Agforce’s ‘controversial’ move into sugar
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.
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.”
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.
LOOKING FORWARD: ICGO chairman – Burdekin cane grower, grazier and businessman Ricky Mio.
Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri says he would like to call out Agforce, saying Agforce Cane is “insulting”.
Agforce general president Georgie Somerset