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.


NSW government offers more funding for drought-stricken farmers

The NSW government has released a $500 million emergency drought relief package as 99 per cent of NSW is in drought.

This takes the total support to more than $1 billion, as farmers struggle with the worsening drought.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said farmers were facing one of the driest winters on record, resulting in failing crops, drastic water shortages and a diminishing supply of fodder to sustain livestock.

Farmers had told Berejiklian they needed urgent help, she said.

READ: Dry weather in Australia significantly impacting crops

“To date we have already committed $584m in drought support, most of which is focused on preparation for drought conditions. However, conditions are now so dire that further support is needed to address the more immediate needs for farmers and their communities until the drought breaks.”

The major feature of the emergency relief package is about $190m for the introduction of drought transport subsidies.

The subsidies cover up to 50 per cent of the full cost of transporting fodder, water for stock and livestock to pasture, slaughter or sale.

The NSW government will offer a transport subsidy of up to $20,000 per farm business.

The relief measure will also be back-dated so farmers can access additional subsidies for freight expenses incurred since January 1, 2018.

Deputy premier and minister for regional NSW, John Barilaro, said the drought had quickly worsened across the state because June and July were drier than expected.

Farmers are sourcing fodder from interstate, as local supply has deteriorated.

“We said we would constantly reassess the conditions and relief measures, and the fact we’ve now increased our drought-relief package to over $1b is a reflection of how serious this drought is, and how much we value the health and wellbeing of our farming and regional communities,” said Barilaro.

“We have backdated this relief measure to the start of the year when the drought intensified, especially in the Upper Hunter and Western NSW. This means eligible farmers who made the decision to destock earlier this year will still benefit from this new relief package.”

Minister for primary industries Niall Blair said waivers were in place on local land services annual rates, fixed charges on water licences, registration costs for class one agricultural vehicles, and interest on existing farm innovation fund loans.

“We know many families are also having to bring in water for domestic use, which is why we have also set aside additional funding for this essential service. The package we have has to be fair, it has to be equitable and it has to be able to be adapted to all types of farming businesses right across NSW.”

Oyster farmers anticipate boost in business with new finance plan

Oyster farmers are hoping for greater investment with the release of a new financial strategy.

The strategy, supported by the government’s farming together program, was endorsed by Ocean Watch and the NSW Farmers Oyster Committee.

It is made up of five documents including, industry factsheets and templates, to help address industry priorities.

The aim is to improve the sector’s ability to secure bank and other sources of finance.

READ: NSW gov finds pearl in oyster industry

Kel Henry from Wonboyn Rock Oysters, who is a member of the Oyster Strategy Implementation Group, said this priority stemmed from the finance sectors’ lack of awareness and understanding about the oyster industry and its potential for growth.

He approached the Australian government’s farming together program and developed a finance support pack with consultant, Mel Trethowan.

“It was great to work with Mel on the project. I would recommend the farming together program as a very valuable initiative and in my opinion the outcome for our industry was really outstanding,” he said.

The materials in the pack would help educate the finance industry about the oyster industry and its investment potential, said Henry.

“It will also increase the ability of farmers to access appropriate and timely finance to upgrade, innovate and grow their businesses,” he said.

Farming together program director Lorraine Gordon said it was an enabling project strongly supported by the producers and their wider industry.

“We hope it will encourage new interest and offer new paths to capital from banks and investors.”

The $13.8 million program was designed to help agricultural groups secure premium pricing, scale-up production and attract capital investment.

In two years the farming together program has had contact with more than 28,500 farmers.

In its first year the program turned a $9.21m investment into $20.45m of value-added production, creating 131 full-time equivalent jobs.

The farming together pilot program was delivered by Southern Cross University. It finished on the 30th of June 2018.

Plans in place to grow garlic produced on Australian soil

Australia’s garlic industry has developed a new framework to push the quality and amount of garlic grown on Australian soil.

Only about 20 per cent of garlic sold in Australia is grown domestically.

With the Farming Together program, growers aim to expand production of late-season garlic to meet market demand from April to November – a time when Australia normally imports garlic.

One of the project leaders, grower Bronwyn Richards, said Australia didn’t don’t grow enough garlic to meet demand in its own country.

Garlic was a crop well-suited to small-scale cultivation, often as a diversified crop alongside other primary production, said Richards.

A co-op of 30 garlic growers from Braidwood, NSW, developed a simple model for judging the quality of garlic presented for sale.

It supports growers to grow to that standard.

The program, backed by the Australian Government, supports small-scale growers meeting a demand for Australian-grown, chemical-free garlic.

“The aim for Braidwood is to eventually be a key growing area for some of these later varieties of garlic that like our cold climate,” said Richards.

“The development of a quality framework is a first in our industry.

“It documents how quality can be defined, judged and achieved. We have also developed a simple and easy-to-apply biosecurity plan that could be used by any garlic grower,” she said.

