News

VFF move to leave peak bodies shocks members

Emma Alsop, June 6, 2024

VICTORIAN Farmers Federation’s abrupt decision to cease its national peak commodity group memberships has stunned the state’s grains industry.

VFF members were told this week its board has decided to “cease our membership or provide notice of resignation where required” to Grain Producers Australia, Cattle Australia, the NFF Horticulture Council, Australian Dairy Farmers, Sheep Producers Australia, Wool Producers Australia and the Goat Industry Council of Australia.

The news came as a shock to VFF members, who were sent a notice informing them of the decision hours after a report in The Weekly Times announced the controversial move.

It is believed this is the first instance of a state body cancelling membership of the GPA since the collapse of the former South Australian Farmers Federation and the formation of Grain Producers SA in 2012.

The cost to the VFF of the combined memberships to national agricultural advocacy amounted to close to $700,000 each year.

It is unclear how much the VFF has been spending annually on its GPA membership, which is believed to equate to $50 per grower per year.

A grain grower and VFF member told Grain Central he was disappointed by the lack of consultation before the decision was made.

It is believed only the board was aware of the decision before the announcement, with the VFF commodity council leadership not told before the public.

“It is a really bizarre situation; it’s just happened so quickly and…no one had any inkling at all that it was going to happen.”

The VFF member said the process for making the decision was “the crux” of the grievances felt by many VFF members.

He said having “a seat at the table of GPA” provided real value to Victorian grain growers, and it was unclear how they will continue to provide input without holding membership.

“Financially, it is an incredibly low commitment and I think members are getting absolute value from GPA.

“If we are just going to throw the toys out of the cot without coming up with a solution, where does it leave us in the meantime?”

GPA has not commented on the announcement.

GPA chief executive Colin Bettles said the board will be meeting to discuss the VFF’s decision.

“The GPA board has a scheduled meeting next week and this matter will be discussed, along with other issues regarding strengthening national representation for Australian grain producers,” Mr Bettles said.

Financial pressures

It is believed long-running financial issues were a significant reason behind the decision to pull memberships.

In the notice to members, the VFF board stated that “a major change is necessary to the way we do business if we want to maintain a viable organisation that delivers impact in our advocacy for Victorian farmers”.

The notice also spoke of concerns that the national agricultural advocacy model is fundamentally broken.

“We will not force Victorian farmers to continue funding as unsustainable and ineffective model that delivers duplication and fails to meet the needs of Victorian agriculture,” the notice said.

“Furthermore, the cost to the VFF in many cases is much higher than the contribution made by other organisations.

“It is patently unfair to expect our members to carry this burden when others do not contribute their fair share.”

VFF instability

The announcement comes over a year after VFF Grains Council members voiced concerns over the management of the VFF Board and the organisation’s finances.

Led by former grains group presidents Andrew Wiedemann, Brett Hosking and Ashley Fraser, the movement sought to review the VFF constitution, the commodity council autonomy arrangements, and VFF financial allocations and processes.

In August 2023, over 150 VFF members signed a form requesting an extraordinary general meeting for the purpose of removing the current board.

They resolved to remove president Emma Germano and vice president Danyel Cucinotta and install Paul Weller and Georgina Gubbins in the roles.

VFF leadership refused to call the meeting, with Mr Wiedemann taking the issue to the Federal Court of Australia.

The Federal Court later rejected Mr Wiedemann’s bid, citing that there was no mechanism under the VFF constitution to remove the leadership.

 

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