic for a glimpse, from afar, of the tooth, barely visible.

There are several places to see a traditional dance show, five nights a week. I thought it was lacklustre but the kids enjoyed it.

The real highlight was the Millennium Elephant Foundation, near Kandy. It’s home to eight rescued elephants, which the children fed, rode and washed.

But it was Kandy’s bustling street life that really captured their attention: markets, food stalls and women in colourful saris, even an organ grinder with a monkey on a street corner.

The children wanted to be out and among it constantly. But there were dangers: the traffic was crazy and our 14-year-old daughters attracted a lot of male attention.

Determined not to deny the children a full experience, I sat back feeling sick as they stuck their heads and limbs out of trains. When a tuk tuk rider offered to teach my younger two to drive in peak hour traffic, I let them and they loved it.

Frequently, we were the only foreign faces in the crowd, and the locals are curious. There are rip-offs and confidence tricks, but the people don’t yet have foreigner fatigue.

With children, the food was an issue. Everything in Sri Lanka is spicy, even when the cook assures you it is not. It was hard to find foods they could eat.

Outside Kandy, at Aladeniya, we spent four nights at an old whitewashed colonial home called The Mansion. Our arrival was quite British-in-India – we were met by young men in traditional dress bearing cool drinks and cold towels – and the massive rooms were decorated with colonial furniture. We were the only guests and enjoyed breakfast on the lawn and dinners in the courtyard. The food was fantastic. The children spent most of their time in the pool, which was, of course, unfenced. I read a book.

We went back to Colombo for sightseeing and shopping before retiring to a beachside villa at Pitiwella, near Galle, in the southern province. It was monsoon season, and we were blasted by winds and rains, but on the third day blue skies opened up. The surf was too rough to swim, but the pool was good. We made day trips into Galle’s historic fort area, where we shopped, enjoyed seafood and walked among colonial buildings and on the walls of the fort.

I took a day trip back to Hikkaduwa, which had been the cornerstone of my first trip. Sadly, the quiet beachside village had given way to cheap, ugly development. We tried to visit the tsunami museum, but for reasons that never became apparent our driver refused to take us. We had chosen not to stay at the beachside town of Unawatuna due to a bum steer from The Lonely Planet, which said it was over-developed. But when we visited, we discovered a beach protected from the monsoons, quaint streets, restaurants, cafes and a manageable level of tourism. We visited twice and the children finally got to swim in the Laccadive Sea.

On an afternoon trip to Kosgoda Turtle Sanctuary, the children learnt about the breeding program, toured the facility, and at sunset released baby turtles into the ocean. We finished up in luxury at the Hilton Colombo, where they soaked up hours of television, even though it was not in English, and enjoyed the plush rooms, room service and a huge pool.

On our last night we toured Colombo atop an open-roofed double decker London bus. We narrowly missed colliding with overhead wires, but made it back alive.

Sri Lanka was hard work with children. I had one goal: keep them alive. But they were blind to my fear, and experienced a culture unlike anything at home. It opened their eyes to another world and another way.

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How would Jason Day spend $10 million?

Some would splurge on a luxury car. Others would add to their investment portfolio. How would Jason Day spend $10 million? He’d get down to a local mall and pick up a few V-neck jumpers.
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“I might buy a few more V-necks from Target, that’s what I usually do,” the Australian said, when asked what he might do with the epic payday that potentially awaits him in a few days’ time.

Then, asked

how he would describe his playing style, Day produced another killer quote that sums up why he is becoming one of the country’s most admired sporting figures..

“It’s like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy had a baby – and I was it,” said Day, pointing out how his powerful ball-striking, or “length”, was comparable to that of world No.2 McIlroy, while his putting and chipping, “short game”, was comparable to that of world No.3 Spieth – golf’s new world order.

Day is so hot right now, he is even being ranked No.1 in the world for press conferences.

The PGA Tour’s media department have called the Spieth-McIlroy “love child comment” its quote of the year.

Day has the unwavering self-confidence – or “swagger” as the Americans call it – that you simply must have to become the world’s best golfer.

He didn’t even blink this week when described being “in the zone” right now, an American-ism sportspeople use for that magical mental state one enters and, once there, can do no wrong.

But that brashness does not define his public image (if fact it doesn’t even come close) because of the other side of Day – call it the “V-neck” effect – that portrays the humble qualities that make up a champion who has just as many kind words for those around him, as he does for himself.

His humility overpowers to the point where any cockiness that might unwittingly slip is endearing rather than jarring.

It’s why very few Australians would begrudge him possibly banking the biggest single-day payout a professional sportsperson from this country has ever seen.

Even though he is already a millionaire several times over – all up his career-earnings exceed $US28 million – we will be happy to see his him break the bank over and over.

Day has had some big days already this year.

But this Monday could be his biggest – maybe not in his eyes, but likely in those watching him back home in Australia.

Put simply, he could enter rare air. It’s not all about the money, clearly. But winning $16 million in one day (Australian dollars, that is) will create a lot of headlines back here and give him a unique place in our sporting history.

The $16 million bounty is the prize for becoming the first Australian to win the “FedEx Cup”.

The “grand final” for that end-of-season trophy is the last event of the PGA Tour – the “Tour Championship” – which starts on early Friday morning, Australian AEST, and ends early Monday.

Day cannot be the first Australian to win the Masters. He wanted to be, so much, and planned to scatter some of his father’s ashes at Augusta once he did to fulfil his dying wish.

He is world No.1 and Australia’s youngest ever, but he wasn’t the first, and we won’t know for a long time whether he can ever eclipse Greg Norman’s mark of 331 weeks as “the man”.

Those are the two achievements, winning a green jacket (which he hasn’t done yet) and becoming world No.1, Day holds closest to his chest.

He admitted this week that the money would probably “pop into his brain” (how could it not) but it’s never been what he plays for.

“I don’t really spend money, mate,” Day added to his “V-neck” comment.

“I mean I have some nice stuff. I might buy some new clothes because I’ve still got clothes five years old that I wear today. I am a very simple man. Just be able to put it away and save it.”

Yet it’s impossible for the Queenslander to know how big a story winning the FedEx Cup will be, for no one has done it in this country.

It does not have the history that makes the Masters so sacred. The concept of the FedEx Cup – golf’s version of the AFL premiership – was only introduced in 2007. But in time it will, and who knows how big its prestige might grow.

