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Farmers keep fingers on the market’s pulse

WITH increasing deregulation in the agricultural industry, farmers are starting to take a greater role in the marketing of their produce through cooperatives and alliances.

Farmers have long been criticised for only being concerned about getting their produce to the farm gate.

With the devolution of statutory marketing boards, many farmers have been forced to become involved with the selling of their produce.

The Challenge Dairy Cooperative is the latest to rise through this. Formed by a band of farmers, the cooperative recently bought Capel Dairies from George Weston Foods.

The Watsonia Singapore Pork Alliance is another recent arrival, formed to capitalise on the beachhead WA pork producers have been able to create into the Singaporean market.

Pulse growers are forming geographically based groups that pool their crops and market them in containers, rather than going through statutory marketing authorities such as the Grain Pool of WA.

Pulses include such legumes as chickpeas, faba beans, field peas and lentils. The major markets for these crops are the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East.

But, by forming these cooperatives and alliances, farmers are opening themselves up to the risks faced by normal company directors.

Many are becoming board members of these cooperatives and, as such, have to understand the responsibilities and requirements these positions hold.

A business course designed specifically for farmers who have become company directors is now available from the Australian Institute of Company Directors. The course will be held next from September 5 to 9, with class sizes limited to 20.

The course addresses corporate governance, company law, financial control, trade practices compliance, human resource management and strategic management.

WA Farmers Federation farm business spokesman Frank Camarri said one of the main National Competition Policy outcomes was for farmers to form cooperatives.

“Those cooperatives have to be built on good corporate govern-ance,” Mr Camarri said.

“The Government is also en-couraging farmers to band to-gether to take control of either their industry or part of the marketing of their industry.

“With statutory marketing farmers didn’t have to worry about things beyond the farm gate.

“They got their produce to the gate and then got paid. Now the onus is on farmers to follow their product all the way through the process.”

Pork producer Neil Ferguson, a member of the Watsonia Singapore Pork Alliance, believes the push for farmers to take greater control of their destiny is positive.

“I entered the alliance mainly to meet the export requirements for my industry, but I also wanted to learn about total supply chain manage-ment,” Mr Ferguson said.

“I think this is something happening across agriculture in general.”

Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture director Kadambot Siddique said part of his role was to make pulse growers aware of the market and the quality requirements for their crops.

But CLIMA also looks at other areas of the industry, such as weed and pest control, and better plant varieties.

Professor Siddique said there was a lot of market flexibility available to pulse growers.

For example the Grain Pool has acted as commission agent on some crop sales rather than buying the whole crop and selling it as part of a pool.

He is also investigating contract-farming opportunities.

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