Higher returns worth the levies

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

East Newdegate farmer Bob Iffla counts his annual contribution of about $60,000 to $70,000 in Grains Research and Development Corporation levies as money well spent.

He said although it seems like a big amount levied on his 14,000ha cropping program, Mr Iffla believed the return on this investment was far greater.

Mr Iffla said when he first started farming in the early 1970s, the average wheat yield in the Lake Grace area was about 0.8t/ha.

"Nowadays the average for this area is 1.8t/ha, which equates to an improved farm gate value of $250-$300 per hectare," he said.

He also cites the example of WA producing an 8 million-tonne crop in 1999/2000, valued about $2 billion.

In 2012-13, WA had less rainfall but produced closer to 17 million tonnes, worth $5 billion.

"This improved productivity is the result of many factors, including better varieties and better agronomy," Mr Iffla said,

"It's not down to the GRDC alone, it is a combination of several different factors with GRDC-funded research and development being a major contributor."

Mr Iffla said the types of research undertaken by GRDC - ranging but not limited to developing frost- tolerant wheat varieties to addressing herbicide resistance - if achieved will have a major impact on farm profitability in the future.

"It may sound like we pay a lot, but if you really drill down on the levy, the benefits far out way the cost of research," he said.

"For instance, the development of salt and frost tolerant wheat or barley varieties would make enormous gains to farm profitability and the amount we pay in research levies would pale into insignificance."

An example of direct benefits from research and development on Mr Iffla's property, Turua Park, is changing old crop varieties such as Gardiner and Mandah barley to new varieties such as Hindmarsh barley and Mace wheat.

Hindmarsh is less susceptible to loss of heads from hot winds, as well as being slightly higher yielding than some of the older varieties.

This year, Mr Iffla estimates he has lost yield of about 0.5t/ha from Gardiner, a cost of about $187,000 and up to 1t/ha from Mundah, a cost of about $176,000.

If Mr Iffla had only planted the Hindmarsh variety he would be about $363,000 better off this year.

"This type of improved return is one example of how we consider the levy money to be well spent," he said.

With GRDC continuing to look at improving upon such varieties, he said he was confident farmers on susceptible soils would continue to reap the benefits.

"It could be argued that we should be spending even more money on research," Mr Iffla said.

He challenged any opponents of the GRDC levy to do their own numbers and assess whether GRDC research was helping them to make a good return on capital.

Mr Iffla said growers should not expect immediate benefits but consider research and extension as a longer term investment.

"Breeding of new varieties can take many years and we won't see the returns overnight. To get from the concept to the desired end result often takes up to 10 years," he said.

"It is the same with all sorts of research. For example, with cancer research you may not see the direct benefits, but they are definitely there."

Mr Iffla also felt the GRDC, as an organisation, had continued to improve returns to famers in recent years.

"In the last few years, GRDC have really improved their communication to growers and appear more conscious of what farmers get in return from those levies," Mr Iffla said.

"They seem to be listening more to people like production groups, consultants and agronomists, to see what is needed in the regions, whether frost or herbicide resistance, and appear to be drilling down more into finding solutions."

Mr Iffla did not consider end point royalties so favourably. He said growers paid out a lot more money in EPRs than GRDC levies, with some varieties charging up to $5 a tonne.

"As growers, we have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for new varieties of seed - many farmers can only afford to buy a tonne or two at time," he said.

"Then we get hit with EPRs … double charging is totally unfair."

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