THE Private Member’s Bill introduced by Federal Member for the Mayo electorate of South Australia, Rebekha Sharkie, should provide legislated protection to small family businesses in a capital intensive industry, such as farming, according to Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell.

The Banking Amendment (Rural Finance Reform) Bill 2018 was introduced to the Lower House on February 27, requesting greater transparency and longer notice periods when lenders make decisions on the conditions of primary producer loan agreements.

“During our Small Business Loan Inquiry, we consulted with a number of small business owners involved in primary production,” Ms Carnell said.

“We identified specific issues associated with lending to primary producers, many of which are family enterprises.

“Unlike consumers, there are currently no regulation protections for small business commercial loans, and there is a significant power imbalance between lenders and farmers. 

“We agree that the threshold for a small farm business debt facility should be revised to $5 million, which is a realistic amount for a primary producer,” Ms Carnell said.

“Lenders should provide borrowers with decisions on loan roll over at least 90 business days before loans mature, so they can organise alternative financing.

“Borrowers also need greater access to information and control in the process of loan security valuation and business reviews.

“This Bill will provide a range of suitable protections for small farm businesses. It reflects the recommendations of the Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers and our Small Business Loans Inquiry.”


SCIENCE FICTION is becoming science fact in Australia’s quest to exterminate so-called ‘superbugs’ that can decimate livestock – now robots are being enlisted into the program.

Australian Pork Limited is being funded to the tune of $1.3 million, under the Federal Government’s Rural R&D for Profit program, to boost Australia's trade reputation by demonstrating the low antimicrobial resistance status of this country’s farm produce. They are using the funds to investigate the use of hi-tech laboratory robots to define the low level of antimicrobial resistance risk in pigs and chickens within Australia’s supply chains. 

“Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), or superbugs resistant to antibiotics, is a serious global problem that is a major public health issue worldwide,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce said.

“Minimising the development of resistance in livestock and companion animals is an important priority for industry. This research project, led by Australian Pork Limited, will investigate the use of high-tech robots to define the low level of antimicrobial resistance risk in pigs and chickens within our supply chains.”

Laboratory robots can work quickly, precisely and cost-effectively, as part of the industry-wide project to gather information and help farmers demonstrate their low AMR risk status. This is expected to give Australian farmers a competitive advantage internationally.

“Specialised robots will be used to isolate, count and characterise large numbers of bacteria from animal faeces,” Mr Joyce said. “The robots will be used to identify and grow thousands of individual bacteria to determine the presence and distribution of antimicrobial resistance at both the herd and national level.”

Mr Joyce said Australian agriculture was a world leader in the fight against development of superbugs.

“Australia is a global leader in minimising risks of AMR spreading, due to the foresight of the government with industry not permitting the use of several antibiotic classes in livestock,” he said.

Australian Pork Limited CEO, Andrew Spencer said the Australian Government's support for this project, which is significant for both humans and animals, anwould demonstrate livestock industries as responsible citizens.

“The outcome of this project will enable industry to provide hard evidence to back claims and to show leadership credentials, which in an AMR aversive world will be an important point of differentiation,” Mr Spencer said.

He said while there was a limited overlap in antimicrobials between human and animal products it was essential that all parts of the puzzle contribute to the solution.

Mr Joyce said, “The project will help monitor on-farm control measures to reduce the presence of antimicrobial resistant organisms across pork and chicken meat industries, with the potential for the project to be used as a model in other animal sectors and for ongoing surveillance.”

He said the $180.5 million R&D for Profit program was part of the election commitment to increase R&D funding for practical projects, “to increase farmgate returns and capture global market opportunities”.


WHEN accomplished Australian fruit producer, Queensland-based Pinata Farms launched its new venture BerryWorld Australia, its teams knew they were not faced an agribusiness challenge so much as a retail marketing one.

BerryWorld Australia has been established as a premium brand introducing new breeds of specialty strawberries into the Australian and New Zealand markets.

BerryWorld Australia is a joint venture between global berry breeder and marketing company, BerryWorld Group, and Piñata Farms. It was established in 2016 to grow and market proprietary BerryWorld varieties exclusively in Australia and New Zealand. 

When BerryWorld strawberries landed on supermarket shelves for the first time recently – in a heat-sealed 350g punnet aimed at winning shoppers’ attention, before they have even eaten a berry – they caused something of a sensation.

The square punnets, made of standard 100 percent recyclable PET (polyethylene), present BerryWorld strawberries in a single layer with the barcode at the base for easier scanning. Heat-sealed film is perforated with eight air vents to keep fruit cool and fresh in-store and after purchase.
BerryWorld Australia managing director, Gavin Scurr, said the new line achieved several significant points of difference for strawberry marketing.
“If we’re launching a premium brand, we want as many points of difference as possible, from packaging and presentation, through to berry taste and appearance,” Mr Scurr said.
“Australian strawberries are generally sold in 250g or 450g punnets and there are some 1kg punnets. We’ve decided on a 350g punnet to give Australian consumers more choice. Globally, it’s already a size that is instantly associated with strawberries. We’re confident Australian consumers will appreciate it as a convenient, family friendly size.”
Pre-printed film was also more aesthetically pleasing than labelled lids, Mr Scurr said.
“As few Australian strawberries are consistently sold in heat-sealed punnets, this will be a positive change for strawberry consumers. Heat-sealing, which is standard in berry production throughout Europe, not only keeps fruit fresh, but it is tamper proof,” he said.


