Stories, articles and opinions from around the VFF.

14 December 2017

Dock delays can spoil more than milk 

Down at the docks, the dispute between the MUA and VICT is entering its second week. It began when an employee was dismissed, either due to his lack of security clearance, according to VICT, or because of his contact with Fair Work Australia, according to the MUA. The Victorian Government has offered to mediate the dispute, but so far, there has been no resolution. We at the Victorian Farmers Federation aren’t in a position to solve this issue – but we can point out some of the impacts of letting it drag on.

This industrial action hits us twice. Firstly, there’s the cost of the perishable goods that are on the wharf right now. We know there’s boxed meat heading to China, our biggest trading partner, which has been caught up in the dispute. So there’s an immediate impact on the meat and dairy produce that’s been delayed.

But there are also long term implications, for farmers and the broader community. We have almost thirty thousand agricultural businesses, which employ 91 000 people. Victoria may be one of the smaller states geographically, but we certainly punch above our weight in terms of agricultural production. Victorian exports of food and fibre were worth $12.8 billion last financial year, according to Agriculture Victoria, and accounted for 25% of the national figure. This makes us the country’s largest agricultural exporter.

Our reputation as a clean, green, responsible and reliable producer is an asset, and one that we need to protect. If we want to maintain our position as an internationally renowned exporter of high quality fresh produce, we need this issue resolved. The longer the dispute continues, the more damage is done. 

We need to have faith in our processes – faith in our export terminals, and the reliability of the process itself. We need that faith to be justified. Produce has a finite shelf life - we need to have a reasonable expectation that our supply lines can move it in a timely fashion. If we can’t trust in that, and our trading partners can’t trust in that, then we’re jeopardising our reputation. This action is hurting not only our farmers, who rely on that good reputation, but also the communities they support.

David Jochinke - President 

As I see It
29 November 2017

Recognising the modern farm gate 

The definition of farm gate has been changed from being a physical location to a virtual one. The Fair Work Commission Full Bench last week handed down a decision concerning the ‘farm gate’. Previously there were implications regarding which award applied to pack house workers, depending on the location of the pack house. The Victorian Farmers Federation is pleased the commission has recognised the increasing sophistication of horticultural operations. This new definition will give farmers clarity, consistency, and the ability to grow their businesses into new value-added areas without perverse restrictions. 

In previous decisions, including in the Mitolo case, the ‘farm gate’ was considered the geographical boundary of a farm, and the coverage of the Horticultural Award was confined to the ‘farm gate’. During the four yearly review of modern awards in the Horticulture Award 2010, the Full Bench heard the submissions and witness evidence from employer groups, including the NFF. The Full Bench agreed the new definition of ‘farm gate’ applies the Horticulture Award 2010 until ‘the point at which produce has been rendered fit for sale and ready for market’. This new decision reflects the reality of the modern enterprise, and the demands of the horticultural industry. 

The NFF also argued that a new definition of ‘enterprise’ be inserted into the Modern Horticulture Award. This is due to the changing demands of modern horticultural farms. Horticultural enterprises have increased in scale, and supply chains have lengthened. Horticultural produce may move from the farm to a second location for washing, grading and packaging, before it is sold to a retailer, a food processer, or a cold storage facility. 

The Full Bench also backdated the definition for eight years, to give certainty to producers who had already been functioning within this definition, and using the Horticulture Award 2010 for employees at facilities for early processing at physically separate locations. This will give farmers certainty moving into the future, without worrying they will be subject to claims for retroactive pay for employees who were already on the Horticulture Award 2010 before the ruling. 

This acknowledgement by the Full Bench of the modern demands on farmers within horticulture will have a positive impact across the sector. By recognising the evolutionary processes of the modern farm, the sector will be better able to make business decisions to put their pack houses at the location that best suits their business needs and allows them to take advantage of marketing, value adding or niche market opportunities.

Patricia Murdock
VFF Workplace Relations and HR Executive Manager

As I see It
22 November 2017

Fueling Victoria's Economy

Coming into harvest season, we're all aware of the many factors that come into play. One such factor was brought up last week by the state parliament, when they listened to submissions for the inquiry into fuel prices in regional Victoria. Energy security is one of the key issues facing farmers today. 