“It will help raise industry awareness of biosecurity issues across all stages of growing and moving garlic.

“Additionally, we believe the financial model developed for our project is scalable and has application to other co-operatives. The model can be contextualised for other industries and co-operative business structures.”

Involvement in the Farming Together program delivered immediate financial benefits to the group, said Richards.

Retail prices improved for the crop, and with a bulk purchase of mulch straw the group was saving $50 a bale.

Farming Together program director Lorraine Gordon said the project delivered learnings that would benefit the whole industry.

The program has been a two-year, $13.8m initiative from the Australian Government designed to help agricultural groups value-add, secure premium pricing, scale-up production, attract capital investment, earn new markets or secure lower input costs.

In two years Farming Together has had contact with more than 28,500 farmers.

The Farming Together pilot program was delivered by Southern Cross University and finished on 30 June 2018.

Wimmera Mallee road upgrades boost agribusiness in Vic

The Wimmera Mallee’s agriculture sector will soon be transporting produce to market with the Victorian state government’s Local Roads to Market program.

Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford had announced the $5.54 million through round two of the program to widen a dangerously narrow 1.5 kilometre-section of Minyip-Banyena Road in the Yarriambiack Shire to improve access for heavy vehicles to cart grain and other produce.

It’s one of 17 local road and bridge upgrades across eight shire councils in the region that will share in nearly $10 million to improve heavy vehicle access from the farmgate to arterial roads, receival centres and transport hubs.

The grants will be used to widen and seal roads, improve the load bearing capacity of bridges and intersection works, and fund the following key projects in the Wimmera Mallee region:

  • $1.3 million to seal and widen roads that service the large grain community in the Yarriambiack Shire.
  • $1.2 million for the Yeungroon Road and Birchip-Corack Road projects in the Buloke Shire, improving access for B-Doubles to grain storage facilities and to transportation hubs like the Geelong port.
  • $750,000 for the Meridian South Road Widening project to widen and seal a further 6 kilometre section of road, improving the quality of produce transported from the region to the arterial network, as well as bypassing the townships of Mildura, Irymple and Red Cliffs.
  • $700,000 for the Antwerp-Woorak Road and Rainbow-Nhill projects, improving access to markets for heavy vehicles in the Hindmarsh Shire and the broader region.
  • $548,000 for the Annuello-Wemen Road and O’Connor Lane projects to improve roads for almond and produce farms in Swan Hill Shire.
  • $687,000 in the Northern Grampians Shire for three projects to upgrade bridges and an intersection as well as bridges in the Logan area to support local piggeries and farms.
  • $128,500 to complete the final stage of the Wonwondah-Dadswells Bridge Road upgrade in Horsham Shire and $90,000 to support Gannawarra Shire to improve access to the Quambatook grain receival centre.
  • The Wimmera Mallee upgrades are part of 39 projects worth $24 million under Round Two of the program. Round One funded 29 projects worth $22.2 million across regional and rural Victoria in 2017.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford said, “The Local Roads to Market program is supporting farming communities throughout the Wimmera Mallee, ensuring their top-quality grain, livestock and vegetable produce makes it to market as quickly and safely as possible. These important road and bridge upgrades will improve the competitiveness of agribusinesses across the Wimmera Mallee and improve the safety of country roads for all users.”

New ISO specification for better management of animal welfare worldwide

Protecting an animal’s welfare means providing for its physical and mental needs. The farming of animals is no longer just seen as a means of food production but as an ethical concern.

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the treatment of animals and the well-being of farmed animals is strongly associated with the quality, and even the safety, of food. As consumer awareness of animal welfare issues continues to rise, the demand for products complying with animal welfare standards is growing, giving producers who maintain these high standards a competitive advantage.

Likewise, the food industry is taking more action to better implement animal welfare management. The new ISO technical specification ISO/TS 34700:2016, Animal welfare management – General requirements and guidance for organizations in the food supply chain, will help the food and feed industry to develop an animal welfare plan that is aligned with the principles of the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code (TAHC)* and ensure the welfare of farm animals across the supply chain.

ISO/TS 34700 represents the culmination of a joint effort between ISO and the OIE following the cooperation agreement signed in 2011 between the two organizations. The new technical specification is intended to support the implementation of relevant practices to ensure animal welfare in livestock production systems. It will be a way for business operators in the food supply chain to demonstrate their commitment to animal welfare management.

“The first beneficiaries of ISO/TS 34700 will be the business operators of the animal production food chain, including animal farmers, livestock transport companies and slaughterhouses,” says Dr François Gary, Convenor of working group ISO/TC 34/WG 16 that developed the document. “By creating a common vocabulary and a common approach to animal welfare management, this ISO technical specification will improve the needed dialogue between suppliers and customers within the food supply chain, especially between primary production and processing operators. This will be a business-to-business tool.”