Mr Scurr said the BerryWorld Australia packaging would also deliver production and cost efficiencies and energy savings. 

“Heat-sealing utilises approximately 30 percent less packaging materials than a punnet with a lid.
“Heat-sealing has also been shown to perform slightly better in maintaining fruit weight up to purchase. With strawberries, there’s always a slight margin of weight loss after packing. To achieve the 350g weight by the time of purchase, we allow for loss by slightly overpacking, typically by about 20 grams per punnet.”
Mr Scurr said automated heat-sealing would also create significant production efficiencies in the packhouse because the film could be applied faster.

Once opened, the punnets are not re-sealable. However, re-sealing is an option BerryWorld Australia would consider in the future, Mr Scurr said.
BerryWorld Australia’s raw packaging materials are imported from China and manufactured to specification by Victorian-based packaging producer, Multisteps Industries.
BerryWorld strawberries are grown and packed at Queensland-based Piñata Farms, the growing arm of joint venture company, BerryWorld Australia. A customised production line has been installed at the Wamuran packhouse to pack the specialty berries.
Strawberries are sorted and hand-packed into punnets prior to heat-sealing.


BerryWorld Australia negotiated with retail partner, Woolworths, to display strawberries in the fridge section of supermarket outlets, rather than the lounge where other Australian strawberries are displayed.
“Berries last longer if they are chilled,” Mr Scurr said. “Fridge placement is another point of difference. Other future BerryWorld Australia lines, such as raspberries and blackberries, will also be found in the fridge,” Mr Scurr said.


AUSTRALIAN Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell has welcomed the new Dairy Industry Code of Practice for Contractual Arrangements between farmers and processors.

Ombudsman Carnell had input to the code and said she would monitor its effectiveness over the next 12 months.

Ms Carnell said the voluntary code addressed issues that may be contested under the Unfair Contract Terms law for Small Business, which began operating on November 12, 2016.

“I’m very pleased that all the major processors and farmer organisations have signed the code,” Ms Carnell said. “Many farmers were crippled last year by retrospective price reductions, which are no longer allowed. 

“There is now a requirement for notification and transparency, which will help farmers to make informed decisions.”

Ms Carnell welcomed the recognition by processors that downward price movements were undesirable.

The code, which is voluntary, now requires 30 days notice of step-downs, which must be clearly set out in the contract. Farmers are also required to give 30 days notice of changing processors, with a cooling-off period of 21 days.

“A farmer is entitled to all accrued loyalty payments if they have supplied to the end of their contract term,” Ms Carnell said. “This addresses a previous unfair situation.

“The voluntary code is a positive step and I hope it works. A negotiated voluntary agreement is better than seeking to introduce more regulation.

“I will review the effectiveness of the voluntary code to make sure it’s working as intended.”


MORE THAN 99 percent of Australian farm businesses are fully Australian owned and 88 percent of farmland is fully Australian owned, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Agricultural Land and Water Ownership Survey (ALWOS).

“The 2016 survey found that the proportion of Australian to foreign owned farming businesses has not changed significantly in the three years since the survey was last run,” ABS program manager for the Environment and Agriculture Statistics Branch, Lisa Wardlaw-Kelly said

The survey also found the majority of agriculture water entitlements in 2016 were Australian owned (87 percent).

“The 2016 survey confirmed that large businesses continue to account for the majority of foreign owned farm land with fewer than 50 businesses accounting for nearly 95 percent of the total area of foreign owned farm land in Australia,” Ms Wardlaw-Kelly said. 

The 2015-16 ALWOS was conducted to inform debate about foreign ownership of agricultural land and water entitlements. However, with the establishment of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land and Register of Foreign Ownership of Australian Water Entitlements, the ABS is reviewing the need for the continuation of its survey. 

Results from the 2016 ALWOS were consistent with the first report from the ATO’s Register of Foreign Owned Agricultural Land, released in September 2016, which put the proportion of agricultural land with a level of foreign interest at a slightly higher 13.6 percent. 

“This difference is not unexpected and is due to the slightly broader scope of the register, which includes all foreign interest in agricultural land and water when ALWOS focuses on direct foreign investment in the business that owns the asset,” Ms Wardlaw-Kelly said. 

She said supplementary information was available from both the ABS and ATO websites to assist Australia’s agribusiness sector to interpret the two datasets.

Agricultural Land and Water Ownership, June 2016 is available for free download from the ABS website.


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