WAFarmers wary of AGC deal

Rueben HaleCountryman
At the conference were Maitland Davey, of Wongan Hills, Jeff Murray, of Beverley, Sheepmeat Council of Australia chief executive Mark Harvey and Hayley Goad, of Roleystone.
Camera IconAt the conference were Maitland Davey, of Wongan Hills, Jeff Murray, of Beverley, Sheepmeat Council of Australia chief executive Mark Harvey and Hayley Goad, of Roleystone. Credit: Countryman

WAFarmers’ grains section wants to see the CBH corporatisation deal put on the table.

At the conference, talk among growers was rife about the CBH board’s consideration of a share market listing under its own steam as part of its response to a corporatisation offer backed by GrainCorp.

The matter was raised in the general business section of the conference, with a call from the floor for WAFarmers to support the action of CBH in relation to its proposed corporatisation, as they serve farmers.

Australian Grains Champion, a private company formed by two former CBH directors and prominent growers, lodged a proposal with CBH yesterday that would see it converted to a listed entity, with GrainCorp as the biggest shareholder.

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The proposal has the potential to put $1 billion into the pockets of Wheatbelt farmers. They would also receive shares in AGC once it became a listed company controlling the grain receival, storage and handling network in WA.

Talk among growers on whether to support the deal was divided at the conference, with many unsure whether the privatisation of the 4200-member co-operative would benefit its growers in the long-term.

Newly re-elected grains section president Duncan Young said the Grains Section Council would meet AGC next week.

“People in the council want all the facts because without all of the information, an informed decision about the organisation’s position on the issue cannot be reached,” he said.

“When Grains Council sees the complete proposal, which will be presented by AGC on March 4, a decision will be made.”

But Mr Young said past proposals would indicate strong support for the continuation of the co-operative model.

“At this time, the WAFarmers Grains Council has reaffirmed its policy of supporting a co-operative model that is dynamic and delivers maximum value to growers,” he said.

Mr Young said this position was affirmed at meeting before the proposal.

“Once the proposal is released, the council will assess the proposal on its merit for the future of the WA grains industry before giving their decision on where they sit on the proposal,” he said.

“This decision will ultimately be something farmers — CBH members — will make for themselves, and the council hopes they consider the commercialisation of similar co-operatives (such as inter-state models in South Australia and on the east coast) when making a decision.”

Newly elected president Tony York said the federation had a long history of supporting CBH and its leadership.

“There are concerns among our members about CBH meeting competition in the future and that is reflecting the anxiety,” he said.

Mr York said he would also be in favour of CBH presenting some alternatives to a corporate model.

Meanwhile, Koonongorring grower Maitland Davey said the push to corporatise CBH was based on greed.

“I was dead against the deregulation of the Wheat Board and that move has not benefited growers in the long term,” he said.

“The co-operative structure of CBH ensures my children and grandchildren will be involved in the grain business in many years to come and that is why I always felt strongly about supporting it.

“The people behind the deal are dangling a carrot in front of people, but I’d like to have a good, close look at the fine print that is tied to the money.”

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