ISO/TS 34700 will serve as a helpful tool for the private sector and competent authorities alike to clear up discrepancies in the regulatory framework, especially in developing countries facilitating public-private partnerships for animal welfare policy.

During the development of ISO/TS 34700, special attention was paid to the needs of small companies that make up most of the business operators involved in the animal food supply chain (family farms, small transport companies, small slaughterhouses…). But the document will also act as an international reference for companies involved in the trade of animal products.

Other parties, such as retailers, consumers and NGOs with an interest in animal welfare protection, will be indirect beneficiaries of ISO/TS 34700 as business operators begin to demonstrate their appreciation and commitment for animal health and welfare.

“The ISO technical specification will provide an important framework supporting the implementation of the OIE’s international standards for animal welfare around the world,” says Dr Monique Eloit, Director General of the OIE. “Consistent implementation of humane and ethical rearing conditions for animals provides certainty for farmers and producers, and confidence for consumers.”

The members of SSAFE, a non-profit membership-driven organisation that aims to foster continuous improvement and global acceptance of internationally recognised food protection systems and standards through public-private partnerships, supported the development of the technical specification.

“SSAFE supports ISO/TS 34700 for animal welfare as it provides a practical tool for promoting good animal welfare practices for food-producing animals based on OIE principles, and encourages all stakeholders across the food supply chain to observe the OIE animal welfare standards in relation to trade in foods of animal origin,” says Theodora Morille-Hinds, President of SSAFE.

The working group in charge of developing the technical specification brings together more than 130 experts from all regions of the world, with strong participation from developing countries and a broad range of stakeholders (private sectors, competent authorities, NGOs…), providing a representative balance in the search for consensus.

As with all ISO technical specifications, ISO/TS 34700 will undergo its normal systematic review in three years’ time and feedback will need to be organised.

ISO/TS 34700:2016 was developed by ISO working group ISO/TC 34/WG 16, whose secretariat is held by AFNOR, the ISO member for France. It can be purchased from your national ISO member or though the ISO Store.

New sensors helping with our food supply

Industrialisation has left much of the urban environment contaminated with a variety of heavy metals, chemicals and pesticide residue. Now, research by a team from Macquarie University has produced a series of maps that plot the concentrations of metal pollutants across cities like Sydney and Darwin, and towns such as Mount Isa and Port Pirie.

The Director of the Macquarie team is Professor Mark Taylor, an academic and former Commissioner of the NSW Land and Environment Court. Senior researcher, Marek Rouillon, and the rest of the group, investigate environmental pollution and risks to human health from aerosols, dusts, sediments, soil and water. The team works in a range of locations across Australia, including Broken Hill, Mount Isa, Newcastle, Port Pirie, Sydney and Townsville.

Results of the survey indicate the spread of contamination in many ways reflected the growth of major cities, with the highest concentrations in older suburbs. The contaminant of most concern across Sydney backyards is lead. According to Professor Taylor, it would be expected that there would be contamination in a major city. “We live in an industrial environment,” he said, adding that, “We have used lead-based petrol and paint for most of the 20th Century.”

One technique that is key to the work being conducted by the Macquarie team is X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) analysis for measuring levels of contaminant metals. Simple screening for toxic metals is performed by placing an analyser, such as the Delta Premium from Olympus directly onto soil or dust. The analyser provides detection of metals for site characterisation, contamination tracking, remediation, monitoring, and property evaluations.

Andrew Saliba, Regional Sales Specialist with Olympus, said the latest portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) analysers, such as the Delta Premium, have been developed specifically for complete environmental investigations of metal contaminants in a wide range of industrial and domestic materials. The high-power, high-performance, incredibly rugged Delta allows in-situ analysis in a wide range of harsh environments from remote mining and exploration sites to backyards in major urban centres.

According to Saliba, the traditional use of pXRF has been for alloy identification, grading ore, mineral exploration, metallurgy and mine site remediation. “The technology has been refined and is now often used by environmental consultancies specialising in contaminated land remediation and recycling companies needing to determine what materials are in waste products,” he said.

Macquarie researcher Marek Rouillon has been working to evaluate the reliability and repeatability of XRF analysis on environmental samples. Professor Taylor and Rouillon regularly present their findings at seminars, outlining the spread of heavy metal contamination in suburban gardens in addition to explaining the application and relevance of the pXRF instrument for this project.

Typical 'natural' or 'background' concentrations of lead for the Sydney region are in the range 20 – 30 mg/kg or parts per million (ppm). However, due to the intense use of lead containing products, much of Greater Sydney has been contaminated with the metal. Their results indicate Sydney residences have a mean soil lead concentration of 220 mg/kg, which is approximately 10 times the typical natural background for Sydney's soils and rocks.

