BARNABY Joyce will use his first day as acting Prime Minister to announce new measures to enhance farmers’ supply chain profitability, through increased education and awareness
The National Party leader and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister will today unveil the Coalition government’s $13.8 million Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Pilot Program will be delivered by Southern Cross University in north-eastern NSW.
Mr Joyce was appointed Nationals leader in February following Warren Truss’s retirement decision and will lead the government for the first time this week with Malcolm Turnbull overseas.
Mr Turnbull will be in Shanghai to attend the culmination of Australia Week in China along with more than a thousand business representatives in a delegation containing significant agricultural presence, given China’s expanding food demand.
Earlier in the week, Mr Joyce attended the launch of an economic report in Perth, which showed giant WA grain handing and marketing co-operative CBH and its 40000 farming members contributed $3 billion to the WA economy in past financial year.
The Deloitte Access Economics study also estimated one in every four dollars generated by the State’s agricultural sector originated from CBH and its members.
CBH CEO Dr Andy Crane said the report showed grain growing families also contributed significantly to the fabric of rural communities with a 1000-strong work force with half based regionally and 2000 casual staff employed, during harvest each season.
Mr Joyce said the new report was “real time and real form” evidence of the immense contribution that CBH made to the WA and national economy.
He said CBH was one of the nation’s major agricultural players operating as a co-op along with the likes of Murray Goulburn and the Casino Meat Works.
His announcement of the co-ops pilot program will take place in the Page electorate of Nationals MP Kevin Hogan and follows through on funding delivered in the government’s $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.
“This national pilot program is all about enabling farmers to come together, whether in co-operatives or less formal collaborations and work to improve farm-gate returns,” Mr Joyce said.
“Agricultural co-operatives allow farmers to own and control more of the food supply chain themselves; giving them greater bargaining power when it comes to negotiating with buyers of their produce.
“The further you can reach down the path to the consumer, the greater the returns; it’s that simple.
“It’s better for the farmer and it’s better for local communities and the people who live and work there.”
Minister Joyce said the Lismore based Southern Cross University was perfectly positioned to deliver the cooperatives pilot program nationally because it had experience, expertise and links built up over recent years through partnering with the Northern Rivers Cooperatives Alliance and Regional Development Australia (RDA) Northern Rivers.
He said the Program would benefit from the “tried and tested” business experience of Northern Rivers Cooperatives Alliance members Norco, Northern Cooperative Meat Company, NSW Sugar Milling Cooperative, Summerland Credit Union, Clarence River Fisherman’s Cooperative and Ballina Fisherman’s Cooperative, while utilising the RDA network.
“The program has evolved since it was announced in the Agricultural White Paper last year as a result of consultation undertaken by Kevin Hogan with a wide range of stakeholders, including the cooperatives industry,” he said.
“Industry consultation identified the potential for improved long term benefits of developing a centre of excellence in collaborative business models that can leverage off national regional development and educational networks.”
Mr Hogan said he was pleased the government would be partnering with Southern Cross University to deliver the cooperatives initiative, saying the Northern Rivers region was “synonymous with collaborative business structures”.
“I thank all those organisations across Australia who contributed to the consultation and had a very real part in improving the design of this pilot project,” he said.
“As a strong advocate for collaborative models that support small and family businesses, I am confident this initiative will help more businesses to succeed and grow jobs and the economies of regional areas.”
Mr Joyce said over the coming months Southern Cross University would roll out dedicated education tools and resources, customised expert support and provide support to farmer groups interested in exploring cooperative business structures.
He said the pilot program would deliver expert advice and information to up to 2000 farmers and 100 farmer groups across the nation and would run until June 30, 2018.
The program includes $3.8m earmarked for new farmer group projects.
“Groups of farmers will be able to submit proposals for new collaborations to a panel of industry experts, with successful applicants receiving funding support and a dedicated case worker to get their project off the ground,” he said.
In February, the opposition accused Mr Joyce of pork-barrelling Mr Hogan’s electorate due to his involvement in the design phase of the program.
Mr Hogan won the seat off Labor’s Janelle Saffin at the 2013 federal election by a vulnerable 2.5 per cent margin and will face her again at the federal poll due this year.
The Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation was commissioned to undertake a scoping study – via a $200,000 grant – on a draft pilot program which involved a literature review and targeted consultations.
In October last year, Mr Joyce appointed Mr Hogan to head-up a taskforce that investigated the White Paper funding allocation which led to an options paper making recommendations.
But Mr Joyce said in its recent inquiry into cooperative, mutual and member-owned forms, the all-party Senate Economics References Committee called on the government to encourage the establishment of new cooperatives and undertake a program of education about the role of cooperatives.
He said the new Pilot program was important and commenced the Committee’s recommendations “in a very positive way.
“This program is a great start to meeting that task and a key part of the Coalition Government’s $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper which is helping strengthen Australian agriculture,” he said.