CBH scraps QA program

Rueben Hale and Peter KlingerThe West Australian

CBH's unpopular quality assurance program, Better Farm IQ, has been scrapped.

The scheme, regarded as a white elephant by the majority of the grain co-operative's board, was among the casualties of last week's surprise company clean-out.

CBH also took the axe to its management ranks as part of a cost-cutting exercise designed to save $25 million and ensure it can compete with overseas grain-growing rivals, some of which are already operating in WA.

The cost cuts come just as the harvest gets under way though insiders have stressed the focus of the move was on back-office functions, so as to not interfere with the seasonal operations.

CBH chief executive Andy Crane, who was a high-profile advocate of the QA program since his days as general manager of marketing and trading of the now defunct Grain Pool of WA, justified the axing, saying the landscape had changed since the program was first introduced.

Better Farm IQ, brought in by Department of Agriculture and Food WA in 2000 and then championed by a legion of former Grain Pool of WA executives in their new post-merger CBH roles, was touted at the time to put growers on the front foot by offering a premium return for their grain.

The pilot program began with 26 growers and was developed in response to a request from the Grain Pool of WA to distinguish wheat, barley and lupin crops that would meet the strict requirements of lucrative Japanese markets.

In 2003, CBH took on the program but it wasn't until major grain customer Japan introduced maximum residue limits in 2007 that the program ramped up with more than 2000 farmers becoming certified.

At the time, correspondence from Japan was sent to all Australian grain exporters detailing concerns about residue levels in shipments.

CBH had promoted to its growers that as part of the Better Farm IQ training they would be educated on how on-farm practices influence markets and international trade relations.

As one of the first handful of growers to sign up, retired Aldersyde farmer Ian Hall remembers all the hype surrounding the program.

"I did the program before Grain Pool of WA and CBH merged," he said.

"I was initially open-minded about the potential for this kind of scheme to return extra value to growers that signed up.

"The course was over three days and I remember being really busy on the farm, and having to put aside three days and having to travel more than 700km to complete the theoretical and practical training course was a big ask at the time."

However, Mr Hall said he was compelled to be part of the program from the beginning because he was the WAFarmers Avon Valley grains councillor at the time.

"I had to make a determination there would actually be beneficial return to the growers in my zone from signing up for the accreditation scheme," he said.

"After about two years I had clearly formed the view the program was a waste of a busy farmer's valuable time and efforts to be part of it."

Mr Hall said there had been only one aspect of the program that had assisted him as a grower.

"I was very keen to be a part of one of the first groups of growers to be selected to take part in the State's 2009 genetically modified canola trials program," he said.

"I suspect my quality accreditation may have assisted with my selection."

Current Better Farm IQ certification will be extended to August 2016.

CBH would not confirm how many Better Farm IQ jobs had been slashed as a result of the move.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails