India opportunities brewing for our farmers

Agreed new biosecurity arrangements have opened the door to more export opportunities with India for Australian barley and fruit growers.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said India’s approval of phosphine fumigation of malting barley and in-transit cold treatment of a variety of fruits is a breakthrough for our farmers.

“We can now export malting barley to India using phosphine fumigation, opening market access opportunities for our barley growers especially in global beer production,”  Littleproud said.

“India has the world’s second largest population and its sheer scale and demand for food is projected to outpace supply. The Indian malt market is estimated at 500,000 tonnes, worth over $100 million dollars, and it is anticipated Australia could gain a fair proportion of that market in 2021.

“There has been growth in the consumption of beer in India and Australia is known worldwide for its high-quality malting barley. We are helping to position our farmers to tap into this huge export potential and play an important role in India’s food security.

India’s recognition of phosphine as a quarantine treatment for malting barley will save industry up to $10 per tonne exported compared to treatment with methyl bromide.

The recognition will also help Australia negotiate broader acceptance of phosphine as a treatment for other grains, pulses and nuts.

Littleproud said the approval to use in-transit cold treatment is expected to boost export volumes of Australian fruits such as table grapes, apple, pears and summer fruits.

“This is a massive market of young, health conscious and vegetarian consumers seeking high quality fresh and safe fruit and vegetables,” he said. “The main benefit of cold treating products in-transit compared to onshore in Australia is that better quality fruit arrives in the destination country.

“As the product is treated as it is transported, it gets to the market quicker and the exporter can charge a premium based on increased freshness.

“These are two significant market access achievements for our farmers who are the bedrock of our economy and will lead Australia’s post-COVID recovery.

“They an example of the strong relationship we share with India and the result of fantastic work by my department with one of our key trading partners.”

Australian government: Research vital for farming in a challenging climate

When it comes to putting this season into perspective, Riverina grower Roy Hamilton has 128 years of rainfall records to show that, for his family’s property, this year is one of the driest since 1890.

The Australian government’s Grains Research and Development Corporation explains that research is important in fighting climate change – something that Hamilton is well aware of too.

The grain and fat lamb producer from Rand in southern New South Wales said 2018 was the third driest year on record on his property, behind 1982 and 2002, with just 110mm of growing rain received this season against a long-term average of 290mm.

The Hamilton family has owned Bogandillan Pastoral Company, a 4400-hectare mixed farming operation for more than 90 years and was one of the early adopters of minimum tillage, direct drill and controlled traffic farming.

READ: Dry weather in Australia significantly impacting crops

Hamilton said these practices, along with a growing understanding of how to store soil moisture, control weeds effectively and manage nutrition, have meant even in really dry times there was still crop planted that would reach harvest.

“In the past, a season like this would have meant bare paddocks, but major improvements in how we do things on-farm, driven by quality research, have meant we can now plant on just 10mm of rainfall and still get crop establishment with limited moisture and take it through with some harvest potential,” he said.

“The key difference between then and now is our understanding of how to store moisture. Twenty years ago, we would never have had a boom spray in the same paddock as a harvester, but now it’s standard practice, because we know early weed control preserves soil moisture for the next crop.

“So essentially, research has changed the way we farm and improved critical elements like our water use efficiency and made it possible to get a crop planted and through to harvest in some of the toughest years we’ve had,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton, who is also a Grains Research and Development Corporation northern region panel member, credits the organisation with continuing to help growers build their knowledge and understanding of strategies to cope with drier years.

“Our records show the past two decades have been significantly more variable in terms of annual rainfall than the century before.”

The corporation needs to keep pushing into new frontiers and playing a vital part in developing on-farm management tactics that help us deal with seasonal challenge, he said.

“As a grower I feel the evidence is there to show our climate is becoming increasingly volatile and extreme, so we need all the tools we can get in terms of research and development to manage this and stay in the farming game,” said Hamilton.

The corporation’s chairman John Woods said often yields in a good year are talked about, but arguably it is more important to have a small crop in a tough season.

“We need to continue this work to mitigate climate effects and raise productivity in marginal years, as these years often coincide with very rewarding prices,” said Woods.



Climate adaptation project helps local producers cope with drought

The Queensland government is investing millions of dollars to help producers better manage drought and climate events with new tools including more reliable forecasting, insurance products and customised climate information.

Visiting the University of Southern Queensland campus at Toowoomba on November 7, minister for agricultural industry development Mark Furner said the $21-million Drought and Climate Adaptation Program (DCAP) was a partnership with leading scientists and industry to assist the grazing, cropping and horticulture industries.

The university is delivering two DCAP projects through the Queensland Drought Mitigation Centre to better understand droughts and climate variability, said Furner.

The Northern Australia Climate Program is an $8m partnership between the Queensland government, the university, and Meat and Livestock Australia Donor Company to help the grazing industry better manage drought and climate risks.

READ: Farmers call for drought policy reform in New South Wales

“The project is improving reliability of multi-week, seasonal and multi-year forecasts, and establishing a network of ‘Climate Mates’ to support the delivery of customised climate information and products into regional networks to help with business decision-making,” said Furner.

The university has also partnered with the Queensland Farmer’s Federation and international insurance company Willis Towers Watson to research and develop innovative and affordable insurance products tailored to Queensland’s cropping and horticulture industries, he said.

The team was working with a local dryland cropping farmer to discuss coverage of production costs if there’s insufficient rainfall/soil moisture during the fallow season, and if viable, this soil moisture index product could have wide usage for dryland cropping throughout Queensland and nationally, said Furner.

“Another local DCAP project is a partnership between the Queensland government and the Bureau of Meteorology looking at improved forecasts for the vegetable industry.

“Improving multi-week and seasonal forecasts and extreme weather events such as storms and heat waves will help improve farm, business and labour management decisions and these are being trialled in the Lockyer Valley and Granite Belt regions,” he said.

“DCAP’s projects will assist our primary producers and the agri-business sector in the Darling Downs and right across Queensland to manage the negative impacts of severe climate events and take better advantage of good seasons when they occur,” said Furner.

Winter female cattle slaughter rises to highest level in three years

Dry conditions across Australia’s key production regions have driven winter female slaughter to levels not seen since the drought years of 2013–15.

From June to August national female slaughter was up 23 per cent on 2017 figures, at more than 1.1 million head, Meat and Livestock Australia reports.

While winter female slaughter saw a strong year-on-year increase in Queensland, 24 per cent, and NSW, 23 per cent, the sharpest rises were recorded in Victoria 31 per cent, and WA 37 per cent.

August marked the fourth successive month in which the proportion of national female slaughter surpassed 50 per cent of total kills, at 52 per cent.

READ: Lamb skins exports reach $377 million last year with price increasing

On a 12-month rolling average basis, the figure has risen to 49 per cent, indicating the continuation of a herd liquidation phase.

In August, male carcase weights rose 4kg year-on-year to 330kg/head, while female weights declined 13kg to 247kg/head.

The drop in female weights, combined with a higher proportion of female slaughter, saw the national average carcase weight for adult cattle fall 10kg year-on-year, to 286kg/head.

August beef production totalled 213,000 tonnes carcase weight (cwt), which saw the year-to-date figure surpass 1.5 million tonnes cwt, up 8 per cent year-on-year.

For the month of August this year, national adult cattle slaughter totalled 743,000 head, up 10 per cent on August 2017.

Year-to-date slaughter also sits 10 per cent above 2017 levels, with the increase driven entirely by cows and heifers.

Nationally, year-to-August female slaughter was up 22 per cent on 2017, while male slaughter was down 1 per cent.

Difficult growing conditions resulted in a supply shortage of finished lambs during August.

Nationally, lamb slaughter totalled 1.59 million head for the month, down 19 per cent year-on-year.

Elevated slaughter for the first half of the year pushed year-to-date slaughter to a record 15.4 million head, up 5 per cent year-on-year.

Carbon neutrality achieved in farms without compromising productivity

A University of Melbourne study has helped farmers reduce the carbon balance on their farms.

Mark Wootton and Eve Kantor run 25,000 Merino ewes and 300 Poll Hereford breeders on 3,378ha at Hamilton, Victoria.

After being approached by researchers, they were interested to see how their wool, lamb and beef business could operate in a ‘zero carbon’ global economy.

Wootton said he had serious concerns about the risk of climate change for an intensive system like theirs.

READ: New projects help Australian farmers with fight against pests

“We wanted to see if it was possible to produce carbon neutral food and fibre.

“The study showed us there is no silver bullet and reducing greenhouse gas emissions needs to be multi-layered, but it is possible to achieve carbon neutrality without compromising productivity,” said Wootton.

Wootton and Kantor have integrated tree plantings with grazing across their farms.

Since 1997, they have re-vegetated more than 600ha with indigenous trees and shrubs and timber species, for permanent environmental plantings and farm forestry.

Their farms’ emissions from livestock, energy and transport are being offset by the carbon sequestered in these trees and soils.

The University of Melbourne study found that with 20 per cent of the farm planted to trees, the stocking rates at were carbon positive over a 25-year period.

The trees contributed to a 48 per cent reduction in emissions between 2000 and 2014, and a 70 per cent reduction to 2020.

The carbon sink provided by the trees has also allowed the pair to participate in carbon offsetting projects, including selling carbon neutral wool to an Italian fashion label, Quatha, through The Merino Company in 2009.

Tree plantings offset 830 tonnes of carbon equivalents for 84 bales of wool.

They have also planted trees for Greenfleet, who were paid by third parties to offset their vehicle emissions.

The trees not only reduce the impact of climate change but provide shelter for lambing and, together with revegetated waterways, wetlands and well-managed pastures, contribute to an adaptive and resilient farming system.

Kantor said they had seen bird species increase from 47 to 159 species over the past 20 years.

“This biodiversity is a good indicator of a healthy production system,” she said.

Wootton and Kantor are also lowering their reliance on fossil fuel by installing solar panels at their house and sheds, solar pumps and using more efficient electrical pumps.


RSPCA celebrates industry leaders in food services sector that use cage free eggs

The RSPCA has launched a nationwide campaign that focuses on Australia’s largest hospitality and food retailers who have switched to cage-free eggs.

The celebratory ‘Cage Free and Proud’ campaign recognises  brands such as McDonald’s, Subway, Grill’d Healthy Burgers, Nando’s, Harris Farm Markets, Arnott’s and IKEA, as industry leaders who have acted on consumer concerns and stopped sourcing eggs from battery cages.

They’re joined by national retailers ALDI and Woolworths, which have made the commitment to phase-out cage eggs in store by 2025, and Coles, which will phase-out cage eggs in store by 2023.

RSPCA Australia humane food manager Hope Bertram said the food services industry is the next frontier in the effort to rid Australia of battery cages.

READ: What eggs can teach us about traceability 

“While the cage egg industry and legislation lags behind, Cage Free and Proud is about positively recognising those businesses that have made the right decision by their customers and are helping free smart, social, egg laying hens from cruel battery cages,” said Bertram.

“The past five years has seen a significant shift in consumer buying behaviour, with cage-free eggs now leading the market share in the supermarket,” she said.

“However, there are still more than 10 million hens whose entire lives are spent in a barren wire cage, with space around the size of an iPad.

“The majority of those cage eggs aren’t going into household fridges; they are going into food services – such as cafes, restaurants and catering companies- as well as food manufacturing – packet mixes, mayonnaise, biscuits, cakes, and so forth,” said Bertram.

“Australians have voted with their wallets when it comes to buying cage-free cartons at the supermarket, and they want cage-free when dining out and buying premadeand pre-packaged food too.

“The commitment from these major brands shows there is no excuse for the continued use of battery cages,” she said.

“The future of egg production is definitely cage free. Through this campaign and beyond, we expect to see many more brands make the switch to cage-free eggs so they can also be Cage Free and Proud,” said Bertram.

The Cage Free and Proud campaign will be supported by a nationwide advertising and public relations campaign that includes print, outdoor, radio, television and digital advertising as well as communications activities.

New projects help Australian farmers with fight against pests

Farmers will now be able to fight against pest animals more effectively, with the help of new projects launched by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions. 

The 21 new research, development and extension projects will look at better ways of preventing, detecting and managing pest animals, including through the use of DNA.

Australian minister for agriculture David Littleproud said the government was contributing $20 million to the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions to help fund the projects.

“Farmers face huge costs, productivity losses and the spread of diseases at the hands of pests and weeds and keep fighting to stop them in their tracks. 

READ: Farming together study helps set higher milk price 

“The 21 projects target pest animals in particular and will look at new management tools, better strategic decision making as well as community engagement and education,” said Littleproud. 

“One project worth $1.84m will look at building a machine to test samples of water to identify traces of pest animal DNA in rapid time out in the field. This technology would help track down pests hiding below the surface like the Asian black-spined toad and red-eared slider turtle,” he said. 

“A $7.5m project will investigate how effective viruses are in managing pest rabbits. This will help inform the timing of virus release for maximum results and ensure we continue to get value out of the calicivirus virus. 

“Another project worth $4.2m will look at how to cost effectively manage deer by looking at their behaviour. Deer are an emerging threat in Australia and we need to understand their role in spreading diseases such as foot and mouth disease,” said Littleproud. 

The centre is also developing a 10-year plan to identify the priority areas in Australia’s war against weeds. 

Equity crowdfunding business will help farming community in Queensland

A Brisbane-based ethical food business, which helps connect local farmers with local buyers, plans to be Australia’s first community-owned food hub.