In terms of prizemoney – the $US10 million cheque handed to the winner is five times that of the Masters or any other of the other majors.

Looking back in 50 years’ time – when that $US10 million could be goodness knows how much – Day might think it neat he was the first Australian to climb this particular mountain. But first he must get there, and he will certainly need his swagger to swing it.

Part of the reason why the FedEx Cup does not sit at the same level as the majors in the Australian sporting public’s collective consciousness is the convoluted nature of its qualifying system.

Over the past three weeks, the world’s top 125 golfers have been cut to fields of 100 and then 70 over three “play-off” tournaments, leaving just 30 to contest this week’s Tour Championship.

Day has won two of those three events – The Barclays and the BMW Championship – amassing FedEx Cup points along the way that have ranked him No.1 in the standings.

He comes into this week on 6680 points, which is 2288 points more than his nearest rival, Spieth, and a seemingly insurmountable lead given the final event only offers a maximum of 2000 points for the winner.

However this is the kicker for Day. All points earned up to this week are actually wiped and then “reset” for the final event, based on each player’s final ranking.

It means Day’s No.1 position gives him the greatest chance of winning as compared to any of his 29 fellow competitors, but not an exclusive one.

Day will start the tournament at a “reset” points total of 2000, ahead of Spieth on 1800, Rickie Fowler on 1600, Henrik Stenson on 1440 and Bubba Watson on 1280 – the top five players in the standings who are close enough to snatch the cash from Day with a victory this week.

If none of those other four players actually win the event, the prime No.1 position essentially gives Day more scenarios in which he can to still finish on top of the standings – and claim the $US10 million bonus – should he also fail to win the Tour Championship.

For instance, Day can finish as low as 29th in the 30-player field and still win provided the right player wins for that to happen. Spieth, on the other hand, can only finish as low as sixth and still win provided all other placings fall his way. And so on.

Here are a few other need-to-know facts about the event that could become Jason’s biggest Day.

– The player who entered the Tour Championship ranked No. 1 – which Day has this year – has won the FedEx Cup three times out of eight times. No one has done it since Tiger Woods in 2009.

– Day would not be the first player to win two “play-off” events but not the FedEx Cup. McIlroy won the second and third lead-up events in 2012, but American Brandt Snedeker stole the big prize by winning the Tour Championship after solid placings in the other play-off events put him in the frame.

– Day would be the only player ever to win three out of the four play-off events if he were to add the Tour Championship to his wins at The Barclays and BMW Championship.

– A score of 13-under in the Tour Championship would elevate Day’s combined under-par score for the four play-off events to 60-under, which would beat Woods’ current record of 59-under set in the 2007 play-offs.

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Greens launch ‘factory farm’ offensive

Upper House MP and Greens spokeswoman for animal welfare, Dr Mehreen Faruqi.A PLAN to create an independent Office of Animal Welfare and to put an end to “cruel factory farming practices” is the cornerstone of the Greens animal welfare policy launched on Sunday.
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NSW Upper House MP and Greens spokeswoman for animal welfare, Mehreen Faruqi, unveiled the party’s plans to protect animals, saying the creation of an Office of Animal Welfare is long overdue.

Dr Faruqi told Fairfax Media that it would for the first time ensure that animal welfare in NSW is regulated “without influence” from the government or the agricultural sector.

“Too many animals in NSW are at risk from animal cruelty,” she said.

“Many factory farming practices, such as sow stalls and battery cages, are unnecessarily inhumane. While there have been some industry efforts to phase these out, it is now time to relegate these cruel practices to the history books where they belong.”

RSPCA ‘not up to task’The move also comes after recent criticism of the RSPCA’s ability to prosecute animal cruelty cases.

Animal groups have called on the RSPCA to relinquish its role as prosecutor under the state’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The organisation has previously admitted that it is unable to effectively regulate the state’s puppy farms under current funding arrangements.

Fairfax Media has previously reported animal activists group Oscar’s Law had uncovered evidence of alleged animal cruelty at the Frazer puppy farm in northern NSW last year but was outraged that the farm was allowed to keep operating despite evidence of “squalor, malnourishment and freezing conditions”, along with a history of disturbing RSPCA NSW vet reports.

The Greens policy is to establish an independent office take the primary responsibility away from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), be given a staff of 40 which include animal welfare investigators to work with police to identify and prosecute animal cruelty. It would be costed with the $5 million of current funding from the DPI plus additional; small recurrent funding increase.

They also want activities relating to animals to be licensed including dog breeding, slaughterhouse regulations, farm animals.

And they want to introduce a ban on battery cages for hens, pig stalls and farrowing crates.

Although there have been some voluntary industry initiatives such as Woolworths phasing out battery eggs and Australian Pork Limited committing to a partial sow stall phase-out, the Greens argue that legislation is required to ensure improved welfare for all farmed animals.

Marshall backs regulator planIn January, Nationals MP Adam Marshall lobbied the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, to establish a dedicated task force. The Northern Tablelands MP has had two puppy farms raided in his electorate in the past year.

Mr Marshall suggested that the government could overhaul the current animal welfare system and look at establishing a separate agency to monitor these cases of animal cruelty.

“These cases highlight the need for more rigorous monitoring.” he said. “If there have been breaches of the code of practice, then these people need to have the book thrown at them.”

Animal welfare groups have been calling for the establishment of the office for the past year.

Animal Liberation spokeswoman Emma Hurst said the Office of Animal Welfare needed to be separated from the DPI.

“The Minister for Primary Industries’ main focus is to protect the financial stability of primary industries and welfare often falls in opposition to this,” she said.

“The current minister is pushing for controversial ag-gag laws, which will prevent issues of animal welfare reaching the public,” Ms Hurst said. “Instead of trying to cover up welfare issues, the focus of any minister with the portfolio of animal welfare should be to rectify them.”

Ms Hurst called on the minister for police to take on the responsibility for the role. “That is the only way it would work,” she said.

Ms Hodgkinson would not comment whether the NSW government would consider establishing an Animal Welfare Office.

She reiterated the NSW government’s commitment to animal welfare through the Companion Animals Taskforce and said that the animal welfare system, “will soon be bolstered even further through the introduction of the NSW Biosecurity Bill”.

