State farm groups urge producers to cut levy

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Bob GarnantCountryman

WAFarmers has expressed its disappointment with how Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) spends grower levy funds by urging woolgrowers cut the levy rate they pay to the wool research and marketing body.

On Monday, WAFarmers wool council members recommended producers consider a one per cent levy vote option for WoolPoll 2012, rather than the 2 per cent rate it has recommended in the past, stating AWI had lost sight of woolgrowers' best interests.

AWI has recommended woolgrowers vote for a 2 per cent levy option, but WAFarmers argued this was not warranted because the Australian research, development and marketing body for wool had lost its focus on research and development (R&D) in favour of marketing.

WAFarmers wool section president Ed Rogister said wool council members did not support AWI's decision to change its split between marketing and R&D from 50:50 to 60:40.

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However, an AWI spokesman said the board's decision to continue with the marketing momentum and gains made in the past three years at 2 per cent was in the interest of woolgrowers.

The spokesman said AWI chief executive Stuart McCullough had been discussing the various measurements of AWI's performance across the past three years at WoolPoll Roadshows nationwide.

With a month-long touring schedule completed, AWI is confident it has built a case for the continuance of a 2 per cent levy and the priority areas across R&D and marketing meet woolgrowers' approval.

But this was not the case when AWI's Roadshow met WA woolgrowers in Darkan last month.

At the meeting, WAFarmers wool executive member Max Watts said there was overwhelming support for R&D.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) wool and livestock committee chairman Digby Stretch agreed, saying the PGA had failed to see any benchmarks that proved that money spent on marketing was worthwhile.

"It's time to send a message to AWI to pull its funds," Mr Stretch said.

The PGA was the first farmer lobby group in WA to recommend a reduced levy vote of no more than one per cent, which was announced on September 9, two weeks before voting opened.

"WAFarmers believes it should be shareholders not the AWI board that makes the decision on the amount of wool tax and what will be spent on marketing versus R&D," Mr Rogister said.

"Since the last WoolPoll in 2009, WAFarmers has been lobbying AWI to give shareholders greater say on not only the wool tax level but whether they wish for their funds to be spent on marketing or R&D.

"The WAFarmers wool council is sending a clear message that we want AWI to focus its efforts on what its shareholder needs are, by listening to them rather than dictating.

"Our wool-producing members want more money spent on R&D, especially on-farm as opposed to marketing and generic promotion."

Frankland River sheep producer Richard Coole, who was recently awarded Australian wool producer of the year, said he had voted for a 2 per cent levy.

"Although I am disillusioned with some of AWI's direction, I voted 2 per cent because I don't want a pro-rata reduction of R&D to follow from a reduced levy," he said. "I would like AWI to reverse its decision to scrap the funding of the Information Nucleus Flock research project."

Mr Coole, who shears 40,000 sheep per year, said growers should have more say in which projects were funded.

WAFarmers is calling on wool producing members to vote in the WoolPoll 2012 to determine how much wool tax they will have to pay.

Voting for WoolPoll 2012 closes Friday, November 2 at 5pm AEST.

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