The withdrawal of WoolProducers Australia and the Sheepmeat Council of Australia from LBN comes despite a performance review on its trial period since 2013 showing a return on investment to industry of $7 for every dollar spent.
The sheep industry councils, with the Cattle Council of Australia, initially pooled $5 million to fund the initiative for three years using producer transaction levies, in response to industry concerns about the possible impact of diseases and pests on the farming economy. It provided producers with practical information on implementing on-farm measures to manage biosecurity risks and protect animal health and productivity.
But a joint WPA and SCA decision to withdraw funding from June 30 this year has forced LBN and the Cattle Council of Australia to seek other funding partners if the initiative is to continue in its current form, employing regional officers in every state and a national manager in Canberra.
Wool and sheep industry decision disappointing
LBN chairman David Palmer said the decision of the sheep industry bodies was a pity and disappointing.
“But I respect the views of the council, we always embarked on LBN as a 3-3.5 year pilot trial.
“It was always going to be subjected to an independent review and that’s exactly how it should be,” he said.
“I thought that we had made some good in-roads and I think we will continue, but I think sheep and wool largely are pulling out for the moment at least because there is a bit of a development of biosecurity responses on a state-by-state basis, which have largely developed since LBN was first established.
“To use an expression, ‘one size doesn’t fit all’, so right now I think that LBN 3.5 years ago conceptually was sound because there wasn’t much in this area of a co-ordinated national biosecurity awareness campaign,” Mr Palmer said.
“But in the last three years there has been some development on a state-by-state basis which may be seen as more attractive to sheep and wool than perhaps the national flavour.
“Now that doesn’t belittle their attitude to biosecurity; I don’t think they see it as any less important – I just think that they see a development of state-based programs is something that they need to monitor and watch,” he said.
Wool and sheep seeking biosecurity value elsewhere
Neither WoolProducers Australia nor the Sheepmeat Council of Australia have stated exactly why they were withdrawing from LBN, but said in a joint “key messages” statement today that “the national sheep industries are committed to working together to identify future investments in biosecurity that offer value for levy payers.”
“These include national coordination and consistency of biosecurity efforts with a strong focus on partnerships and leveraging the large amount of work that is already occurring in this space whilst delivering through the state-based system for animal health and welfare,” the statement said.
Hunt for new funding partners is on
LBN is now seeking new partners to ensure the beef cattle industry is prepared for potential pest, weed and disease outbreaks.
“Now we’ve got some work to do to shore up and make up the funding difference,” Mr Palmer said.
A fully-operational LBN costs $1-1.2 million a year, he said.
“The cattle industry’s contribution to date has been about $600,000 and the remaining $600,000 we’ve now got to find from elsewhere.
“They had different spreads, but the sum total was roughly 50:50 sheep and cattle.”
When asked if the sheep industry’s withdrawal put LBN’s future at risk, Mr Palmer said: “Well, they don’t have the money, so you’ve got to have your eyes open on this.
“We are talking to the staff, our most valuable asset, on this, right now.”
“I am desperately trying to protect their careers and give them some encouragement and certainty for the future,” Mr Palmer said.
“We’ve got to work hard now with other entities to source other cattle industry funds to shore the program up through this difficult phase.
“There comes a time for LBN and remembering that we’ve got about a couple of hundred thousand entities across Australia which are ultimately the target audience, there is a critical mass which if you go below, you render yourself fairly impotent — we are running at between 4-6 people and I wouldn’t want to go much lower than that or I think you would start to question your relevance and capacity to influence change.”
Mr Palmer said carry-over funds would take LBN past its pilot sunset date of June 30, but for staff morale and good management purposes “we’ve really got to nail this in the next 4-8 weeks.”
Cattle-only biosecurity program “hard to explain”
Mr Palmer said with most properties south of Dalby in Queensland were running and sheep and cattle.
“In a sense of equity, running a program which concentrates on one enterprise on farm and not the other is hard to explain.”
