It's a team game: New Alliances are Reaping Rewards By Brad Collis

AIMING TO LEAD THE WORLD: grower Theo Marshall, from Hyden, Western Australia, was inspired to fly the Australian flag on his header by Lleyton Hewitt's success. Theo likes the idea of carrying the same enthusiasm and winning spirit into his farming. And as AWB's general manager of grain technology, Andrew McConville, says: "At the end of the day our competition is not here on our shores, the competition is overseas and we've all got to compete against it. "

AUSTRALIAN GRAIN GROWERS ARE broadening their outlooks with activities that can add value both on the farm and beyond. This increasing awareness of customer needs further down the line is giving growers a higher stake in the operations and profitability of other sections of the industry.

Agribusiness in the grains trade is being redefined as growers realise big benefits from sometimes small changes in on-farm practices. Many have also been forging new commercial alliances with handlers, traders and buyers.

The overall impact is changing the way many growers now see their roles. No longer passive price-takers, they look for increased returns from the ground up by developing stronger relationships along the route to market.

Recognising the importance of this trend, the GRDC has created the Value Chain Program, which was introduced as part of the new five-year strategic plan, 'Driving Innovation'. With investments ranging from grain storage to quality management, market intelligence and new grain products, the program aims to improve grower profitability and the competitive performance of Australia's grain value chains.

Studies by several academic and marketing bodies of industry trends form the basis of this special supplement that looks at a range of value chain initiatives. These initiatives demonstrate that components of the Australian grains industry cannot work in isolation if they are to meet market needs. Success requires all players to unite - researchers, growers, handlers, processors - to lift everybody's performance and profitability.

Growers who once produced solely for a board are becoming more conscious of producing for a buyer - that buyer might be in Pakistan or down the road. It is forcing a closer look at what is being produced, and how it is being produced, handled, processed and traded.

GRDC managing director, Professor John Lovett, says the introduction of the Value Chain Program signals the organisation's belief that the industry now has to consider all the value chains that exist between producers and consumers: "It also means our research support will need to be in other links in these chains as well as on-farm. "

Professor Lovett says the formation of new value chains has been a direct response by growers and others in the industry to market signals. This has seen the development of new varieties, new crops and new collaborations. "The way in which the grains industry is diversifying is extraordinary. For example, the development over the past decade of diversified wheat products has been astonishing - noodles, pan breads, flat breads... "

Professor Lovett says value chains mean the needs of growers, bulk handlers, marketers and processors all need to be encompassed in the industry's thinking.