Farmers’ unique investment grows SA grain industry

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By Belinda Willis

Grain farmers are growing increasingly resilient in South Australia as they continue to plough their own funds into cutting edge research, says industry chief Caroline Rhodes.

Caroline, who took over the reins at Grain Producers SA earlier this year as the organisation’s first female CEO, says local farmers have led the way nationally in investing in their own futures.

Each grain farmer voluntarily pays 30 cents for every tonne of grain sold into the SA Grain Industry Trust (SAGIT) and, as they face a challenging season, the 25 years of corresponding research is paying dividends.

“Grain producers see research as being critical to increasing productivity, reducing risk and unlocking investment in agriculture, and, through SAGIT, they are prioritising their own research needs,” says Caroline, who previously was a trustee of the fund.

“No other state has a research fund supported by growers for state-based, grains industry research. SA is the envy of other states.”

In the past year, $1.8 million in trust funding has supported 25 different grains industry research projects to benefit SA farmers.

Caroline says this work has triggered vast improvements in farming techniques and was now helping farmers better manage seasonal rainfall conditions.

Photo: PIRSA.

“It’s a combination of plant breeding targeting varieties that have a higher drought tolerance, but the biggest change and help by far has been the widespread adoption of no-till farming,” she says.

No-till farming sees producers aim to create little disturbance to soil in growing or harvesting crops, with stubble from previous years creating valuable organic matter to enrich soil and improve moisture conservation.

There are currently about 4,500 grain farms in SA with Primary Industries and Regions SA statistics showing they contribute about $5.3 billion to gross food revenue in the state. Their average grain harvest is about seven million tonnes annually.

Despite this year’s lower rainfall seeing lower tonnage forecasts, Caroline believes farmers are increasingly better equipped to manage drought years through sustainable farming practices.

“While this season may be challenging, there still remains an underlying optimism about the future of the industry and its growth potential,” she says.

“If you look at the longer term, we have seen record shipments from SA as yields continued to improve. While there may be disruption to exports this year, our farmers are resilient.

“SA grain has a fantastic reputation for quality and it means our product is in high demand offshore to feed a growing world population.”

Photo: PIRSA.

About 85% of wheat, barley, canola, oats, lentils, peas, beans, lupins and chickpeas grown over about four million hectares, is exported.

Since taking over the role at Grain Producers SA, Caroline has overseen the organisation moving its headquarters from Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills to Flinders Street in the city.

There also has been a rebrand to “better reflect a new direction for GPSA as being a modern, progressive and professional representation body”.

Caroline has overseen the creation of a five-point working plan to steer the industry organisation’s future as the voice of SA growers.

This focuses on improving infrastructure, trade and market access, research and development, creating a stronger workforce and balancing agriculture with competing land use needs.

Caroline believes her appointment as CEO, along with the organisation having two other high profile women on its board, was about “leading by example and reflecting how many women are working in the industry”.

Grain Producers SA CEO Caroline Rhodes joins PIRSA CEO Scott Ashby, left, Pork SA chairman Mark McLean, Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone, and Primary Producers SA executive chairman Rob Kerin at Brand South Australia’s recent agribusiness industry briefing.

Independent board director Professor Wendy Umberger is the University of Adelaide’s Professor of Agricultural Economics and Food Policy and executive director of its Centre for Global Food and Resources, focusing on economic issues affecting global food and agricultural value chains.

While more a recently appointed board member – grain, hay and sheep farmer Tanja Morgan – also works as a project manager for Mallee Sustainable Farming.

Caroline says the industry is well backed by global leaders in grains research at the Waite Institute and the new $3.7 million Clare Research Centre with its focus on legume crops.

It also offers enormous economic and work opportunities.

“The grains industry is an engine room for the local economy. At harvest time, the storage and handling workforce alone sees more than 1500 casual jobs being created statewide,” Caroline says.

“We have a broad range of jobs on offer and it’s a matter of encouraging people to consider agriculture as a career option because it’s a growth industry in SA.”

Header image: Grain Producers SA.

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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