Thursday, February 5, 2015

Grassfed group launches social media campaign

By James Nason, 03 February 2015

A group describing itself as a cattle industry think tank has launched a social media campaign urging the grassfed cattle industry to get behind moves to create a new cattle corporation to replace the Cattle Council of Australia.

The group, which uses the title the “Australian Meat Producers Group”, issued a media release to launch the campaign on Tuesday.

AMPG spokesperson, Central Queensland cattle producer Cameron McIntyre, said the group is voicing industry calls for agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce to implement the recommendations of the Senate Inquiry into grassfed cattle industry structures and levy arrangements, handed down in September last year.

The Senate committee’s first recommendation was for a producer owned body to be established by legislation with the authority to receive and disperse all grassfed levy revenue, which is currently received and managed by Meat & Livestock Australia, under the Cattle Council of Australia’s oversight. The committee recommended that “reforming CCA to achieve these outcomes” should be examined as part of the process.

The AMPG wants to see the CCA replaced entirely by a new Grass Fed Cattle Corporation which would receive all grass fed cattle transaction levies, with board members directly elected by levypayers.

Groups in favour of that position say it is the only way to ensure grassfed producers receive full control over the expenditure of their grassfed levies. A common concern voiced by grassfed producers to the recent Senate Inquiry was that sectors other than grassfed sector had too much influence over how MLA spends grassfed levies.

Opponents of the plan which include most, if not all, post-farmgate sectors of the beef industry supply chain say that removing grassfed levy revenue from MLA would effectively destroy that organisation’s ability to operate and would have major impacts on their sectors, upon which the grassfed sector relies to value add, process and market its end product.

The Cattle Council of Australia’s initial view to the inquiry was that relatively minor tweaks were required to existing structures to ensure growers recieved the level of control over grassfed levies they expect. The measures supported by CCA included allowing a portion of the grassfed levy revenue to be redirected to CCA to improve its resourcing and capacity to provide professional oversight of MLA, while it also called for the Memorandum of Understanding between MLA and CCA be strengthened to compel MLA to act on CCA’s instructions on grassfed levy expenditure. Under the existing MOU, MLA is only required to meet with CCA, not necessarily to do what CCA tells it to do.

In the wake of the Senate Inquiry’s recommendations, CCA sent out a letter to other industry groups indicating that it had changed its position in order to allow the grassfed sector to move forward with a consensus position, and supported the concept of the full levy being paid to a reformed version of CCA – the major reform being a change from a board dominated by State Farm Organisation appointed directors to a board of fully independently elected directors representing each cattle producting region.

However, since that position was made known it has attracted significant opposition from the downstream sectors of the chain.

CCA is yet to publicly clarify where it now stands.

In the meantime groups like ABA and the AMPG are now using a social media campaign to ramp up support for their favoured position that a new body be established to manage the grassfed levy.

The AMPG also involves Sydney solicitor and long-time cattle industry Norman Hunt.

Its social media campaign via a Facebook Page and Twitter account is directing producers to visit the website established by the Australian Beef Association.

“Minister Joyce is to be congratulated for his leadership in acting (by establishing the Senate Inquiry) on the failures of the current system,” Mr McIntyre said.

“In 2013-14, grass fed cattle producers made up $61.5M of Meat and Livestock Australia’s $117.5M levy income. But despite contributing more than half of the income, grass fed producers received very little of MLA’s output.

“At the same time, Australian producers are slowly going broke, last year receiving less than $2/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 Grass Fed Cattle Corporation directing its energies towards strategies that restore the future of grass-fed beef production in Australia,” he said.

Other recommendations from the Senate Inquiry included the need for an automated cattle transaction levy collection system, and other measures to ensure a transparent, well-funded advocacy and policy setting body charged with market development programs including providing market data and information that puts local producers on an equal footing with their US counterparts.

At a closed industry meeting in Brisbane prior to Christmas, the Minister gave Cattle Council of Australia until mid-February to return to him with advice on options for representation of the grassfed industry by the council.

The Department of Agriculture was also instructed at that meeting to look at the Memorandum of Understanding between MLA and CCA to assess the capacity it currently provides for all relevant grassfed industry groups to provide input to the activities of MLA. He also asked the Department to look at various funding mechanisms to enhance the capability of relevant industry groups.

The Minister has also made it clear throughout the restructure process that if possible he wants all grassfed groups to come to him with a united position on restructure, rather than having to impose a decision himself on a divided industry.

CCA and ABA are expected to meet again privately next week to discuss their positions and whether common-ground exists in their position.

As the mid-February deadline approaches, the AMPG says it and other cattle producing representative bodies are voicing support for:
the adoption of the Senate Inquiry recommendations;
The establishment of Grass Fed Cattle Corporation with a voting structure that gives producers direct input into the new Corporation’s direction and annual programs; and
A Memorandum of Understanding to be drawn up which supports an effective and full transition of grass fed cattle producer levies to the new Corporation.

“When Minister Joyce agreed to initiate the Senate Committee Inquiry at a meeting of cattle producers in Townsville last year, he stated that it was time that the long debate over grass fed cattle levy funded representation was resolved and that cattle producers would have to be content to abide by the Senate committee umpires ruling on the changes that needed to be made.

“There is no doubt that Minister Joyce is determined to act in the industry’s best interests but cattle producers do need to publicly support these much-needed reforms recommended by the Senate Committee,” said Mr McIntyre.

“There can be no doubt that this is a life-or-death development for many cattle producers – so we are urging industry to join with the AMPG and other like-minded cattle industry representative bodies via our web, facebook and twitter outreach to give the Minister all the support we can to get these recommendations through Cabinet and into reality.”

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