Rod Luke

WHAT is meant by the term QA or quality assurance? The most common reaction to this question is "more paperwork".

Indeed, this can be a result, but why is paperwork becoming more important to people? The answer is that customers want to know more about how their food is produced and they want to know that the quality of their food is good.

QA is simply a communication tool

Markets all around the world are starting to ask more detailed questions about the quality of the products they buy. Where buyers have choice, they will buy from suppliers who can satisfy their needs for quality. 'Quality' will ultimately be defined by the customer but may mean things like 'organic', 'GMfree' or even 'environmentally friendly'. Eventually customers will want to know their food has been produced in an environmentally friendly way.

Records provide the way to communicate evidence that products meet customers' expectations. The farm business radar has detected QA requirements over the horizon, in grains as elsewhere. Businesses in other industries have been using QA throughout the 1990s to gain an edge over competitors. Some farms already use QA. Where fresh produce is supplied direct to restaurants, QA processes are required.

High-profit businesses are normally characterised by four principles - simple uniform systems, accountability, relationships, and innovation. QA is consistent with simple uniform systems that are easily shown to employees or business partners.

Accountability is about using someone in the business to question why and how things are done. Relationships are about communicating with customers and suppliers, about trust and confidence.

A QA system is useful for communicating both with customers and within the business. For example, occupational health and safety procedures, such as signs and instructions on machinery and chemicals, need to be well documented and easily understood. Some QA systems are already available for different agricultural commodities.

Simply does it

To get started in QA, begin with a simple approach and develop it to meet your needs and those of your customers. The developed systems have the advantage of being uniform and of giving you some guidelines, but you don't have to do everything on the first go.

Approaching QA as record-keeping will focus on the effort to collect the information. Using QA as part of building a better business will reinforce the characteristics of high-profit businesses.

* Rod Luke has recently joined the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, VICtoria, to take on the responsibility for service delivery to graingrowers. Rod's change in career followed two and half years with RendeU McGuckian. Contact: Mr Rod Luke 03 5430 4447 email