Food Connect, based at Salisbury in Brisbane’s south, is one of the first companies in Queensland to sign up to crowdfunding platform PledgeMe.

It joins a growing number of companies around the world giving the community an opportunity to be investors.

Food Connect shed director Robert Pekin started the company in 2005 after he lost his fourth-generation dairy farm.

READ: Australian farming sector holding up, despite ongoing drought

Since then, he has been on a mission to create a fairer food system for farmers and buyers.

“We ethically and transparently engage local farmers to supply ecological food that is in season and super fresh and we pay them about four times the amount of the big food chains, so more of the customer’s dollar goes directly to the growers,” said Pekin.

“Over the last thirteen years Food Connect has worked with over 80 local farmers, 40 local producers, and generated over $25 million in revenue for the local food economy.

“The warehouse we’ve been leasing for more than ten years is now for sale and we’ve been offered the chance to buy it. We have the experience to run the space, we just need the funds to help make that happen,” he said.

Food Connect shed director Emma-Kate Rose said local food hubs were a growing movement internationally.

“We want to start the first one here in Queensland. We want the community to come on this journey with us, we want them to be part of a fairer food system, we want them to help make a difference for our local farming community, we want the public to own the infrastructure,” said Rose.

“We we could have gone down a more traditional capital raising route, but we wanted to offer the shares to a wider, more diverse group of potential investors like the community that has been supporting us for the past decade.

“We have always been driven by community, it’s only natural to be owned by it too.”

PledgeMe recently expanded to Australia and is Queensland’s first equity crowdfunding business to be based in the state thanks to the Queensland government’s advance Queensland HotDesq initiative.

It’s also one of only nine across Australia so far to secure one of the ground-breaking licenses from the Australian securities and investments commission early this year.

Co-founder Anna Guenther said PledgeMe has had more than $28 million pledged to date in New Zealand.

“We’ve seen everything from a group of local citizens raise $2m in 32 hours to buy a chocolate company in Dunedin to keep chocolate making skills and jobs in the town, through to the world’s youngest equity crowdfunder, Indy Griffiths, raising $50,000 at 19 years old,” said Guenther.

The PledgeMe campaign launched on the 21st of August.

The campaign will run until the 21st of September or when the campaign is fully subscribed.


Australian farming sector holding up, despite ongoing drought

Drought in New South Wales and Queensland is becoming increasingly severe but overall, Australia’s farming sector is holding up well, Growth Farms Australia confirms.

Growth Farms Australia managing director David Sackett said farmers had good operating results and land appreciation over the past few years, which gave them the opportunity to go into the drought in good shape.

Drought was a normal part of the cycle and many farmers had developed “very good strategies” for coping with it, said Sackett.

According to the Australian Farmland Index, since 2014, farm sector income has grown by 6.2 per cent a year and capital appreciation has grown by 6.8 per cent a year, contributing to a total return of 13.2 per cent a year for the sector.

READ: NSW government offers more funding for drought-stricken farmers

Sackett said there was evidence that farmers had used returns in the good years to put a significant amount of their earnings aside to help them through difficult times.

At June 30, the total holdings in the farm management deposits scheme were $6.62 billion.

FMD savings have grown from $4.14 billion in June 2014. In June 1999 total deposits were just $200 million.

The scheme is a risk management tool designed to help primary producers deal with uneven cash flows, allowing them to claim a deduction for deposits that are held in the account for a minimum of 12 months.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences has forecast the value of farm production will increase by 1.5 per cent to $61 billion in the 2018/19 financial year.

The value of livestock production is forecast to increase by 3 per cent, while the value of crop production is forecast to remain unchanged, although these forecasts may be hard to achieve given how the current season is unfolding.

“We have seen a lot of government reviews of drought policy; there has been a lot of work on this and there have been plenty of good ideas. The problems seems to be that once we get into the drought, we get all sorts of pressure and we go back to developing policy on the run,” he said.

“We confuse the issue of supporting people who are doing it tough and need welfare, with supporting businesses. The first should be given, the second is a retrograde step,” said Sackett.

When it comes to investing in the sector there are areas that are more prone to volatility and commodities that produce different returns over time.

Managing this volatility requires an understanding of production correlations across regions and price correlations of commodities. For example, southern Queensland and western Victoria have a negative production correlation historically, while prices for beef and wheat also have a negative correlation.

“It is never the case that all regions and all commodities are affected by environmental factors in the same way at the same time,” said Sackett.

“As a portfolio manager, one of the things we look for is flexibility of land use, as it creates options for farming enterprises,” he said.

Growth Farms Australia has recently launched the Australian agricultural lease fund, open to wholesale investors, with a minimum investment of $100,000.