In conjunction with the contamination mapping, Macquarie researchers also run the community orientated VegeSafe program. This is the largest study of its kind in the country and has provided information about metal contamination levels to more than 500 households across Sydney, and over 1000 households across Australia.

VegeSafe seeks to inform people about metals and metalloids in their garden soils and provides a free sampling program for domestic and community garden soils. Participants submit soil samples from private or community gardens and receive a formal report and links to information and advice about "what to do next" if the soils contain elevated concentrations of metals and metalloids. “The VegeSafe motto is 'Carry on Gardening'," Professor Taylor said, “because this is exactly what we want people to do knowing that their soils are metal free as is the produce from their gardens.”

According to Rouillon, the simplest mitigation technique for householders would be to cover the contaminated soil with either grass or mulch, to effectively reduce the potential generation of dust if the soil is dry and gets picked up by wind.

In contaminated suburbs where vegetables will be grown, the Macquarie team recommends growing produce in above ground Vegetable plots, using fresh clean topsoil. “Typically, undisturbed soil in urban areas accumulates contaminants over long periods of time and should be avoided when growing home produce” Rouillon stated.

“Our recommendations are determined by different scenarios and contaminant concentrations,” Rouillon said. “VegeSafe provides specific recommendations and advice to a gardener for their particular situation.”


Cocoa Life Sustainability Program reports Strong Progress

Mondelēz International has published the first progress report on its Cocoa Life sustainability program, which highlights the wide-ranging impact and efforts to date across its six cocoa-growing origins. 

Since its inception in 2012 to the end of 2015, Cocoa Life reached over 76,700 farmers in over 795 communities, establishing a strong foundation and framework for the program.

Initial results show Cocoa Life farmers' incomes tripled since 2009, which is 49 percent more than control communities measured. Likewise, cocoa yield increased 37 percent more than the control communities.

The report also includes data from a needs assessment of the five regions where Cocoa Life is in place in Côte d’Ivoire and an Indonesia baseline assessment, which identifies key areas that will be targeted and measured for improvement. 

According to Cocoa Life Program Director Cathy Pieters, Cocoa Life integrates the work of stakeholders to achieve common goals in ways that can assist Cocoa Life farming communities around the world.

"This progress report brings together the voices of people in cocoa communities across all our origins and demonstrates how the program is working together with local governments, our suppliers and partners to build lasting change on the ground," Pieters said. 

As the world’s largest chocolate company and buyer of cocoa, Mondelēz International is committed to ensuring a sustainable cocoa supply chain. Today, 21 percent of the company’s cocoa is sustainably sourced and brands such as Côte d'Or and Marabou are now displaying the Cocoa Life logo. Cocoa Life is a long-term $400 million investment to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach over one million community members by 2022. 

Cocoa Life is a part of Mondelēz International's Call For Well-being, a call to action focused on four areas that are critical to the well-being of the world and where the company can make the greatest impact: Sustainability, Well-being, Communities, and Safety.

First Australian grown frozen berries hit shelves

Australia now has 100 per cent locally grown frozen berries available on local shelves.

‘Matilda’s’ was launched by third generation strawberry farmers Matt and Ruth Gallace after dozens of people contracted Hepatitis A from eating contaminated frozen mixed berries, which were imported.

Until now commercial quantities of Australian frozen berries haven't been available.

Launched in-store on the 1st December, the berries are sourced from Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, which has been in the Gallace family for fifty years, and has 800 acres of land in Victoria and Queensland.

Raspberries and blueberries will be sourced from New South Wales and Tasmania.

The berries are all handpicked, washed and snap frozen in an entirely new purpose-built facility in the Yarra Valley.

Matilda’s co-founder Ruth Gallace says the fact that they’ve built the factory from the ground up, and the packing site is exclusively for fruit, means there’s no risk of cross contamination.

“In many cases nuts are processed on the same site used to process other foods, which causes great concern for parents who have children with allergies.  My daughter has anaphylaxis and I’m only too well aware of the need to ensure there is no chance of contamination.  The beauty of having our own site means it’s only used exclusively for fruit, so there is nothing else processed on site.”

Ruth said the origin of each product is completely transparent too and is labelled on each and every bag, so consumers know which region the berries came from.

“We’re really proud to be able to provide a product which really challenges the current food labelling system.  There needs to be far more transparency as to food origin, how it’s processed and packaged.”

Ruth says it’s now up to the consumer to show they want a wholly Australian product and to ask for it at their local retailer.

“Demand will now be driven by the consumer, and the people really do hold the power, if you ask for the product, your retailer will order it in.”

Matilda’s frozen strawberries hit quality independent supermarket shelves in Victoria on 1st December including Leo’s, IGA’s, FoodWorks’ and LaManna’s across the State.  They will be in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia in coming weeks.

