Opinion | The Gauge
Earlier this month I was fortunate to join fellow scientists, industry folks, grain growers and the future stars of agriculture (the students) at the Australian Summer Grains conference on the Gold Coast. Wonderful presentations, a bit of Cicero, and many stories about doing it tough in the heat and lack of rain which seems to be our new normal. Except if you're from Brazil apparently.
We had to endure what was truly an eye opening presentation from Victor Campanelli who runs a "small" agricultural enterprise in Southern Brazil. His intention was clear - to show us what you can do with technology and rain. Rain? Like 2,000mm average (low murmur around the conference hall), and the poor fellow is run absolutely ragged by getting three crops a year in his rotation (rising muttering), turning off 80,000 head of lot fed cattle (audible gasp/oath) per annum, plus a little feed business on the side to value add the excess produce. The video of the row of planters following the harvesters brought a tear to many eyes around the room. But it nailed the reality that this is the modern global landscape, and the competition seems to be a lot better organised than we are at times.
Hence industry associations. At the conference it was apparent that many commodities have organised themselves, and with much success, were there to champion their crop, inform and assist newcomers, and develop new paths to market. The Australian Mungbean Association, Soy Australia, Maize Association Australia and the Australian Sunflower Association all had considerable presences. Chatting to them and checking out their active websites, it is also obvious that they are instrumental in getting involved post farm-gate. Topics like traceability, food safety and hygiene, market requirements and mycotoxins are key website topics.
Conspicuous in its absence was a Sorghum Association. Strange when the on-farm value of sorghum production dwarfs the other summer grains. In some years sorghum is Queensland's number one grain, summer or winter. Googling away, all I could find was OzSorghum, which is a showcase that brings together the sorghum research community. Our little sorghum research community is the envy of those overseas, which is why we get regular invitations to meet and speak at their industry conferences in the US, China and Europe. Yet our wonderful research community has the potential be a lot more effective if we had the opportunity to coordinate with an industry association.
What happens to sorghum when it leaves the farm? Do we know or even care? How much is eaten by humans in Australia? When we export to China we assume it is for Chinese liquor, the nearly deadly Baijiu (personal opinion which ~1 billion don't share). Maybe more goes into Chinese chickens and ducks? Why do feedlots on the Darling Downs import barley from the West rather than use local sorghum? Is it just that we are ashamed of sorghum? We ignore sorghum quality and where it goes at our peril. Maybe the time has come for Australia's number one summer grain to have an active Association to champion the Cinderella of Australian grains.
Ian Godwin is the Director of the Centre for Crop Science at QAAFI at the University of Queensland. He is the author of Good Enough to Eat? Next Generation GM Crops.