He agreed the sheep industry will have to be left out of the LBN picture “right now”, although sheep and wool continue to affirm their support for biosecurity.
“But with the development of what’s happening on a state-by state basis, if that’s a superior model to the national approach, which I am assuming is their view, then I have to acknowledge that.
“But the cattle industry is very keen to maintain this national picture and national coverage, so we have just got work hard with other like-minded cattle-funded entities and in time it was always our hope to attract commercial sponsors,” he said.
“But I think you have got to get a certain amount of success and awareness on ground before you become a good prospect for commercial sponsors, but that’s still the ambition.”
LBN has had localised regional commercial sponsorship, but the main prize will always be a national sponsor, alongside a publicly-funded component, delivering a broadacre biosecurity awareness capability, Mr Palmer said.
“All that remains for the immediate future is to do all of that, but with a cattle industry focus.”
Mr Palmer said LBN would talk to “everybody we can talk to”, but was focussing on further cattle industry funding, with strong support from the Cattle Council.
“We would like very much to talk to MLA naturally.
“I’ve always thought that on-farm biosecurity is very much a part of the part of the puzzle in retaining market access… market access and on-farm biosecurity are inter-woven,” he said.
“We are looking for people who believe in the message, the story and the concept and I’m looking for strategic publicly-funded partners, which may in turn mature into commercial partners.
“Of course the over-riding goal is to have a high degree of awareness of practices on-farm commensurate with protection of assets and avoidance of all forms of endemic or exotic diseases,” Mr Palmer said.
“It will continue one way or the other, I am just trying make sure that LBN is a part of that solution.”
In a formal review of its performance during the latter stages of the pilot period, consultants GHD and the Haines Centre for Strategic Management found LBN’s activities have delivered a return on investment to industry of $7 for every dollar expended. Mr Palmer believed LBN generally had been successful and if it could help prepare or prevent an endemic or exotic disease outbreak potentially costing millions of dollars a day there would be an “enormous payback” to industry.
The review found LBN has increased the likelihood of producers implementing new biosecurity measures to protect their farm businesses and the industry at large by raising awareness of biosecurity risks and developing and implementing biosecurity plans.
“As pioneers in the field of industry-funded biosecurity extension and awareness, LBN has succeeded in putting biosecurity on the national agenda,” Mr Palmer said.
Over coming months LBN will be meeting with industry stakeholders to negotiate new funding arrangements, as well as potential structural changes to ensure LBN’s activities remain effective into the future.
‘Key messages’ statement from WPA and SCA
Sheep industry funding of the LBN beyond the Pilot Phase (June 30, 2016)
The Australian sheep industries are committed to all aspects of biosecurity and direct significant compulsory producer levies across a range of projects and initiatives in this area.
Both Wool Producers Australia (WPA) and the Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) take this oversight role on behalf of all sheep and wool producers extremely seriously and will continue to invest these levies in the most efficient manner possible.
The Livestock Biosecurity Network Pilot Project demonstrates the innovative way that the sheep industries have sought to invest producer levies to manage biosecurity risks across the industry.
An important aspect of our levy oversight responsibility is to regularly review all investments to ensure they represent value for levy payers and deliver a return on that investment. Such reviews are an important consideration when determining ongoing and future investments.
In accordance with the LBN Pilot Project Funding Agreement, CCA, WPA and SCA have conducted a review of the project.
The review included the commissioning of the LBN Independent Review Report, completed by GHD and Haines Centre for Strategic Management, and feedback from our respective members.
Based on a comprehensive review of the LBN Pilot Project, WPA and SCA have independently resolved that they will not continue to fund LBN beyond the end of the pilot phase on 30 June, 2016.
The national sheep industries are committed to working together to identify future investments in biosecurity that offer value for levy payers.
These include national coordination and consistency of biosecurity efforts with a strong focus on partnerships and leveraging the large amount of work that is already occurring in this space whilst delivering through the State-based system for animal health and welfare.
WPA and SCA acknowledge the work of the LBN Board and staff and for commitment to national biosecurity.