Most Aussies want free roaming hens according to Choice

Consumer advocacy group Choice has released its latest research highlighting consumers’ desire for a strong and meaningful free-range egg standard in Australia that would recognise the need for hens to regularly go outside, have room to move inside and outside, and for farmers to undertake animal welfare practices. 

The consumer group is calling for producers who fall short of consumers’ expectations to label their products in a way that accurately reflects their production practices, for example ‘access to range’.

“Consumers have a firm idea of what they believe free-range to mean and they want a standard to reflect these expectations. Creating a new category such as ‘access to range’ will provide consumer choice and confidence while catering to different production models,” said Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey. 

The Choice research found that consumers believe it is important, very important or essential that the following elements are included in a standard: 

•    87% said that birds actually go outside regularly. 
•    91% said that birds have room to move comfortably when they are outdoors. 
•    89% said that farmers undertake animal welfare practices in the production of their eggs. 

“With free-range eggs costing almost double than caged, the purpose of a standard for free-range eggs should be to give consumers accurate information so they can decide whether they wish to pay a premium,” Godfrey said.

“A standard should not be used to shield producers who might be misleading consumers.”
“With no national standard for free-range eggs, consumers are getting ripped off. Earlier this year, we found that a minimum of 213 million eggs were sold as free-range in 2014 that didn’t meet consumers’ expectations of free-range.”

“It’s time to stop big egg producers cashing in on consumers’ desire to buy eggs that meet a higher standard of welfare without delivering a product that meets these claims,” said Godfrey.
Choice also noted that some egg producers are actively lobbying through this process for a standard that sets a lower benchmark for free-range production than the definition established through case law (which is that at a minimum, most chickens go outside on most ordinary days).
Rather than broadening the definition of free-range to accommodate big egg producers, consumers (62%) think that producers whose products fall short of a free-range standard should be able to label their products in a way that accurately reflects their production practices, for example ‘access to range’.

“Importantly, this approach will provide certainty for those large-scale producers who might be at risk of misleading consumers. Instead of remaining at risk of ACCC action or having to change their production practices, they can simply adopt more accurate labeling and give consumers genuine information about how their products are produced. That would be a win for consumers and a win for egg farmers, large and small,” Godfrey said.

Submissions to the government’s free-range egg labelling consultation process close on November 27 with the Government likely to make a decision on a standard in February next year.

Hail hits Goulburn Valley fruit crop again

Damage has been caused to pear orchids as another hail storm hit the Goulburn Valley last week, presenting another blow to Victorian pear growers.

A meeting was held by Fruit Growers Victoria (FGV) following the previous hailstorm in the area, to discuss and share useful information on the best method through which affected orchids can best be managed.

According to FGV’s Tony Filippi, “Help is available to growers, so we would encourage fellow farmers not to hesitate to give someone a call if they would like to chat to someone who can help.”

Hail caused extensive damage to Australia's major pear growing region, in Victoria's north-east in October this year.

The damage was sustained to the orchards at Mooroopna, in the Goulburn Valley, responsible for 90 per cent of the country's pear production.

Filippi said the damage ranged from trees stripped of fruit to superficial markings which affect the fruit’s saleability in fresh fruit markets.

“A co-ordinated, industry response would help growers approach buyers to seek a variation in quality standards .It should benefit everyone if we can get a variation in the standards for what is normally required.’’

“We’re collating information about what has happened and we want to get a better idea of the number of growers affected and the extent of damage to crops.’’

FGV is also preparing a submission to the Victorian Government for hail net subsidies. Data collection on crop loads would also assist in the success of this submission.

Nestlé recognised as ‘world leader’ in helping to tackle climate change

Nestlé has been acclaimed as a ‘world leader’ for its work to tackle climate change by sustainability ratings agency CDP, with the company one of only 64 out of over 2000 to claim the highest possible score in the prestigious annual ranking.

Nestlé heads CDP’s (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project’s) Climate A List with a 100 A score, for actions including the introduction of technologies to further optimise energy use to reduce emissions, including greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Nestlé is working with farmers to help them use water more efficiently, and has lent financial support to buy biogas digesters at dairy farms, to generate renewable energy and cut methane emissions. The company is also committed to preserving natural capital, and ensuring suppliers respect its ‘No Deforestation’ commitment.

Food waste is a major generator of GHG emissions, and Nestlé recently strengthened its commitment to reduce it, by announcing that it would achieve zero waste for disposal at its sites by 2020.

“Nestlé is committed to providing leadership on climate change, and we’re honoured to receive this accolade from CDP, which shows we’re on the right track,” said Magdi Batato, Executive Vice President and Head of Operations.

With the world’s water resources under threat from climate change, CDP recently commended Nestlé separately on the ‘excellent’ results of its water stewardship activities, which are also guided by public commitments.

Over the past decade, Nestlé said it has invested heavily in water-saving projects at factories, and a further CHF 62 million on community water projects with international agencies.

