NEW farm levy-payer databases are “moving along in a positive direction” with a trial due to conclude by the year’s end, says Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Managing Director Dr Steve Jefferies.
Dr Jeffries was quizzed about the whereabouts of the new grower identification and communication tool, that’s being developed by the federal Coalition government, during recent Senate supplementary budget estimates hearings in Canberra.
Questions on the process occurring behind the scenes were asked again by NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm, during hearings of the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee.
Senator Leyonhjelm was a driving force behind an inquiry by the Rural Committee into farm levy-payer transparency for RDC’s and hundreds of millions of government and grower spending on RD&E and marketing activities, which recommended the data-bases be set-up, to improve transparency outcomes.
“We've just had Australian Wool Innovation here being quizzed about how they make their decisions and their answerability to wool growers - that sort of stuff,” Senator Leyonhjelm said.
“What I find interesting is that AWI is the most democratically elected R&D corporation we have.
“I'm aware there is a move to establish a database of grain levy payers, so that some semblance of democracy might enter the grains industry as well.
“Do you have any news on how that's progressing?”
Dr Jefferies said the legislation was already available for the creation of a levy-payers database and it was now in the hands of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
“However, GRDC has negotiated or volunteered to be a pilot test case for the levy-payers database,” he said.
“In our last discussions with the Department - the pilot study is expected to be completed by the end of this calendar year.
“The Department has been undertaking further work on the governance arrangements and control over data access et cetera.
“I understand it's moving along in a positive direction.”
Senator Leyonhjelm asked if the levy-payer databases would be used to ask any “marketing-type questions” of growers.
Dr Jefferies said forms of voting by grower levy-payers, was one outcome of the process.
But he said “the primary benefit we see is understanding who our growers are and the scale of their operations, so that we can target our research, development and extension to deliver higher impact and greater enduring profitability for those growers”.
“If we understand them better then we can tailor our investment portfolio much better,” he said.
“We see that as the primary benefit of the database.”
Seeking grower as to how GRDC conducts its business was not a primary benefit, Dr Jefferies said, but “a secondary benefit, absolutely”.
Dr Jefferies said GRDC had heard from time to time some groups suggest that the researcher should be involved in marketing, “but to my knowledge there is no strong push by any lobby group in that direction”.
He said it had been an issue with regard to the marketing, particularly of wheat, since the deregulation of the wheat market and “an ongoing debate since that time”.
“There is a group called the Australian Grains Industry Discussion Group, which has, as its members, organisations such as Grain Trade Australia, Pulse Australia, Australian Seed Federation, Grain Producers Australia, GrainGrowers Limited. GRDC is an observer on that organisation,” he said.
“That organisation is looking into such issues as ongoing public good, industry functions.
“Many of those agencies I referred to there are actively involved in quality assurance of the Australian crop.
“As a collective, the industry group believes that, if they can collaborate, cooperate and review some of the structures around this, there may be opportunities to improve that position on behalf of the Australian grains industry.”