CANE CHANGER

Ag­force’s ‘con­tro­ver­sial’ move into su­gar

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - KIR­ILI LAMB kir­ili.lamb@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

SHAKE-UP: An in­de­pen­dent grower group in the Bur­denkin has set in mo­tion one of the big­gest po­ten­tial shifts in agri­cul­tural in­dus­try ad­vo­cacy in decades: The ad­vent of Ag­force Cane.

IN A MOVE that adds an­other voice to the cane grow­ing sec­tor, the Ag­force board has an­nounced that it will most likely add su­gar as a fourth com­mod­ity, with Ag­force Cane’s sails ap­pear­ing on the ad­vo­cacy hori­zon.

The peak body, that has tra­di­tion­ally rep­re­sented cat­tle, grain, and the sheep and wool in­dus­tries has de­cided in-prin­ci­ple to add su­gar cane as a fourth com­mod­ity, pro­vided some pre­req­ui­sites are met.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has been in dis­cus­sion with its mem­bers for the past month and a half, with gen­eral president Ge­orgie Som­er­set open­ing dis­cus­sions with the broader in­dus­try through her reg­u­lar Ru­ral Weekly col­umn on March 12.

The consultati­on fol­lowed an ap­proach from Bur­dekin grower group, In­victa Com­bined Grow­ers Or­gan­i­sa­tion, a Bur­dekin or­gan­i­sa­tion rep­re­sent­ing lo­cal farm­ers work­ing across cane, hor­ti­cul­ture, grains, and cat­tle.

One of Ag­force’s pre­req­ui­sites

FOL­LOW­ING A TRAN­SI­TION PE­RIOD, IT IS AN­TIC­I­PATED THAT AG­FORCE CANE WILL UL­TI­MATELY OF­FER THE OP­POR­TU­NITY FOR ANY QUEENS­LAND CANE FARMER TO JOIN AG­FORCE. GE­ORGIE SOM­ER­SET, AG­FORCE

is that mem­bers of ICGO vote in sup­port of the ar­range­ment.

ICGO man­ager Michael Kern said the 50-plus mem­bers of ICGO would take a for­mal vote on align­ing with Ag­force at a gen­eral meet­ing planned for Thursday, April 30, af­ter Ru­ral Weekly’s print dead­line

He said there was a pos­i­tive mood among ICGO mem­bers.

“It’s look­ing all very pos­i­tive: but we will know for cer­tain when we have our meet­ing next week.”

It has been felt by ICGO mem­bers that their broader range of com­modi­ties made a good fit with the com­mod­ity range of Ag­force.

IN-PRIN­CI­PLE

Ag­force’s Ge­orgie Som­er­set said that if all con­di­tions were met and ICGO mem­bers sup­ported the ar­range­ment, ICGO would tran­si­tion to be­come Ag­force Cane and its mem­bers join as the found­ing cane co­hort.

“This is a sig­nif­i­cant de­ci­sion for Ag­force, the first time since our es­tab­lish­ment in 1999 that we have de­cided to in­tro­duce a new com­mod­ity,” Mrs Som­er­set said.

“The is­sue was con­sid­ered very thor­oughly, with ben­e­fit to our ex­ist­ing mem­bers at the fore­front of our de­lib­er­a­tions.

“We un­der­took an hon­est and com­pre­hen­sive con­ver­sa­tion with mem­bers and in­dus­try, and are con­fi­dent that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of our mem­bers sup­port the move and the very real ben­e­fits it will af­ford.

“How­ever, we do ac­knowl­edge this view wasn’t unan­i­mous and we lis­tened to and re­spect the opin­ions of all who con­trib­uted to the con­ver­sa­tion.

“All I can ask is that th­ese peo­ple ‘keep the faith’ with their or­gan­i­sa­tion that has stood by them for more than 20 years and par­tic­i­pate with an open mind as we jour­ney to­gether.

“The sec­ond most im­por­tant fac­tor was the op­por­tu­ni­ties the pro­posal of­fered for a strength­ened voice to speak on be­half of agri­cul­ture to the com­mu­nity and our Gov­ern­ments.”

Mrs Som­er­set said an­other pre­req­ui­site was a pos­i­tive re­view by the three cur­rent Com­mod­ity Board Pres­i­dents – Will Wil­son (cat­tle), Alan Rae (sheep and wool) and Bren­dan Tay­lor (grains) – to en­sure that the pro­posed struc­ture does not di­lute Ag­force’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ser­vices of­fered to ex­ist­ing com­modi­ties.

“If this pro­posal pro­ceeds, Ag­force Cane will be an in­cor­po­rated com­mod­ity board with all the stand­ing and au­ton­omy of the three ex­ist­ing com­mod­ity boards,” she said.