The CDP award comes after Nestlé received an industry-leading score of 99 per cent in the ‘environmental dimension’ of the 2015 Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

Federal ministers give a cluck about egg rip-off

Consumer advocacy group Choice has welcomed today’s start of consultations on free-range egg labelling as the next step in ending the ‘free-range’ rip off.

Choice says that the consultation paper, released by the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP on behalf of the nation’s consumer affairs ministers, paints a clear picture of the current free-range farce and identifies options for unscrambling the problem.
“As the consultation paper shows, an increasing number of Australians are paying a premium for eggs labelled free-range without having any certainty they’re getting what they pay for,” said Matt Levey, Choice Director of Campaigns and Communications.
“In the absence of a national, enforceable standard for free-range, it is relatively easy to mislead consumers, and unfortunately there is a financial incentive for some producers to do so. The result is that consumers lose, as do producers of genuine free-range eggs,” Mr. Levey said.
The consultation follows a Choice investigation in June this year estimating a minimum of 213 million eggs sold in Australia last year under the 'free-range' label failed to meet consumers' expectations of the free-range claim.
“Based on consumers’ expectations, it’s estimated Australians could be paying between $21-$43 million per year for eggs that aren’t the real deal,” Mr. Levey said
“It’s a rip-off that distorts the market and undermines competition, and that’s why it’s so important that governments step in and agree a genuine free-range standard that reflects what consumers expect.

“Our research has shown that 84 per cent of egg buyers agree that a mandatory national standard is needed while only 2 per cent did not believe there should be a standard. Clearly it’s time to get cracking.”
With consultations open until 2 November, Choice is calling on consumers to support a genuine standard and contribute to a free-range information campaign.
"Support for the campaign has been overwhelming with consumers already donating almost $9,000 to send a message to government that they want real free-range," said Mr. Levey.


Australian carob producer secures non-GMO status

The Australian Carob Company, producers of more than 200 tonnes of quality, allergy-free carob pods for distribution throughout Australia and export markets such as USA, China, Hong Kong and the UK, has secured Non-GMO verification from Cert ID.

Based in South Australia, The Australian Carob Company owns and harvests 6000 carob trees using sustainable and organic farming practices. Accredited by Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and USDA Organic Standards, non GM Verification by Cert ID, carried out by its Australian partner company HACCP Australia, will give The Australian Carob Company ‘added value’ with the increasing GM-aware Australian consumer, as well as in new export markets such as the USA.

Cert ID has Non-GMO verified the growing, harvesting, processing and packaging of seven carob products including Roasted Carob Powder, Raw Carob Powder, Raw Carob Kibble Nibbles, Carob Syrup. Back up testing was also undertaken to ensure that GM presence is below 0.1% as set out in the Cert ID Non GM Standard.

Cert ID’s Non-GMO Verification system is designed for food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers who wish to inform consumers of the non-GM status of their product. The scheme is particularly suitable for food producers and manufacturers wishing to target the North American market where awareness of GM issues is increasing. 

Michael Jolley, owner of The Australian Carob Company said: “We are already committed to the highest standards of sustainable and organic farming practices but our increasing export activities means we were being asked about our non GM status too. The Cert ID Non GMO Verification scheme provides a unique selling point because we are now able to demonstrate complete traceability at every step of carob production, which gives us real ‘added value’.

CHOICE wants more policing of free range egg claims

CHOICE welcomes the Federal Court’s ruling to fine Darling Downs Fresh Eggs for engaging in misleading conduct and making misleading representations in its labelling and promotion of eggs as ‘free range’.

 The news follows an ongoing CHOICE campaign calling for an enforceable national standard that will set out what ‘free range’ really means.
“Today’s ruling highlights the need for a national standard so that consumers can have confidence in this market”, says CHOICE Head of Media, Tom Godfrey.
“Darling Downs isn’t the only bad egg in the free range market. In July, CHOICE found that many egg products in the supermarket do not meet consumers’ expectations of free range.” 

“With the government in the process of developing a national standard, we are calling for a standard that meets consumers’ expectations of free range.”
The Court found that by labelling and promoting eggs as ‘free range’, Darling Downs Fresh Eggs represented to consumers that the eggs were produced by hens which were able to move about freely on an open range each day, and that most of the hens did in fact do so on most days.

In fact, Darling Downs Fresh Eggs admitted that the doors to its barns were kept shut at all times so that none of the laying hens were able to access or use the outdoor range.

“CHOICE will continue to feed into the free range standard development process. We want consumers who choose to pay a premium for free range to be confident that they’re getting what they pay for,” says Mr Godfrey.
“Eggs claiming to be free range cost up to twice as much as cage eggs despite the wide variation in how they are produced. A national standard will help us unscramble the meaning of free range, benefiting egg eaters across the country.”