It is a closed-end unit trust with a term of 10 years, although unitholders will have an opportunity to vote on continuing the fund or winding it up after five years.

The fund will acquire farmland and water rights in higher rainfall regions, including North Queensland, Northern New South Wales, the Southern Murray Darling Basin, Victoria and Tasmania and South Australia.


Meat and Livestock Australia launches online platform about Australian meat production

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) has launched a new online platform that provides consumers with an open and trusted source of information about the production of beef, sheep and goat meat in Australia.

The platform, Good Meat, demonstrates how Australian red meat is produced sustainably, in high welfare systems and is an important part of a healthy balanced diet.

Good Meat is also home to a range of educational resources including study guides, classroom posters, lesson and activity sheets, virtual farm visits, digital lessons and online board games.

MLA managing director Richard Norton said while the vast majority of consumers in metropolitan centres across Australia were confident in the practices of the red meat industry, Good Meat spoke directly to those who sought more information about production systems.

READ: Growing trade and investment at Beef Australia 2018

“The consumer is king in our industry and we understand that community trust is integral to a sustainable and prosperous industry,” said Norton.

“Good Meat provides an engaging platform for red meat producers to share their story and demonstrate their commitment to best practice and continual improvement. It emphasises the high standards already in practice while reinforcing the industry’s on-going commitment to animal welfare and responsible environment management,” he said.

Recent research for MLA shows that about 1 in 5 meat eaters have a good understanding of the Australian beef and lamb industry and there are now almost 20 per cent fewer Australians from urban centres visiting cattle or sheep farms annually compared to eight years ago.

However, the same research reveals consumers’ appetite to learn more about food production, with more than 50 per cent interested in how Australian farmers produce beef and lamb.

“Good Meat is built on MLA’s consumer insights and data. It is a direct response to the increasing interest consumers have in the provenance of their food and how it is produced,” said Norton.

“Good Meat will also prove an important tool for those producers looking for resources to help share their story, promote what they do, build consumer confidence and challenge misconceptions,” he said.

Good Meat has been developed in consultation with the red meat industry.

Australian beef exports have increased in key markets such as Japan and China

Australian beef exports have increased in key markets as there is a demand for Australian products.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) market intelligence manager, Scott Tolmie, said Australian beef exports were up 13 per cent for the year-to-date (January to June) with key markets, such as Japan, Korea and China, recording double digit growth.

“Australian beef exports are now forecast to increase 10 per cent in 2018, to 1.11 million tonnes shipped weight,” he said.

Live cattle exports have also increased over the past six months – lifting 23 per cent year-on-year to 487,000 head, led by increased throughput out of Darwin.

READ: NSW government offers more funding for drought-stricken farmers

Seasonal conditions during spring would play a critical role in how the cattle market tracked, with any improvement to pasture conditions likely to see demand for young cattle and females increase, Tolmie said.

The news of increased exports comes at a time where farmers across Australia are dealing with ongoing drought conditions.

Ongoing dry weather, combined with a surge in female turn-off, has seen Australian cattle slaughter forecasts revised upwards to 7.8 million head for 2018, 9 per cent higher than the 2017 total, according to MLA cattle industry projections mid-year update.

For the first five months of 2018, Australian adult cattle slaughter totalled 3.1 million head – an increase of 11 per cent, or 300,000 head, from the same period last year. But this was still 7 per cent below the five-year average.

Tolmie said female cattle had largely driven the year-on-year increase, with a 21 per cent rise in the number of cows and heifers processed, and a modest 2 per cent lift in male cattle slaughter.

“Female cattle slaughter in May almost reached 403,200 head – the highest monthly volume since July 2015,” he said.

“Persistent dry conditions have seen the average national adult carcase weight forecast for the 2018 calendar year revised downwards, to 292kg/head. However, the upwards revision to slaughter more than outweighs the expected drop in carcase weights, with beef production for 2018 now forecast to increase 7 per cent to 2.3 million tonnes carcase weight,” said Tolmie.

While slaughter levels were expected to remain elevated, and a modest contraction in the national herd is forecast, the inundation of supply, and subsequent price reaction which the industry experienced in 2013-2015 was not anticipated to repeat itself, he said.

“The weight of supply placed some pressure on prices throughout autumn, particularly for young cattle. However, falls could have been much more pronounced if not for strong growth in some key Asian export markets,” said Tolmie.

“Demand in these markets has held firm in the face of increased product coming from both Australia and the United States. The flow-on for producers domestically has been continued price-support for finished cattle, cows and feeder suitable cattle,” he said.