Cast your mind back a few years to 2012, when the Geelong Shell diesel refinery demonstrated the extent of the Victorian agricultural industry’s vulnerability to shortages. The refinery supplied over fifty percent of Victoria’s fuel requirements, and subsequently diesel had to be rationed in the peak of harvest. There may not be a good time for such an event, but this was possibly the worst. People couldn’t access enough fuel, and while this is inconvenient for everyone, for farmers, that has a serious economic impact. For perishable goods, security of supply and security of timelines are both essential. Crops can’t wait for the price to come down, or for another shipment to be delivered. Delays during harvest put farm businesses’ revenue at risk. In the intervening years, we still haven’t shored up our supply line. Australia has fewer domestic refineries today than in 2000 – over half have closed since. We also don’t have enough fuel in reserve. The International Energy Agency requires members to have 90 days of fuel reserves. In Australia, we have significantly less than that: five to 12 days at refineries, two weeks at sea, and three days at service stations. 
We need appropriate policies in place to ensure Victoria has enough fuel to secure our supply lines.

Wholesale supply isn’t the only vulnerable link in the chain. Retail has problems too. It’s widely known that fuel prices are higher in the country. This is not without reason: the fuel has to be transported further, for one. But while distance can’t be controlled for, we can improve other factors. We know how markets work, and one of the vital ingredients to keeping prices down is competition. More retailers in a town put downward pressure on the price, but it’s hard to keep the competition up when there are fewer players in the market. There’s been a flurry of mergers and acquisitions in the fuel industry of late, both at service stations and higher up the chain. Greater transparency is the other tool in the box. More information allows people to make rational decisions, and go to the retailers with lower prices. Western Australia’s FuelWatch is a great example – a quick look at their fuel prices over the last year shows they’re far more stable than Victoria’s. 

Farming is a major driver of Victoria’s economy, producing $13.16 billion in food and fibre each year and directly employing 91,000 people. Fuel is vital for our farming industry’s function, and we need to ensure the supply is affordable and accessible. The Government has a responsibility to secure our fuel into the future.

Ross Johns
VFF Grains President

As I see It
1 November 2017

Taking the key issues to all political parties

In just over a year, Victorian’s will be heading to the polls to elect the 58th Parliament of Victoria.

We will be discussing key farming and rural community priorities with all parties and independents over the coming months to progress agriculture and address rural issues throughout Victoria.

  • Local government sustainability, efficiency and equitable rates. We have been actively involved in the Ararat Rural City Council rates issue earlier this year and assisted in lobbying government to conduct an inquiry.  This is only the beginning to ensure all councils take note we demand accountability
  • Rural roads and rail infrastructure. With access to the Agriculture Infrastructure and Jobs Fund, we need a state-wide roadmap to deliver the infrastructure that supports an export focused production base
  • Rural telecommunications is a huge issue with the lack or low quality of telecommunications outside Melbourne is appalling. The great divide between rural and urban Australia is the holding back of business growth and job creation and will become more apparent as the telecommunications access widens. Whilst often seen as a federal issue, the rate of change is slow and we need the support and drive of state government to increase funding and political influence to keep this on the agenda
  • We need reliable and cost effective energy supply to remain competitive on a global market. Long term planning is required to meet the growing needs in rural Victoria. We need a bipartisan plan that sees energy supply sured up for continuing growth
  • Biosecurity is critical to protect Victoria agricultural exports worth $12.8B. Biosecurity cuts across planning in peri-urban and green wedge areas, control of wild dogs and foxes, right to farm, trespass and owner permissions, and animal activism that breaches on-farm security
  • Farm safety - keeping farming families safe is important to us. Resourcing on-farm safety awareness and capacity building to reach our zero target for farm fatalities
  • Water - ensuing long term planning for water through our vast network of managed water systems; the Murray-Darling Basin, irrigation schemes and dam run off. 

Our conversations with all parties will be open and frank, as we look for leadership in Victoria to continue to deliver impactful opportunities for all Victorian’s fairly.

David Jochinke - President 

As I see It
1 November 2017

Taking the key issues to all political parties

As I see It
1 November 2017

Taking the key issues to all political parties