Horticulture Australia needs overhaul, independent study finds

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Horticulture Australia needs overhaul, independent study finds

An independent review of Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) has called for the organization to be replaced with a grower-owned Research & Development Corporation (RDC).

The recommendation, put forth in a report by Perth-based ACIL Allen Consulting, has also urged for the removal of specific industry advisory committees, along with the implementation of more transparent and direct communication practices with levy-paying growers.

"A new structure is needed that provides greater accountability back to levy paying growers from the body responsible for spending the levy funds," the report authors said in the executive summary.

"There will still be an important role for the industry representative bodies. They will be able to apply, on a competitive and transparent basis, for funds to undertake projects. Under the new arrangements if they are the best provider they will obtain those funds, without the current problem of having a perceived conflict of interest.

"New HAL will make decisions on which projects to fund based on a single strategic plan, and with regard to what will deliver the best returns for growers."

Photo: Eli Duke, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Eli Duke, via Flickr Creative Commons

In addition to a wide  range of recommendations, the report added the collection of levies should be more transparent, and that the new body should work with the Department of Agriculture on ways to reduce levy collection costs.

"These recommendations are based on wide consultation with stakeholders in horticulture. This included a survey which HAL provided to industry representative bodies to distribute to all growers in their respective areas of horticulture.

"There was a strong consensus from this feedback that change was required, but opinions differed widely on how best to do this. The report has drawn on the numerous different views received and the wealth of evidence provided from HAL and other sources."

The review was undertaken as part of requirements for HAL's statutory funding arrangement (SFA) with the Australian Government, and was overseen by an independent steering committee.

"A comprehensive process - conducted at arm's length from HAL and the Government - has produced a set of strategic and operational findings that warrant due consideration by our members and levy payers," HAL CEO John Lloyd said in a release.

Lloyd said the organization's board would respond to the final report and its recommendations within three months, following consultations with members during a series of workshops on May 27-28.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce praised the report, saying it made a strong and persuasive case for growers to have a direct say in how investments are made in the future.

"Having dealt extensively with horticulture industry groups I am not surprised that the report recommends significant change to the research and development, and marketing services delivery model for Australian horticulture," Joyce said.

"Horticulture Australia Limited was established in 2001 to serve 43 separate peak industry bodies and the Australian industry and the markets that it supplies have matured a lot since then.

"The shape of international markets is changing rapidly and our producers need to respond with agility and make wise investments to take advantage of the opportunities."

In a release, the minister's office highlighted that HAL invested around AUD$107 million (US$100 million) of grower levies and taxpayer funds annually in horticulture programs designed to boost profitability and productivity, in-line with the government's rural research and development priorities.

"Research and development will play a crucial role in positioning the Australian horticulture industry to take advantage of the emerging demand from the Asian region for high quality, safe food," Joyce said.

"Given the importance of this issue to the horticulture sector, I hope that the Horticulture Australia Limited Board will respond to the final report in a timely manner after consulting with their members."




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