Best practice bridges farm and consumer

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Portrait of Andrew Weidemann

Andrew Weidemann: marketing needs to be based on good farming practices.

PHOTO: Brad Collis

Deregulation of the grain supply chain is reshaping it from being a commodity-based delivery system to a more defined-quality supply-chain system, according to leading Victorian grower Andrew Weidemann.

Mr Weidemann joined Western Australian growers Brad Jones and Paul O’Meehan in a value-chain forum at the GRDC Grains Research Update in Perth. Mr Weidemann, who is also chair of Grain Producers Australia (GPA), spoke of the increasing need for quality assurance and traceability as the link between growers and end users becomes more direct.

He outlined his own progress in direct marketing to buyers and made the point that for pulse growers in particular their product is going direct from the farm to a consumer’s plate: “If it’s barley or wheat there is generally another process, but when pulses leave my farm they are generally going straight onto someone’s table.”

He said this was the level of awareness of their role as food producers that growers need because buyers and consumers are demanding safe, clean food.

“Markets we deliver to operate under an ‘identity-preserved’ process that requires full knowledge of our production process being made available at the point of sale,” he said. (The barcode on a Crown Lager bottle will identify his farm as the source of the barley.)

Mr Weidemann said the Australian grains industry has a well-earned reputation for quality and reliability, but maintaining this reputation needs diligence in management practices.

He said several issues were creating a need for the industry to work together to assure and protect its reputation, including:

  • markets becoming increasingly concerned about food safety, more stringent about chemical maximum residue levels (MRLs) and increasingly sophisticated in-grain testing;
  • markets becoming more aware, and demanding, of standards of farming practice in relation to food safety, environmental and workforce management;
  • customers establishing their own audited assurance and certification programs;
  • chemical drift to other properties
  • and MRL breaches placing increased
  • pressure on chemical registration and use
  • restrictions; and
  • identity-preservation of grain to meet specific market requirements.

Mr Weidemann reiterated the need for careful management of agricultural chemicals and good hygiene in-field, in on-farm grain storage and handling, and post-farmgate, as well as clear lines of communication to avoid chemical uses that may unintentionally result in residues that could exceed acceptable limits.

He said that while the industry is reliant on developing new strategies to combat weeds, pests and diseases, real care is needed as some off-label chemical strategies appear to have been the cause of a higher number of detections of chemical residues through National Residue Survey monitoring.

“Awareness of the MRLs established by our overseas trading partners is critical to successful marketing,” he said.

“With ever-improving laboratory analytical methods, our overseas trading partners are better able to detect lower and lower levels of pesticide residues in imported product. This applies to most Asian markets and, coupled with increasing product certification requirements, means Australian grain growers, advisers and marketers must ensure that pesticide use patterns do not create potential trade issues.”

Mr Weidemann said that in 2014 the industry was faced with a potentially long-term issue when a sample of barley destined for the Japanese market showed a breach of the herbicide imazapic, which is not registered for use on this crop. As a consequence Japan has now put in place an even stronger testing regime across all grains.

In response, Mr Weidemann said GPA has been exploring with supply chain stakeholders the need for good practice pre and post-farmgate to be recognised.

“The on-farm sector, through industry associations and technical specialists, has been working on developing a set of grain production stewardship principles. These principles outline the basic components of good farming practice,” he said.

He encouraged all growers to familiarise themselves with the best-practice guide, Growing Australian Grain, launched in July 2015 and approved by grower organisations across Australia.

“The guide is a way of publicly recognising the good farming practices of Australian grain growers and promoting this good practice to customers and stakeholders. The aim is for these principles to be embedded in existing industry assurance programs, record-keeping packages, supplier declarations and chemical-use requirements,” he said.

“These common principles can give consistency and reliability of the integrity of Australian grain and make a simpler, streamlined system for growers by avoiding the need to complete a plethora of assurance and other records for different purposes.”

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