“Fol­low­ing a tran­si­tion pe

riod, it is an­tic­i­pated that Ag­force Cane will ul­ti­mately of­fer the op­por­tu­nity for any Queens­land cane farmer to join Ag­force if they saw ben­e­fit to them­selves and their busi­ness.

“How­ever, it is im­por­tant we do not get ahead of our­selves. The pro­posal is not yet fi­nal and, if it does pro­ceed, there are many pro­ce­dural and lo­gis­tic de­tails to fi­nalise.

“I would like to ac­knowl­edge the ro­bust but re­spect­ful way in which our mem­bers have par­tic­i­pated in this dis­cus­sion, and also recog­nise the courage and vi­sion of the board, man­age­ment and mem­bers of ICGO.”

ICGO chair­man Ricky Mio has wel­comed the de­ci­sion by Ag­force to add cane as its fourth com­mod­ity.

Mr Mio said the move opened the way for ICGO mem­bers to join Ag­force and for the ICGO Board to be­come their in­au­gu­ral Ag­force Cane Com­mod­ity Board.

“The ICGO Board will be rec­om­mend­ing to mem­bers that they sup­port this pro­posal as a way of pro­vid­ing them with greater au­thor­ity and a stronger, more united voice to gov­ern­ments, su­gar in­dus­try stake­hold­ers, and the com­mu­nity,” he said.

“We ac­knowl­edge the strength and fore­sight show by Ag­force – which has not ac­cepted a new com­mod­ity since its foun­da­tion more than 20 years ago – for agree­ing to rep­re­sent cane farm­ers in re­sponse to ICGO’S re­quest.

Mr Mio said ICGO’S de­ci­sion to ap­proach Ag­force ini­tially was driven by a de­sire to not only pro­tect the su­gar in­dus­try, but to en­sure cane farm­ers re­tained a strong voice within that in­dus­try.

“If our mem­bers sup­port this pro­posal, there will be an ini­tial tran­si­tion pe­riod to bed down the au­ton­o­mous Ag­force Cane Board and its op­er­a­tions,” he said.

“Fol­low­ing that, we hope to be able of­fer all Queens­land cane farm­ers with an op­por­tu­nity to be rep­re­sented by Ag­force Cane if they choose.”

“INSULTING”

Cane­grow­ers Queens­land chair­man Paul Schem­bri said Cane­grow­ers was ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed with the Ag­force de­ci­sion, although he ac­knowl­edged the right for grow­ers and cane farm­ers not aligned with a na­tional body to make their own de­ci­sions about rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

“The land­scape does pro­vide for choice,” Mr Schem­bri said.

“How­ever, we do want to call out Ag­force in pre­sent­ing it­self as a pow­er­ful uni­fy­ing voice for agri­cul­ture.

“That, in fact, is insulting, on the ba­sis that the de­ci­sion is cre­at­ing pos­si­bly five or­gan­i­sa­tions to rep­re­sent 4500 grow­ers. I don’t ac­cept that this is a uni­fy­ing de­ci­sion”

The Bur­dekin cur­rently has four or­gan­i­sa­tions that rep­re­sent cane grow­ers, which in­cludes Cane­grow­ers, Kalamia, Pioneer and ICGO.

There is also the na­tional Aus­tralian Su­gar Cane Farm­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

Mr Schem­bri felt that the cre­ation of Ag­force Cane to some ex­tent placed Ag­force and Cane­grow­ers in com­pe­ti­tion.

“But, our door is open. We are will­ing to talk with Ag­force, as we have done over a long pe­riod of time,” he said.

“Cane­grow­ers val­ues and ap­pre­ci­ates the fact that the vast ma­jor­ity of grow­ers in Queens­land choose this or­gan­i­sa­tion to rep­re­sent their interests in the unique and com­plex su­gar in­dus­try.”

Cane­grow­ers vice-chair­man Owen Menkens, also Cane­grow­ers Bur­dekin vicechair­man, agreed that the move would di­lute the voice of the cane grow­ing in­dus­try.

“It will make in­dus­try dis­cus­sions more con­fus­ing,” Mr Menkens said.

He also ex­pressed con­cerns for Ag­force’s un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties of the cane grow­ing sec­tor, es­pe­cially in ir­ri­ga­tion, en­ergy pric­ing and su­gar pric­ing as it re­lates to his sec­tor.

“Th­ese are all is­sues which Cane­grow­ers has worked on ex­ten­sively,” he said.

Pic­ture: Con­trib­uted

LOOK­ING FOR­WARD: ICGO chair­man – Bur­dekin cane grower, gra­zier and busi­ness­man Ricky Mio.

Pic­tures: File

Cane­grow­ers chair­man Paul Schem­bri says he would like to call out Ag­force, say­ing Ag­force Cane is “insulting”.

Ag­force gen­eral president Ge­orgie Som­er­set

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