According to the legislative framework, the yet-to-be-introduced NSW Biosecurity Bill is designed to “protect the economy, human health and the environment from problems associated with pests and diseases of animals”.

The state’s chief regulator of animal welfare, RSPCA NSW, has declined to comment.

– with Eryk Bagshaw

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Beef industry reform ‘overdue’

LABOR Senator Glenn Sterle has repeated demands for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to act on structural reforms to benefit the beef cattle industry, as recommended in a far-reaching Senate inquiry.
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Mr Joyce launched the inquiry into the $5 per head levy shortly after he came into office after the 2013 federal election.

A subsequent inquiry chaired by Senator Sterle saw the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee hand down its report last September.

Its leading recommendation was to establish a producer-owned body with “the authority to receive and disperse the research and development, as well as marketing component, of the cattle transaction levy funds”.

Work has since gone on behind the scenes between Mr Joyce and industry to progress the major reforms – but the Western Australian Senator says time is running short for the government.

He has reiterated calls made to Fairfax Agricultural Media last November calling on Mr Joyce to adopt the bipartisan report’s recommendations into the system of levies placed on Australia’s beef industry.

“Mr Joyce needs to listen to the views of the industry and overwhelmingly that is in support of the recommendations of this Senate inquiry report,” he said.

Senator Sterle said the inquiry uncovered a levy system that was “ineffective and poorly managed”.

He said growers viewed the levy system as benefiting only small segments of the industry, despite levies being paid by all cattle growers.

“Cattle growers need to feel that the levy system benefits the entire industry and I believe that the recommendations of the inquiry report will go a long way to ensuring that the system is fair and equitable,” the long-term Committee member said.

“Barnaby Joyce likes to think of himself as representing rural Australia, but his continued refusal to respond to this report – a report that was back by his Coalition colleagues – leaves cattle growers in limbo.

“Only by swiftly taking up the recommendations of the report will Mr Joyce ensure that cattle growers will once again have faith in the levy system.”

Mr Joyce has also come under renewed pressure to introduce the reforms from beef industry think tank, the Australian Meat Producers Group (AMPG).

The group launched a social media campaign last week, aimed at maintaining momentum for a proposed Grassfed Cattle Corporation to replace the Cattle Council of Australia (CCA).

A new website is asking cattle producers to vote for action, to gain control of their levy and industry.

“For the last decade the cattle producers of Australia have received ruinous prices, paid record costs and controlled nothing,” the website says.

“The Senate Committee has recommended that the grassfed cattle producers should control their own industry and their own levies.

“Will you please give us your support to control our own levies and take control our own industry as the Senate Report recommends.”

In a statement, AMPG co-founder Cameron MacIntyre said Mr Joyce was to be congratulated for his leadership in establishing the Senate Inquiry.

However, he said, “cattle producers do need to publicly support these much-needed reforms recommended by the Senate Committee”.

“In 2013-14, grassfed cattle producers made up $61.5 million of Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) $117.5m levy income,” he said.

“But despite contributing more than half of the income, grassfed producers received very little of MLA’s output.

“At the same time, Australian producers are going slowly broke, last year receiving less than $2 a kilo for liveweight steers, almost half the returns to US producers for similar stock. Producers are exiting daily – and urgent action is required to restore our sustainability.

“Cattle producers desperately need a well-resourced, accountable body with a sharp focus on improving profit in the industry.

“In short, we need to follow through on the Senate Committee recommendations for a Grassfed Cattle Corporation directing its energies towards strategies that restore the future of grassfed beef production in Australia.

“Producers are not trying to destroy MLA by removing funding,” it says.

“Producers merely wish to assume control over their levy funds, the same as other industry bodies do, and manage how MLA uses it.”

A spokesperson for Mr Joyce said the government was still considering the inquiry’s recommendations, within the broader context of the red meat sector and would deliver a response in due course after proper consultation with industry and affected stakeholders.

“It is clear that there are varying views within industry as to how the inquiry’s seven recommendations should be responded to,” the spokesperson said.

“On December 19, 2014, Mr Joyce held a meeting with relevant industry bodies and organisations to discuss issues relating to the inquiry’s seven recommendations in order to better inform the government’s response.

“This meeting complements ongoing engagement with affected stakeholders since the Senate report was released in September last year.”

The CCA has been contacted for comment.

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Madigan’s MDB warning

Senator John Madigan on last week’s listening tour.Jobs at riskVICTORIAN Independent Senator John Madigan has been warned hundreds of jobs and vital income for regional towns are in grave danger, if the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) Plan strips water from agricultural production for environmental purposes.
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Senator Madigan toured various MDB communities last week asking leading stakeholders to give him their unambiguous thoughts on the Basin Plan.

The former blacksmith is one of eight crossbenchers in the federal Senate who holds a critical position in determining the final fate of government legislation.

He’s seeking crossbench support to help establish a new federal Senate inquiry to examine whether the Basin Plan’s basic aim to deliver 2750 gigalitres in environmental water flows will cause irreversible damage to agricultural production and river communities.

Senator Madigan will synthesise the key messages from various meetings in NSW and Victoria and take them to Canberra to present to other politicians.

At a community meeting in Deniliquin on Wednesday, Senator Madigan explained to about 30 community stakeholders why he abstained from voting for the Basin Plan when it was signed into law in late 2012.

He said he asked his fellow Senators – including those from the Coalition and the ALP – what they were voting for and nobody could provide him with a coherent response.

“So I refused to vote,” he said.

“I’m not into political expediency – I don’t like it when people suffer. I’m here to listen and I’ll do my very best to try and get you a result.”

Senator Madigan said he had strong personal interest in water as the lifeblood of agricultural production and a family connection to the Deniliquin community.

Facts, not rhetoricWednesday’s meeting saw eight speakers from various community interest groups offer their key messages for Senator Madigan to prosecute in the nation’s capital this year.

However, the public forum’s tone contrasted sharply to a visit the previous day by new Secretary to the Environment Minister Bob Baldwin and Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) chair Neil Andrew.

Mr Baldwin and Mr Andrew toured various irrigation sites and facilities in the region, gathering views and advice from stakeholders during a crash course on water policy session.

However, simmering tensions hit the surface at the following day’s meeting community leaders expressed a growing lack of confidence in the Basin Plan to the Senator.

