The launch couldn’t be more timely. Depressed commodity prices and dry seasonal conditions, combined with the seemingly endless increase in regulatory burden, and ever-expanding supply chain demands placed upon growers has seen grower sentiment fall substantially in recent months. In the past producers were subject to the price squeeze from declining terms of trade; that is the closing gap between prices received for farm outputs and prices paid for farm inputs. We can’t do much about the weather, and commodity prices are a seemingly eternal challenge that is subject to the principle of supply and demand. That leaves regulatory burden and supply chain demands that we are able to do something about.
Not all of the additional regulatory burden and supply chain demands have a direct financial cost, however it is clear that the equivalent to declining terms of trade remain. Producers increasingly expected to do more for the same amount of income, or in current market conditions, doing more for less. Below are some of the pressure points and some of the work that WoolProducers has been doing to address these issues.
The proposed live sheep export ban (see our submission), setting of timelines for implementing EID for sheep with no implementation plan or committed financial support and proposed industrial relations reform are just a few of the many significant regulatory burdens that have left many Australian wool growers feeling like second class citizens. Governments need to focus less on headline grabbing and undertake genuine consultation with Australian farmers. We care about our animals and our land. A simple discussion during government policy and program development would be a pragmatic step to accelerate us towards the shared vision of $100 billion by 2030. Contrary to this government appears to be applying the brakes by trying to fill in the blanks and minimise collateral damage associated with poorly designed proposals long after the media release has been sent.
Biosecurity Protection Levy
While FMD and LSD have seemingly fallen out of the media cycle, the threat remains. Both FMD and LSD remain present in our near neighbours, posing the greatest threat to the market access upon which our livestock sectors are so heavily dependant.
WoolProducers are supportive of additional biosecurity measures to protect our livestock industries from threats such as FMD and LSD, however this should not be via means such as the poorly designed $50 million p.a. Federal Government Biosecurity Protections Levy (BPL). Australian farmers already invest a substantial financial and in-kind contributions towards the national biosecurity system. The imposition of a biosecurity levy (which is actually a tax) to fill a federal funding gap is grossly flawed, inequitable and would see Australian wool growers paying 2.4x the average of all other commodities. See WoolProducers submission on the BPL here.
Brands and consumers are increasingly demanding supply chain transparency and assurances relating to sustainability……but what is sustainability? The simplest answer to this questions is, “it depends!”. Brands and customers all have different priorities when it comes to sustainability requirements, these could be related to animal welfare, carbon, circularity, biodiversity or positive social outcomes (just to name a few!).
What do we do to meet these needs? A number of schemes and products have emerged to address this supply chain “gap”, generating themselves a nice income through simply telling brands what growers are already largely doing, often driving division and differentiation within the sector.
In response to this ambiguity, the Australian wool and sheep meat industries have developed the Sheep Sustainability Framework. The framework comprises of the following four themes, each of which is comprised of a series or priorities and metrics that can be monitored at the national level:
· Caring for our sheep
· Enhancing the environment and climate
· Looking after our people, our customers and the community
· Ensuring a financially resilient industry
Each of the themes and their associated priorities have been identified as issues that the sheep and wool industry can influence that are materially important to consumers. The framework will assist in providing assurances to supply chains on the Australian sheep and wool industries standing in relation to these sustainability priorities, while informing industry discussions on matters of research, extension, marketing and policy that relate to sustainability.
Further to this, WoolPorducers launched the Trust In Australian Wool campaign in 2021 to showcase the excellent industry systems and practices that guarantee that Australian wool is the best in the world. It is our responsibility to champion industry resources like the sheep Sustainability Framework and Trust In Australian Wool to ensure that we lead the narrative. Failure to do so is acceptance of division and differentiation within industry and normalisation of certification bodies that profit from telling OUR STORY.
We are no longer only selling wool and sheep meat as a physical commodity, we are also selling data, carbon and other non-physical attributes related to our production systems. It is essential that we ensure that these expectations aren’t simply ‘inset” into the wool or sheep meat that we sell, only to have the profit realised further along the supply chain.
As traceability and sustainability systems emerge, along with the marketing of these non-physical attributes, WoolProducers continues to advocate for certification with the NFF Farm Data Code to ensure that growers retain visibility and control over their data.
As you already know, it’s not easy being a farmer, especially now. WoolProducers will continue to work hard to #KeepFarmersFarming, and I would urge you to engage with the NFF campaign and let the government know what they can do to make your life easier and continue to feed and clothe not only Australia, but the world.
Sheep and wool have been a mainstay of Australian agriculture for over 200 years. It was once said that Australia rode on the sheep’s back. Wool growers will keep contributing our fair share and doing our best deliver top quality products to our customers, hoinfowever if the pressure keeps up our back might start to break!
Adam Dawes- General Manager, WoolProducers Australia