Tassie berries set to get more Coles shelf space

Tasmanian berry producer, Westerway Raspberry Farm is teaming up with Coles to put Tasmanian-grown berries in supermarket freezers around the nation.

Westerway, with the support of Coles, will install the only berry freezer tunnel in use in Australia.  As a result, Australians will now be able to choose fresh frozen Tasmanian raspberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, blueberries and mixed berries, rather than imported frozen berries.

Tasmanian growers already produce all of the vegetables used in Coles’ frozen vegetable line and it’s fantastic to see that Tasmania will once again be feeding the nation, this time with frozen berries.

This announcement will see Westerway increase its plantings, open up new markets for Tasmanian produce and critically, employ an extra five people full time, with hopefully more jobs to come as the company looks to new markets for its premium products.

Coles’ connection to Tasmania goes back over 100 years.  The Coles family owned and operated a general store in Wilmot in early 20th century and now Coles supermarkets employ more than 1,800 people across 31 sites in the State.


Banana crate trials prove sweet success for growers

Recent trials by CHEP Australia in the use of reusable plastic crates as an alternative to cardboard cartons for the banana industry have returned positive results for growers and other members of the supply chain.

Early estimates show a 10 to 15 per cent cost saving, while also reducing damage to the fruit when using crates compared with cartons.

In early 2015, more than 200 crates were used to pack bananas at a trial site in northern NSW, with wholesaler PW Chew managing transport, ripening and distribution. A combination of Lady Finger and Cavendish bananas were used in the trial. Fruit sizes ranged from 15kg XL, 13kg XL and 13kg large.

PW Chew Operations Manager, Mark Bradshaw, says the ability to cross-stack crates and the greater crate integrity over cartons are huge bonuses for the banana industry.

“The greater stability that is available in cross-stacking has shown to be of great benefit to the integrity of the bananas. By the time they were ripened for retail, the initial trials indicated that there was less rub marking, bruising due to movement and neck damage in comparison to the same fruit packed in cartons from the same district,” Mr. Bradshaw said.

“Cooling and ripening of the fruit was far more efficient too with the crates as you are not cooling the cardboard as well as the fruit. As a result, airflow, temperature and humidity are more consistent around the ripening room, which means we save nearly a day in ripening.”

Pooled solutions provider, CHEP Australia, has been developing and trialing a reusable plastic crate in collaboration with the Australian banana industry over the past three years. The current design features smooth walls and a waved base to minimise damage to bananas, improved ventilation and a footprint to suit Australian pallets with six crates per layer.

The CHEP pooling system also allows for crates to be returned for washing – to a HACCP level if required – giving a hygienic solution for the industry and less overall wastage in cardboard.

CHEP Australia Business Development Manager, Nick Jones, said, “The trial gave all parties involved an opportunity to learn from each other to find the best packing methodology, supply chain logistics and retail requirements.

“The structural integrity of a plastic crate means that the weight bearing of a stacked pallet is through the crate, not a carton so it won’t compress.

“Compression damage to fruit from cartons is a major problem for the industry. Very early on in the trial, it became evident that the use of a slitted liner would be beneficial. The combination of plastic crates and liner bags allow for gases to flow through the bag giving a more consistent ripening colour.
“From a ripening perspective we found the crates delivered consistent half-colour ripening to levels between stage three and four, compared with cardboard. One retailer commented that if they could have consistent colour at stage 3.5, then they will be able to increase their rate of sales.”

The next phase in the trials of the plastic crates will be to conduct studies in northern Queensland to assess the crate performance over longer distances to the major capital cities.

Tasmanian raspberry farm turns to the sun

Westerway Raspberry Farm was established forty years ago by the Clark Family on 150 acres of the fertile river flats of the Tyenna River on what were old hop fields to supply the local fresh fruit trade and for processing.

Freezing was seen as the key to expanding their market, but the potential energy costs were a major obstacle.

As a solution, Westerway has installed a 50kW solar system to offset the cost of operating its irrigation pumps and a 288 cubic metre blast freezer. The solar scheme comprises nearly a nearly 200-panel system in two 2.5 metre sets 50 metres long to generate the power. The system comprising 192 x 260W Trina Honey modules were installed by Powercom solar.

Powercom Business Development Manager Rohan Windsor said that the solar panels were installed in a paddock rather than a roof as this reduced the wind loading, made it easy to face north to get maximum sun exposure and low maintenance.

“The location of the panels between the farm’s pump and freezer are ideal for maintenance and for future expansion,” he said.

Westerway Harvest Manager Richard Clark said that the freezer has revolutionised their farming operation and the solar has made it more affordable to operate.

“We need to take the fruit from the field and freeze it at its peak quality and it is not viable to slowly freeze warm fruit from the field where summer temperatures can often exceed 30 C.

“The system designed by Powercom is extremely efficient and uses the solar energy on the freezer when needed and then switches over to irrigation when the freezer is not in use.