They also ventilated frustrations about the recent change of water leadership which has effectively seen four federal water ministers appointed in the past two years.

Backlash towards Mr Baldwin focused on a local media report which claimed he toured Basin communities to listen to their concerns and wanted to be persuaded by facts rather than rhetoric, about the Basin Plan’s failings.

But the article also reported him as saying the Basin Plan wouldn’t be changed and instead would be delivered in full and on time, despite those concerns.

A bit of a contradictionSouthern Riverina Irrigators (SRI) chair John Bradford said he believed Mr Baldwin was “very much a straight shooter” who came out to listen to the community’s concerns, but at the same time the new water boss said he would be forging ahead with the Basin Plan.

Mr Bradford said Mr Baldwin’s comments came a day after embattled Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s speech at the National Press Club in Canberra, where he promised all government members would listen more closely and consult better with their constituents in 2015.

He said Mr Baldwin’s comments to the Deniliquin community were “a bit of a contradiction” to Mr Abbott’s key message.

Local business representative Harold Clapham was also critical of Mr Baldwin’s comments, saying they were “insulting and demeaning” and his reference to a rain dance was “unintelligent and certainly not funny”.

“We know what happens in this district when we don’t have water, far better than you, Mr Baldwin,” he said referring to the rice mill’s closure at Coleambally this year.

Wakool on the marginsWakool Shire Council chair Neil Gorey told Senator Madigan an economic impact report on the Basin Plan’s proposals had highlighted potential community fall out from water entitlement reductions and retiring significant areas of irrigation land.

Mr Gorey said the report highlighted that from 2002 to 2014, water entitlements in the Wakool Shire had halved from 304,000ML to 152,000ML.

He said, during that time, the Shire’s population had also declined by 814 people, or 17 per cent, of which a vast majority came from the rural sector.

Mr Gorey said the community’s towns have “stayed relatively static” despite losing 294 jobs (a 24pc decrease), with ag sector jobs falling by 328 or 40pc of the agriculture work-force.

“Our fear is that, if water entitlement reductions continue that are to meet the water recovery target of 1048GL in NSW, Wakool Shire could experience a further 38pc reduction in water entitlements,” he said.

“If this occurs, we can expect another 223 job losses resulting in an annual loss of wages of $11.2 million and reduced consumer spending in the Wakool Shire of $6.7m per year.”

Mr Gorey’s message was for Senator Madigan to convey to the minister, crossbenchers and Mr Andrew was that his Shire recognised the need to transition to a new future.

But he asked that future water entitlement reductions be postponed five years, to allow assessment of the Basin Plan’s impacts on the regional community and to build resilience from future reductions, to meet targets.

He also requested the federal government provide funding and policy support for the structural adjustment package needed to transition the Shire’s economy to “a future with less water”.

Plan ‘skewed to environment’SRI’s Mr Bradford said the Basin Plan had failed to deliver on its key goal of a triple bottom line result, as it contained an imbalance towards environmental water delivery, at the expense of social and economic outcomes.

He said 25pc of the district’s water entitlement had already been removed, with irrigators already feeling “distressed” and confidence levels low, in terms of future outlook.

“If we don’t get this right, what legacy do we leave for the future?” he said of the Basin Plan.

Mr Bradford said existing environmental water needed to be used better and any water taken from productive use must be accompanied by benchmarking to ensure any adverse third party impacts are identified.

“Water buybacks are a bad deal – full stop – so we need your help to legislate the 1500GL cap on buybacks through the Senate,” he told Senator Madigan.

Irrigation infrastructure iconicMurray Irrigation Limited chair Bruce Simpson said his organisation’s infrastructure was iconic and of “national significance”, not just for its 1200 shareholders and the local community “but to this nation”.

“We must protect it and its productive capacity,” he said.

Mr Simpson said politicians had promised to deliver the Basin Plan on time and on budget but time and money were both running short and “we need to get good politics into this”.

He urged Senator Madigan to use his crossbench influence to ensure “common sense” was applied to the issue.

“We carry all the risk of bad politics so we encourage you at cross bench level to support the 1500GL cap legislation,” he said.

“God help us when the next drought comes along and we have no fat in the system.”

Mr Simpson also said the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder needed to be more flexibility with application of environmental water trading rules.

He said irrigators get “rapped over the knuckles” if they don’t use water efficiently and operate under enormous regulation and responsibility – but environmental water use wasn’t held to the same standards.

“We’d ask from your point of view, to apply pressure to ensure (Environment) Minister (Greg) Hunt genuinely understands that if environmental water use is not brought to account, it is poor use of public funds,” he said to Senator Madigan.

Irrigators need a championMr Simpson implored Senator Madigan to be a conduit for Basin communities and carry their messages to Canberra.

“Those people perceive we are greedy (and) we are singularly focused on building our balance sheets at the expense of every other bloody thing, including the environment,” he said.

“But we are quite the contrary, and that’s what really hurts me – and it hurts everybody else in this room.

“We need a champion – and if you can be the champion John, and provide facts through to your colleagues on the crossbench, we will do everything we can to help you.”

SunRice chair Laurie Arthur said the local rice mill had been forced to close as a result of the millennium drought, but was back in business now.

Mr Arthur said the local rice industry used water more efficiently than any other in the world and also spread its economic benefits throughout the community.

He said his key message for Canberra was about the ongoing “distortion” caused to water markets by the Basin Plan and urged a period of stability for agriculture to “essentially sort itself out”, given there was now 25pc less water available.

Basin Plan ‘flawed from day one’Riverina and Murray Regional Organisation of Councils executive officer Ray Stubbs said the Water Act which underpinned the Basin Plan’s creation was flawed.

Mr Stubbs said it favoured environmental considerations over social and economic outcomes that were “easily overlooked” by the MDBA.

But he said the MDBA can’t be blamed for acting according to what was prescribed in the Act.

“The Act needs to be stronger; we need to get triple bottom line considerations into the Act,” he said in urging the government to reconsider findings of an expert review of the legislation.

Mr Stubbs said the MDBA’s current consultation mechanisms with communities were working OK, “but can be better”.

Murray Valley Private Diverters chair John Lolicato said Mr Baldwin’s comments were an example of “how far out of touch our politicians are”.

“We should not be putting up with that kind of rubbish,” he said.

