Welcome to the 2010 Annual General Meeting and I thank you for your continuing support in attending this meeting.
At this time, the herb & spice industry remains one of the few horticultural industries of any significance in Australia that does not have either a statutory or voluntary levy to fund essential industry research and development (R&D).
The primary R&D needs identified for the industry are currently centred around improved pest and disease management tools, including the development of new biocontrol agents and the introduction of bio-rational and Integrated Pest Management (IPM )compatible crop protectants. Another high priority is for plant and seed stock improvement to meet the diverse growing conditions the industry faces from Perth to Darwin, north Queensland to Tasmania and just about everywhere in between.
Regardless of any particular views as to whether we should be using conventional soil production techniques, advanced nutritional management in protected cropping, or organic or bio-dynamic production methods, there are research and development projects that can provide significantly improved outcomes for all industry participants. For years now, we have been reliant upon ad-hoc government funding and limited individual contributions to undertake the limited and narrowly confined R&D projects. We must develop a secure and sustainable funding base to attend to the continuing and urgent industry R&D needs and a levy on all producers is the only equitable way of sharing the costs and the benefits of such work.
Since we last met in Sydney, your executive has been nearly entirely occupied with the process of developing a levy proposal and undertaking the statutory process for the proposed Research & Development and a Biosecurity Levies for the Herb & Spice industry.
In addition to some extended teleconferences, this process has involved your executive meeting with personnel from various government and other agencies including:
· Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL) in Sydney
· Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) in Canberra
· Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) in Canberra
· Levies Revenue Service (LRS) in Canberra
· Ausveg CEO and Chairperson in Brisbane
We are very pleased to be able to continue working with RIRDC who have funded Mr Peter McFarlane of consulting firm McFarlane Strategic Services, to undertake the very onerous Levy Consultation process on AHSIAs behalf. If the levy proposal is successful RIRDC will manage the funds raised, matching government funding and the research program itself.
Your association, as the recognised Peak Industry Body, will provide RIRDC with nominations for membership of the Industry Advisory Committee (IAC) who will in turn advise RIRDC on the R&D projects to be funded. It is a RIRDC requirement that the IAC has an independent Chairperson and preferably at least one other independent member with relevant experience, but not associated directly with the industry. In this way the industry will manage its own R&D program with the benefit of independent external experience and advice.
You will all be aware that the formal consultation process was about to get underway when the Federal election was called in July. On advice from RIRDC, the levy consultation process was suspended under the Caretaker Convention, but we now have the green light to proceed. I note that this caused our consultant considerable “grief” in cancelling and re-scheduling a gruelling multi-state capital city and regional area consultation program. On behalf of the executive and our association I would like to recognise the excellent work put in by Peter McFarlane to this point, and, in particular I thank Peter for undertaking the considerable additional workload involved in rescheduling everything, courtesy of the federal elections.
The Levy consultation process and ballot is now unlikely to be concluded in time to meet the target commencement date of July 1st 2011 – the new target date for commencement is October 1st2011.
The levy consultation process has already raised considerable awareness amongst industry participants who have not been members of this association. Predictably, certain sectors of the industry do not believe in R&D and others question how well any funds raised will be spent. I appeal to all to consider the basic proposition that no person, and no business, is an island. There is a reason nearly every other horticultural commodity/industry has an R&D levy – the cheapest and most effective way of addressing “common” problems is to collectively pool resources and develop “common” solutions. Without an R&D levy, the future for our industry is to remain piecemeal and in the backwaters with only those industry participants able to afford R&D in their own right, able to address their particular issues – and those solutions are unlikely to be made available to the industry generally.
I invite all industry participants to join our association and participate in setting the future direction of the herb and spice industry generally. A fragmented industry without a high level of membership of its Peak Industry Body is a recipe for stagnation and fragmentation. Australia is a big country with a multi-tiered regulatory environment, and a multiplicity of overlapping government and regulatory impacts to be dealt with. Issues such as industrial relations and the Fair Work regime, control of use for crop protectants, food safety issues and regulation, and broader competition issues in the marketplace remain unaddressed by this industry. We ignore these and other significant issues as an industry, at our individual peril.
I would like to thank the Board members of AHSIA for all their work and support over the past year. In particular I thank Jane Parker for her ongoing oversight of our minor use permits, and David Pearson, Vice President &Treasurer for his work on the Levy sub-committee, and his sage advice.
I look forward to a successful levy ballot which will underpin the sustainable growth of our industry well into the future.
PresidentAustralian Herb & Spice Industry Association