GLOBAL food company and owner of Quaker Oats, PepsiCo, has signaled its intentions of setting up a Western Australian sustainable oats advisory group to help direct investment for projects to promote climate-friendly grain growing in the state.
Quaker Oats operates a processing plant at Forrestfield, a suburb of Perth, WA which sources oats grown across the state.
Quaker Oats supply chain manager and Grain Industry Association of Western Australia (GIWA) Oats Council member, Chris Maughan, told the International Oats Conference held in Perth earlier this month that the company wants to engage with growers before making more investments in the industry.
“We need to be guided by the industry; we are not the experts,” Mr Maughan said.
“Our plan is to set up an oats sustainability ag advisory group to include interested and engaged growers, researchers and anyone who feels they want to make a contribution to the future of oat production in Western Australia.
“To support this advisory group, we want to appoint a contract agronomist on a part-time basis.”
He said the aim of the advisory group would be to recommend opportunities for investment in different projects and trials as well as suggest ways PepsiCo could further advocate for the oat industry in WA.
“PepsiCo has funding resources, but these are allocated on a project-by-project basis and globally there is significant competition for these funds.
“So, in 2023 we will be adding this funding to the cost of the oats that we purchase from our growers.
“Our business is investing in these projects because we see it as vital to the future of our entire supply chain, not just for oats but for all of the agricultural commodities we use.”
Growing sustainability concerns
Mr Maughan said he has witnessed an increasing interest from consumers in the provenance of agricultural commodities and its environmental impact.
He said companies are also signally their growing drive to become more sustainable.
“There is growing interest from consumers about where their food comes from and how it was produced, especially from markets outside of Australia.
“From within Australia, financial institutions are seeking to ensure that they can report on their ESG commitments.
“[T]hey will start asking growers soon about their greenhouse gas footprint as part of their financial assessment, I am told.”
On top of these concerns, Mr Maughan said oat growers still want to be assured that their yields will continue to improve and that they will continue to receive a fair price for their crops.
“Growers need to have confidence that they will achieve yield targets and that the cost of production will not be excessive.”
He said the use of nitrogen fertilisers will always be at the forefront of sustainability and climate change conversations for the grains industry.
“The biggest impact for growers is nitrogen fertiliser, and need nitrogen to produce your crop, and that is the biggest challenge.
“This is why we need to try and work together to find ways to get those sort of things down.”
WA growers leading
Mr Maughan said in other ways, WA grain growers were already “at the edge of many practices described as sustainable”.
He said these included minimal tilling, dry sowing enhanced with WA-developed SE14 soil moisture attractant, controlled traffic farming, and promoting non-synthetic nitrogen levels through growing a pasture legume or lupin crop.
“In this low rainfall, poor quality soil environment growers have adapted and created their own sustainable pathway to productivity.”
Mr Maughan said WA growers are also achieving in terms of carbon emission reduction and sequestering activities.
“A good test if a farm business is sustainable would be to look at it through the lens of a carbon project.
“The Federal Government has 15 eligible farming activities that could be used to claim farming credits, excluding trees, and, of the 15, I can think of nine that Western Australian grain growers already do.
“Of the remaining six, most aren’t applicable to broadacre dryland farming, such as irrigation efficiency or cover crops or converting cropping to permanent pastures.”
Organised by the Grain Industry Association of WA, the International Oat Conference ran from Tuesday, October 11 to Thursday, October 13.
The Australian oat industry took centre stage as speakers and delegates converge from countries as far afield as Sweden, Chile, China, the USA, Austria, Canada and many others.
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