He said the Water Act wasn’t about producing the best environmental outcomes but was all about, “how can we squeeze all this bloody water down the other end so we can put 2000GL straight out to sea, and we can keep the salt levels of an estuary system way above what it should be”.

“We’ve had three successive governments now who are prepared to actually live the lies of the Basin Plan and it’s all about providing water for the bottom end,” he said.

“The uncertainty and the mistrust that is going on at the moment, is just unbelievable.

“So 50pc of our entitlement has already gone and as we all know water is the basis of production.

“How much money I make a year is directly related to how much water I’ve got in my kitty, so every drop that we will lose is going to have an impact.

“The Water Act is flawed and it’s been flawed from day one and it has been driven by people who don’t understand what they’re doing and that’s why we’ve ended up where we are.”

Third party impactsSpeakers also raised fears about the Basin Plan’s Constraints Management Strategy causing negative third party impacts, to achieve additional environmental water flows.

Mr Clapham said the Basin Plan was the largest irrigated agricultural industry restructuring ever under taken by a developed economy.

He said was on the basis that it takes commercial water out of production and allocates that water to a non-productive sector of the economy.

“This is not to belittle the need for environmental stewardship; it is simply to highlight the need for accountability and ultimately the consequences,” he said.

“And as far as I can see, there has never been an attempt on this scale, to utilize the existing infrastructure and the imperial data surrounding modern water flows that were developed for commercial purposes, in an attempt to produce an environmental outcome that never existed prior to the industrial development of the existing infrastructure.

“In simplistic terms, the MDB environment was irrevocably altered forever the moment the river flows were changed and the first weir was built and it has been changing ever since.

“It is arrogance beyond belief to think that we now have a comprehensive understanding of an environment that in reality is less than 100 years old.

“In its simplest form, access to temporary water from the Commonwealth Water Holder, would provide the economic arbitrage necessary to lessen the economic and social consequences associated with the implementation of plan.

“It would also provide a much needed circuit breaker for all parties to meet the obligations to their constituents.”

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Port code motion delayed

A MOVE to remove the co-ops exemption in the port access code has been stymied, with a key Senator not convinced by evidence presented an an inquiry.
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The vote on a disallowance motion to remove a special exemption for co-operatives within the federal government’s wheat port access code of conduct has been delayed to March 4.

Western Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert told Fairfax Agricultural Media that evidence presented at a federal Senate Committee inquiry hearing into grains logistics in Canberra last Thursday had failed to change her mind on supporting the exemption.

The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry quizzed key grain industry figures about the merits of the exemption.

Witnesses included leaders of WA’s two main farm lobby groups, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), WA grains co-op CBH and rival port operator Bunge Australia.

NSW Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm introduced a disallowance motion late last year proposing to remove the co-ops exemption.

The motion was scheduled to be voted on this week when federal parliament resumed, but Senator Siewert said she heard no evidence at the inquiry hearing to “dissuade” her from voting against it.

She said too much work had already gone into developing the code regulations via a grains industry taskforce which was established via amendments the Greens achieved when voting with Labor to pass legislation in late 2012, which removed Wheat Exports Australia.

Senator Siewert said she would be concerned about supporting Senator Leyonhjelm’s disallowance motion if it repealed the entire code – but would still need to clarify whether the proposal only targeted the co-op exemption.

The code is one of the final vestiges of the legislation which empowered the former single desk arrangements for bulk wheat exports, operated by AWB.

But moves to fully deregulate the wheat export industry continue to frustrate the Coalition and divide grains industry stakeholders, especially between east and west coast views.

Senator Leyonhjelm and Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon have both criticised Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce for approving the co-op exemption.

But Nationals deputy leader Mr Joyce has justified his decision, saying any monopolistic behaviour by co-ops operating in their own market, such as CBH, yields benefits for growers via their inherent business structure.

Senator Leyonhjelm said he would now be postponing a vote on the disallowance motion, which had seven sitting days of parliament remaining as of Tuesday.

He said he would use that additional time to try and gain support from Labor and Mr Fitzgibbon and any “liberal Liberals” who support his views on full deregulation.

Senator Leyonhjelm conceded his disallowance would be defeated, “if the Libs all stick together”, given the Green’s continued supported for the regulations signed-off by the Coalition on October 1, last year.

“There are quite a few Liberals who would support my approach to deregulation,” he said amid speculation some Liberal Senators may abstain from any future vote on the disallowance motion.

“My feeling is that if regulation of port access was required anywhere, it should be in WA.

“I don’t think CBH should be favoured with an exemption but it looks like the Greens are not going to go with that.”

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee’s inquiry was established in mid-2014 with an original reporting deadline of December, which was extended out to June 4 this year.

The inquiry was re-adopted for pursuit by the current parliament in late 2013, following a similar long-running investigation by the Committee into grain handling ownership arrangements.

That inquiry played a key role in raising issues of concern to growers around reduced competition and ownership of ports, during the proposed $3.4 billion takeover of GrainCorp by US multinational Archer Daniels Midland which was rejected by Treasurer Joe Hockey in late 2013.

The broad terms of reference underpinning the Committee inquiry’s latest iteration includes looking at on-farm and off-farm grain storage networks and how the movement of grain to ports impacts farmgate returns.

Reactions to co-op exemptionAt last week’s Senate inquiry hearing, WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association grains committee chair John Snooke said exempting co-ops from “certain aspects of the code” would essentially give CBH, “a licence to do as they wish”.

“It is rewarding CBH for being a co-operative rather than a corporate because the Minister favours co-operatives,” he said.

Mr Snooke said CBH’s past “bad behaviour” in the WA logistics supply chain – which the ACCC had identified and sought to rectify – “will continue”.

“If you give CBH a little bit of slack, it will take it,” he said.

“That is our concern. We have put CBH up on a pedestal. It is not back in the pack with the other bulk handlers where it should be.”

Mr Snooke said if there was no code, the ACCC would only have powers to address any issues – of market power abuse – retrospectively.

He said the PGA also believed the grains industry had taken “a slight step back from the full path to deregulation” due to the code, which should have retained a sunset clause, instead of a three-year review.

“We have given a privileged exemption to an organisation that has some track record of anticompetitive behaviour,” he said.

ACCC chair Rod Sims said an exemption for CBH was “very much a policy issue” which required policymakers having to consider the merits of “co-operation versus competition”.

