GRAIN Producers Australia is urging growers to be alert to recent changes that create additional red tape for the sustainability certification program that green-lights grain sales into the European Union market.
A recent email from Sustainable Grain Australia (SGA) – which facilitates growers’ compliance with the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) standard for trading grain with the EU – further confirms GPA’s concerns about the farm audit scheme’s creeping agenda.
GPA southern region director Andrew Weidemann said it was especially concerning given the significant impact on climate change of taxpayer subsidies that were handed out to EU growers directly from Governments, compared to Australian farmers.
“This also reinforces GPA’s views about the need to develop an Australian-owned and controlled certification scheme to protect grower interests and capture value from existing sustainability practices which have long underpinned production of world-leading, high-quality grains,” he said.
Tail wagging the dog
GPA chair, Barry Large, said he was concerned the email from SGA was delivered as a fait accompli, telling growers they were now ‘at liberty’ to trade all grain types as sustainable, following recent updates to the ISCC requirements.
“SGA started as a way for growers to only sell Australian canola certified as ‘sustainable’ to the EU, but has now been expanded again to all grains. This is despite prior notice and proper consultation with GPA members who have expressed repeated concerns about gradual escalation,” he said.
Mr Large said it was a clear case of the tail wagging the dog, with the EU Government telling Australian grain producers by proxy how to farm in their own paddocks, via the SGA compliance.
The email said ‘because ISCC certification is farm based, there is no additional requirements on your part to include all crop types as being certified as sustainable’.
“In the current context of the topical political debate about sustainability and net zero 2050, and whether our farmers can be properly rewarded and acknowledged for doing the heavy lifting already on climate targets, these changes require far more detail and transparency,” Mr Large said.
Clarification is also needed about the advice given to growers that “some additions” to the ISCC requirements have been made due to changes in the EU biofuel Renewable Energy Directive (RED).
The major change is that growers are required to have a Biodiversity and Pollinator Action Plan and an Energy, GHG & Air-Pollution Management Plan in place, the email said.
Mr Large said the growing number of documents now available to download off the Australian Oilseeds Federation’s website, to complete as part of the on-farm auditing needed to comply with the ISCC requirements, was concerning.
“If you actually look at the detail of these documents mentioned on the email, they’re actually asking local growers to sign-up to EU rules such as setting aside areas to increase and enhance the protection of pollinators, which has to be at least 5 per cent of the farm’s arable area,” he said.
“They’re also asking farmers to declare if there are any species of plants or animals that are considered protected or threatened on their property.”
Mr Large said growers needed to be satisfied that the extra paperwork required in their businesses would be reflected in a guaranteed premium from selling grain under the ISCC system, rather than growers copping penalties for not complying with EU sustainability laws.
“If our farmers are running multi-million-dollar businesses, using cutting-edge technology, and producing the world’s best product, as stated by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, we also need an Australian sustainability scheme to demonstrate this to all global markets and can capture the best commercial opportunities and optimise value for everyone,” he said.
“Grains Australia is the logical home for such a scheme to be managed with grower and industry oversight, to ensure it is guided by sound science backed by independent regulation – not populist opinion – and reflects the unique climate and requirements of Australian farming systems.
“It also needs to account for the minimal government subsidies Australian farmers receive. The difference in support for Australian farmers is significant compared to other agricultural nations, especially those we compete against in global grain markets such as the EU, which are projected to reach $1.8 trillion (USD) by 2030 while harming climate action.”
OECD analysis of agricultural policy released in June this year highlighted concerns about trade distorting subsidies causing adverse impacts on climate change goals.
This analysis says of $540 billion (USD) per year of government support paid to producers, over 60 per cent, or $338 billion (USD), is provided through the potentially most distorting instruments – namely market price support ($272 billion USD), and payments linked to output or the unconstrained use of inputs ($66 billion USD).
It also says Australia’s government support to agricultural producers is among the lowest in the OECD area, estimated at about 2pc of gross farm receipts for 2018-20, with total support to agriculture representing around 0.2pc of GDP.
Producer support in the European Union, as a share of gross farm receipts, has been about 19pc since 2010, compared to 18pc for all OECD members.
In another report, the UN’s analysis of these figures says under a continuation of current trends, this $540 billion (USD) per year support could reach $1.8 trillion (USD) by 2030.