For the past 18 months the Grains Council of Australia (GCA), with the support of the GRDC, has been developing a quality assurance program, now known as Graincare. Its aim is to meet the needs of growers, the market and government, particularly in the area of food and feed safety.
Earlier this year, the GCA convened a series of meetings in regional Australia to discuss the draft of Graincare and identify any concerns, questions or ideas that growers, or other stakeholders, have regarding the future direction of the project.
Growers had a number of issues including the key question of why there is a need for them to introduce an on-farm quality assurance program in the first place.
Why do you need QA?
In simple terms, quality assurance is an approach to managing quality based on best management practice that is designed to give customers confidence that a product or service meets their requirements. The word 'confidence' is the key to understanding why customers want growers to introduce an on-farm quality assurance program.
Currently, food and feed safety quality in Australian grain is assessed through end-point testing. As this system only assesses the safety of a sample from a parcel of grain, there is always the potential for 'unknowns' in the untested grain, such as chemical residues.
Quality assurance differs from end-point testing because it focuses on the process by which grain is produced. Therefore, if the process by which grain is produced is safe, then it can be assumed the grain produced during that process is safe. For grain customers, while end-point testing provides a certain level of confidence, quality assurance provides them with a higher level of confidence in the food and feed safety of the grain they are purchasing.
The buyer's perspective
By maximising their level of confidence, grain end-user industries are minimising the risks of a food or feed safety problem arising in their product that is caused by grain inputs. Growers who can give customers this increased level of confidence will become preferred suppliers who have better access to markets and, in some instances, perhaps able to achieve a better price than their competitors. Over time, growers will not be able to access some markets if they are not quality-assured.
The demand for quality-assured grain is already very strong in Australia's domestic markets. While there is not yet a similar level of demand in our export markets, grain marketers have advised that some time in the future export markets will demand quality-assured grain and it is important that growers, and the industry as a whole, prepare for this eventuality. In light of the above, the GCA, in partnership with the wider grains industry, has developed Graincare.
The Graincare program adopts a Code of Practice approach that stresses Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) in the management of food and feed safety risks. The program requirements consist of common practices that most growers perform regularly as part of their grain production process, for example cleaning storage facilities before filling them with grain, applying chemicals at label rates or ensuring that contractors are competent to perform the task asked of them.
As the program focuses on GAP, the vast majority of growers will not find the program requirements unusual or difficult to implement — in fact, the requirements largely reflect what growers are doing already.
The big difference between current practice and implementing Graincare is that growers may need to record some things that they are not used to recording. Where growers wish to sell their grain as quality assured, they will also have to undergo an audit.
Both record keeping and audits are essential components of any quality assurance program, including Graincare. Without them, growers would have no way of demonstrating that they have done the things that the Graincare program asks them to do.
As growers have a very good record of producing safe grain, Graincare avoids telling them how they should manage food and feed safety risks. Instead, the program leaves these on-farm management decisions with growers themselves. The message to growers is that "Graincare doesn't tell you how to farm, it tells everyone else HOW WELL you farm."
Graincare will be finalised in April, probably starting with a pilot program. The aim of this program will be to ensure that Graincare fulfils growers' requirements for a voluntary, cost-effective and flexible quality assurance program that meets their needs, as well as those of the market.
Contact: Ms Kirsten Pietzner 02 6273 3000 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org