“The vast majority of farmers in the west are members of CBH, so the issue of policy is whether you think those farmers in the west will be better looked after by the co-operative that they are members of or whether you think that the farmers would get a better price for their wheat if there is competition to buy their wheat,” he said.

“That is the policy trade-off: do you leave it to a co-operative to look after the farmers or do you rely on competition to buy the wheat?”

Mr Sims said the WA market had about 20 players currently trying to buy wheat from farmers and at least 10 of them are “major players”.

“It is an active market for that wheat,” he said.

“CBH, the last time I looked, exports less than 50 per cent of the wheat, so the other 50 per cent is being exported by other players. You have a lot of competition there.

“I guess the question is about whether that competition is a good thing for farmers or whether it is better to rely on CBH to look after its members in an optimum way.”

Mr Sims conceded CBH has had several matters before the ACCC quoting an example of the co-op, “acting in a way that sought to reduce competition for rail transport”.

He said he also believed in sunset clauses for regulatory arrangements and regular reviews.

“That (review) might allow you to say that there are enough extra ports being built to provide the competition,” he said.

“In general terms, we support sunset clauses.

“But, for there to be a change in circumstances and to get rid of the code, you would need a lot to happen in the wheat market.”

Bunge Agribusiness Australia general manager Chris Aucote was steadfast in repeating his personal philosophy that, “less regulation is better in the long run”.

“I believe fundamentally that that is the way the industry should go,” he said.

“Certainly other companies will have different views on that but I strongly believe that the market will work it out.

“Competition will help solve some of these issues in the long run.”

Asked by Senator Leyonhjelm how he’d feel if the port access code applied at the Bunbury where Bunge has established its own export facility, and not to CBH, Mr Aucote said, “That is something we would have to work through”.

“We have had discussions with the ACCC around what the requirements are,” he said.

“Our port in Bunbury is a boutique operation to some degree.

“The intent of the regulations is to allow for innovation and competition in the market.

“I would hope that that is what the regulations would support.”

WAFarmers grains section president Kim Simpson told the Committee that the State regulations, which govern CBH’s operations – the Western Australian Bulk Handling Act – ensured competition in marketing grain.

He said CBH had a grain handling monopoly, “simply because we built them and they do the job so well that no-one else is likely to come in in any big way and make any money out of it, unless they cherry pick parts of it”.

“In marketing, that State legislation ensures that CBH sells anybody’s grain, and takes anybody’s grain as long as it is up to standard,” he said.

“Since deregulation slightly more than 50 per cent of the State grain crop which has been handled by CBH has belonged to other traders.

“There will always be a disaffected voice here and there but by and large my understanding is that those traders find the system works very well.”

Mr Simpson said he believed concerns about CBH’s market behaviour weren’t driven by port access agreements but by the “philosophical backgrounds” of growers and whether they believe in the difference between corporates and co-operatives.

“As I have said, they have wanted to corporatise CBH from day one, I think largely because they think they can make a dollar out of it,” he said of corporate leaning growers.

“Perhaps some of them do not have kids who are going farming so they figure they can make a dollar on their exit.”

But Mr Simpson said more than 90 per cent of growers supported the co-op structure.

“The surveys done not so long ago amongst the younger growers indicate that they, and all growers, are realising, as the gap opens up between the costs of our handling system and the costs of equivalent handling systems in the country, how valuable CBH is to them,” he said.

In his opening statement to the hearing, CBH CEO Dr Andy Crane urged the Committee to remain “really cognisant of just why the co-operative exemption was included in the first place”, when considering the disallowance motion.

Dr Crane said some of the reasoning “gets forgotten in the cut and thrust of some of these grain industry deliberations as various companies and agri-political groups push their particular objectives”.

He said the co-operative and mutual business model is “fundamentally different” to a corporate model.

“Unlike Australian publicly listed companies, those assorted foreign owned and controlled multinationals and even privately owned traders, CBH as a cooperative exists solely to create and return value to growers,” he said.

“We only have one beneficiary. We are not trying to make money out of one group to provide value to external shareholders.

“We do not exist to make that profit and return dividends to those faraway shareholders.”

Dr Crane said it was “enshrined” in the CBH constitution that the co-op exists to promote the development of the WA grain industry and its purpose is to create value and return it to the State’s 4200 grain growers.

He said removing the exemption would force extra costs on growers with about $1 million annually already being forced on CBH to comply with regulations.

“Removal of the exemption will leave unnecessary regulation in place in attempts to protect growers somehow from the actions of their own supply chain,” he said.

“Our growers demand full and open access to the network so they can sell the grain to as many marketers as possible.

“We have no incentive – the board gives us no incentive – to hinder access, so the removal of the exemption will create just another layer of regulatory burden.

“Retention of the exemption recognises the inherent difference of cooperatives and that a guarantee of access is already assured.

“The Western Australian Bulk Handling Act applies solely to CBH and requires the cooperative to receive and outturn all grain tendered to the system.

“The DNA of our cooperative demands this – as does competition law.”

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Big year for sorghum harvest: ABARES

RECENT good rain in Queensland and NSW is expected to boost the upcoming grain sorghum harvest by about 66 per cent compared with last year to 1.8 million tonnes.
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In its latest Australian crop report the national commodity forecaster, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), says good rains in December and January in parts of the summer cropping belt in Qld and northern NSW had boosted sorghum plantings by 23pc to 604,000 hectares.

The bulk of the increase has been in Qld which was now tipped to produce 1.2 million tonnes from plantings of 422,000ha.

ABARES modelling indicates some potentially top sorghum crops around Emerald, Biloela, Roma, Kingaroy, west of Dalby, Goondiwindi, Inverell and Gunnedah with good finishing rains.

The latest seasonal outlook for February to April from the Bureau of Meteorology has indicated a slightly higher chance of drier than normal conditions across the summer cropping regions of northern NSW and Qld.

NSW was forecast to harvest 585,000 tonnes of grain sorghum from 180,000ha.

The news for cotton isn’t so bright with plantings forecast at about 210,000ha compared with 392,000ha last year on the back of the reduced availability of irrigation water and soil moisture.

As a result ABARES predicted a 47pc fall in cotton production to 470,000 tonnes of lint and 665,000 tonnes of cottonseed.