“The idea was to capture as much energy on the farm, as we need and use it through December, January and February, when most of our activities are in high gear.

“The 2014/15 season was a good one for us especially as there is a growing demand, especially from high end consumers, for Australian grown frozen berries.

“This investment has revolutionised our farm as the solar is making the freezer more affordable to operate.

“As well as the financial benefits of using less energy, we are very happy to now have a smaller environmental footprint.”


Rinehart rides the beef boom as conditions set for higher prices

Confidence in Australia’s rural sector, and investor interest in rural property markets are starting to surge, as evidenced by the recent purchase of the historic “Fossil Downs” cattle station by mining magnate Gina Rinehart. It is likely that foreign investors, including from China, are not far behind.

Perversely, the ongoing reluctance of Australian equity and superannuation funds to take major investments in agriculture because it is seen as too risky means the benefits of the “beef boom” will not be shared as widely as they could have been.

Drought, demand and the dollar are the trifecta driving Australian beef prices higher. Cattle prices in Australia have surged since 2014, breaking through the 400 cents/kg threshold of the Eastern Young Cattle Index in January 2015 and the 500 point level in June (see chart below). Some analysts are now predicting that the index will pass 600 points before the year end.

Beef is Australia’s second largest agricultural commodity, and prices are driven by supply and demand forces, both internationally and domestically. Essentially this is a story of two supply shocks that still take some time to wash through the beef supply chain.

The forces driving beef prices up

The first was the large drought in the United States in recent years that affected both pasture and corn production, resulting in the US cattle herd falling to its lowest level since the early 1950s and beef production falling to its lowest level since the early 1990s. The shortages of supply caused record beef prices in the US in 2014, which have increased further in 2015. The US is both a major importer and an exporter of beef, so the drought has pushed up global beef prices to record highs. The US also took more beef from Australia in 2014, up 84% on the previous year.

The effects took some time to be felt in Australia because of its own drought – the second supply shock. Major drought in 2013 and 2014, particularly in northern Australia, has seen a rapid turnoff of stock, increasing to nearly 10.5 million head for slaughter and live export in 2014, almost 2.5 million more than in either 2011 or 2012. Prices stayed low in 2014 because of the excess supply, while the Australian beef herd fell to its lowest level in two decades.

It takes between two and three years for cattle to grow to slaughter weight. When droughts break the dynamics of herd rebuilding mean that breeders hold females back to increase their breeding herd. This adds a fall in supply to the lag in production after a drought. These dynamics are now in play for both the US and Australian beef herds, and explain why supplies are now so tight as parts of each country recover from drought. In fact the Australian herd is expected to further decline in 2016 as a result of fewer calves coming into the system.

Of course, there are many other supply and demand forces at play in international markets. On the supply side there is limited ability of our key competitors to meet the supply gaps; for example while exports from Brazil are expected to increase in 2015, they have also been experiencing some supply tightening and record prices. On the demand side, our key markets such as Japan, South Korea and China remain strong, with the 2014 surge in demand from the US absorbing any additional supply Australia can produce.

The third part of the trifecta is the low Australian dollar, which essentially translates overseas demand into higher prices. The combination of higher global beef prices, short supply and a falling dollar underpin the surge in higher prices.

Beef prices will keep rising in shops

There are three key flow-on effects that are particularly worth noting. The first is that competition and substitution effects are going to affect domestic meat prices and consumption. Retail beef prices will continue to rise in Australia in 2015 and 2016 as a consequence of the market changes, and this will in turn reduce per-capita consumption of beef, particularly as consumers continue the shift to other protein sources.

The second is that higher incomes will flow into regional Australia, given the extent of the footprint that beef production has in the country, particularly in northern Australia where almost all of the agricultural land area is used for beef production (recognising that other commodities are more intensive). This is timely given the erosion in real incomes over the past decade; cattle prices in 2014 were almost unchanged from 15 years previously despite steadily increasing input costs.

The third is that higher incomes will provide the capital for farmers to invest in productivity improvements. Cattle production is becoming a sophisticated business with better genetics, new technology and improved infrastructure just some of the options to improve both productivity and total output. Improvements in real incomes will be followed by expenditure on supply inputs as producers catch up on maintenance and invest in efficiency gains.

How long higher prices will last is difficult to predict. Price spikes in agricultural commodities, like resources, are typically followed by supply increases after a lag period, so higher prices because of the recent droughts should not last beyond 2017. Yet demand drivers are also starting to emerge, underpinned by global population and wealth increases.

The most immediate effect will be through the new free trade agreements that will increase demand from our Asian partners. This means there is the potential for new demand drivers for Australian beef to replace the current supply shortages as the key factor underpinning higher beef prices.

The Conversation

John Rolfe is Deputy Dean of Research, School of Business and Law at Central Queensland University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.