Average yield was forecast to fall by one per cent to 2.2 tonnes a ha, down from the high average yield of 2.3 tonnes the previous season.

Rice plantings were forecast to fall by 7pc in 2014-15 to around 71,000ha on the back of water shortages in southern NSW with production forecast at 684,000 tonnes.

ABARES said Australia’s just-harvested winter grain crops produced 38.2 million tonnes, a fall of 13pc. National wheat production fell 12pc to 23.6 million tonnes while barley output dipped 18pc to 8 million tonnes and canola dropped 10pc to 3.4 million tonnes.

Tough seasonal conditions in Queensland, NSW and Victoria cut total winter grain production below the 10-year average.

Production fell to a lesser extent in South Australia (down 12pc to 7.6 million tonnes) and Western Australia (down 16pc to 14.6 million tonnes).

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Where have the bees gone?

IT’S THE bee version of a mystery thriller. Hives full of healthy honey bees suddenly empty. Inside, beekeepers the world over would find abandoned young and a queen but no worker bee corpses.
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At first apiarists worried a new disease was infecting their colonies. Evidence would later show bees were stressed out – by pesticides, pests and poor food quality – but not even that could explain the rapid decimation of colonies.

Now an Australian-led team has discovered how multiple stressors trigger a series of events that can quickly lead to a total breakdown of bee society.

“It’s very rapid,” said research leader Andrew Barron, from Macquarie University.

“Your colony goes from having lots of bees to no bees in a few weeks. There’s no obvious pathogen and there’s no corpses left in the hive,” said Dr Barron.

Known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), it has affected about 30 per cent of honey bee colonies in Europe and North America each year over the past decade. Australian honey bee colonies, which play a significant role in crop production, worth about $5 billion a year, have so far been unaffected.

“When you get a colony failing like that, you’re not just seeing the death of individuals but the absolute collapse of a whole society,” he said.

Rather than focus on the stress chemical exposure, pests and pathogens had on individual bees, Dr Barron and his team wondered what impact chronic stress was having on bees’ highly sophisticated hierarchical communities.

It is well known that honey bees delay leaving their hive to forage until later in adulthood. Foraging for nectar and pollen is hard work, and bees frequently die from exhaustion or getting lost.

But if external stressors such as pests or pesticides kill too many forager bees at once, it triggers a rapid maturation of the next generation and prompts them to leave the nest before they’re are ready.

“Bees who start to forage when they’ve been adults for less than two weeks are just not good at it. They take longer, and they complete fewer trips.”

When Dr Barron and his team placed tiny radio trackers on young forager bees they discovered they also died earlier.

When the team entered this information into a model they found these premature deaths triggered a vicious cycle, whereby subsequent generations of inefficient foragers could not return enough resources to keep the colony going, leading to its collapse.

“Our model suggests bees are very good at buffering against stress, but there’s a tipping point and then you see this rapid transition into complete societal failure,” Dr Barron said.

Dr Barron said their findings, which have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, are the first to propose an explanation for the unusually rapid collapse of bee colonies.

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Better forecasts still under the weather

CONFIRMING what most farmers already know, research shows that while weather forecasting is more accurate than ever, predictions should not be taken as gospel.
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Newly completed research by a South Australian Nuffield scholar says that weather forecasting has become increasingly accurate in recent years, but farmers who take predictions literally are taking a big risk.

In his paper Weather Forecasting and Business Management Systems, Robin Schaefer says five- and seven-day forecasts in Australia have increased in accuracy by 45 per cent over the past 30 years, while the three-day forecast has increased accuracy by 27 per cent to become 97 per cent accurate.

Forecasting technology and methods had come a long way with the advent of more sophisticated technology like satellite forecasting, but primary producers should still be wary of the impact of over-subscribing to forecast data said Mr Schaefer, who undertook his Nuffield scholarship study with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

“Given the uncertain nature of weather forecasts, the riskiest thing anyone could do is to take a weather forecast literally,” said Mr Schaefer, who shares a collaborative farming venture at Loxton, SA.

“In the media we see stories of farmers who followed a forecast of a drought literally, made a dramatic business decision, such as deciding not to sow any crop at all or totally de-stocking, which proved to be the correct decision and resulted in a dramatic escape from its effects.

“For every one of these stories, there are many more where a dramatic decision proved to be incorrect resulting in huge losses.

“As weather forecasts continue to become more accurate farmers will begin to increase their reliance on them. However, this could increase the risk to the business, especially when the forecast will inevitably be wrong.”

The paper looks at an array of decision-making tools available to farmers in Australia and beyond, including popular services like Climate Kelpie, and forecasting technology and research overseas. While Australia is said to have seen rapid improvements in recent years, decision-support tools from Canada, New Zealand the United Kingdom, United States of America, among other countries, which he visited as part of his scholarship-supported study tour, offer lessons in how local services could enhance their offerings to farmers.

Mr Schaefer concludes that weather forecasting has plenty more progress to make, both in longer-term, seasonal forecasting, as well as more localised predictions via micro meteorology, to help farmers make the most of decisions informed by weather.

“The weather is an essential part of planning daily operations and in the longer term can mean the difference between a profitable and unprofitable year,” he said.

“As a farmer I am also a weather forecaster, I refer to as much information as possible, from as many sources as I have available, then use this information to influence my decision making.

“Research needs to be targeted at seasonal forecasting. Investigations for this report have confirmed there is plenty of scope to continue to improve seasonal forecasting.

“To achieve this, researchers need to think outside the square, to be bold and innovative.

“On the opposite end of the scale to seasonal forecasting is the emerging science of micro meteorology.

“Currently any micrometeorology data that is collected is not normally available to farmers.

“As technology improves, with the advent of on-farm instrumentation and communications systems and satellite-derived, instantly retrievable information, it will become possible to map microclimate variations. This will be at time scales that are useful for input into businesses.”

Click here to listen to a GRDC Driving Agronomy interview with Robin Schaefer.

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Top country artist to party the night away in Jamberoo

AINT NOTHIN’ BUT A PARTY: Kiama resident and multi award winning country rock artist, Benn Gunn, is sure to entertain when he takes to the stage at Jamberoo Pub to release his latest album.
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MULTI AWARD winning country rock artist, Benn Gunn,will launch hislatest album Ain’t Nothin’ But a Partyat Jamberoo Pub on Saturday, October 10.

The Kiama resident, createdthealbum with U.S. hit songwriter Jason Patrick Mathews and acclaimed producer Bart Busch andsaid the album reflectshis own life journey over the last few years.

“On the first album I wrote pretty much all the songs, this is definitely a different approach,” Gunn said.

“I had the opportunity go to Nashville and work with some of my idols in the industry who produced some of my favourite albums.

“It was a completely new process which I loved.I think this is one or two notches above what I’ve done before.”

“It starts out talking about partying, bonfires anddrinkingbeer,then goes into a deeper side of things with songs likeWhat I need tonightwhichshows a more sensitive side,” he said.

“We shotthe film clip at the Sebel, so you will be able to see a bit of Kiama in it.”

Gunn spent his childhood travelling around rural Australia like many great countrymen before him, and once again he has foundinspiration in the outback.

“The last few years I’ve got into the B and S circuit and small rural festivals.Young outback communities, mainly in Victoria are what I’ve been focusing on,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated a lot of this album to those guys.”

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Newman resigns as Qld Premier

Campbell Newman has resigned but will remain as caretaker Premier until Queensland has an answer as to who will govern Qld.CAMPBELL Newman has tendered his resignation as Queensland Premier.
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But he will remain as caretaker Premier until Queensland has an answer as to who will govern the state.

It is a question which has been left open since the January 31 election.

A hour after Mr Newman tweeted his intention to visit the Governor, a statement was released.

“This morning I tended [sic] my resignation as Premier of Queensland to his Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, pending the appointment of a new Premier,” he said.

“In accordance with my constitutional duty, I have agreed it is my obligation to remain in office as caretaker Premier until that time.

“It is a duty I take very seriously and one I will continue to undertake to the best of my ability.”

Earlier, newly-elected Liberal National Party leader Lawrence Springborg said “delicate” discussions with the two Katter’s Australian Party MPs were continuing.

Mr Springborg, LNP president Bruce McIver, and Katter’s Australian Party founder Bob Katter were spotted meeting at Waterfront Place in Brisbane’s CBD but left when spotted by the media.

Katter said they would wait until seats had been declared before announcing their support.

The third crossbencher, long-term Independent Peter Wellington, has already thrown his support behind Labor which would give the party the numbers needed to govern.

While counting continues, the LNP is expected to win 42 seats and Labor, 44.

A spokesman for Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said they were still watching and waiting on the seat count.

The LNP is pushing for the state to remain in caretaker mode until all seats have been declared – including Ferny Grove, the result of which has already been disputed and is headed to the Court of Disputed Returns as soon as the count is finished.

The Palmer United candidate was discovered to be an undischarged bankrupt and therefore unable to stand for office.

It is understood to be the first time in modern political history that an election result has been disputed before the seat has been declared.

If the court declares the Palmer candidate’s votes affected on the seat’s result, it could declare it void, sparking a by-election.

That would be the only chance the LNP has to retain power. It would need to win the by-election and then win the support of the two Katter party MPs to form government.

The pair released a list of 21 priorities on Monday, among them, the right to move on fruit bats, an ethanol mandated percentage in fuel and an inland highway.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission of Queensland said 10 seats had been declared already and electorates would continue to be progressively declared as the count was finalised.

That was not expected to happen on Tuesday.

On Monday, an ECQ spokesman said the count was not expected to be finished in all seats until the end of the week.

Caretaker provisions continue to remain in place.

A spokeswoman for Mr Springborg said Mr Newman’s actions were “consistent with what the LNP has said”.

“The LNP respects the office of the Governor and this is a matter for the Governor not politicians,” she said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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CBH ‘war’ on inquiry agenda

RECENT public infighting among CBH directors was a focal point of questioning at last week’s Senate inquiry hearing into grain logistics.
Nanjing Night Net

Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) grains committee chair John Snooke told the Committee concerns about the CBH board’s “public factional war” were escalating in WA.

“We are now constantly seeing a factional war playing out on the board and it is spilling over into the media,” he said.

“Just recently I have had numerous members call me who are very, very upset by this public factional war that is being played out.

“They are looking at their balance sheets, which are struggling, and they see this equity in CBH that they cannot realise.

“But the value of CBH at the moment would be in some decline.

“Without going into the nitty-gritty of each issue, that tells you of the broader frustration that is really developing in WA.”

PGA wants CBH privatisedMr Snooke said the PGA wanted to see a board that operated commercially, “like other companies in Australia”.

He said the PGA questions the way CBH is being managed and operated but “our members still identify that they have equity in the company”.

“Firstly, we would want to see CBH privatised so that it is operating by profit and loss, and not by legacy loyalty,” he said.

“That is where our members are getting very concerned. When we look back at the CBH board of the early 2000s, they were trying desperately to prepare the company for the changes that would inevitably occur in the industry.

“Our members are having problems when they do not see those changes. We are not seeing any rationalisation. We are not seeing CBH wanting to earn its business.

“It wants to retain its legacy loyalty by way of business rules.

“It is those things that are frustrating our members.”

WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert moved to clarify the board room scenario during her questioning of various witnesses, including ascertaining whether the infighting was due to differences of opinion over the co-op or corporate structure.

Mr Snooke said he did not believe that was the issue – which CBH chief executive officer Dr Andy Crane agreed with. “I do not think that at a board level that issue is being debated at all,” Mr Snooke said, noting that the current “ructions” on the CBH board were playing into a current climate of uncertainty in WA.

“Everyone is talking about it,” he said.

Dr Crane told the federal Senators, “You live in a political world, so I think you would fully understand”. He said the board situation resulted from “the machinations of a normal co-operative member based organisation”.

“We have nine grower directors elected to our board,” he said.

“We have 12 directors, and three are non-grower directors who bring external experience as well.

“Strong robust debates, I think, are healthy. It is often perceived as a downside of the co-operative, but I actually think it is a strength because what it is saying is that members are working out what they really want the business to do for them.

“Sometimes that spills out of the boardroom, but I do not see a negative in it and it is certainly nothing to do with – and I agree with John Snooke – a co-op corporate debate.

“Our board is very unified that the cooperative model is delivering the best for our growers.

“So this is just more passionate debate about what is right in a whole range of issues.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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