MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Emerald Grain’s new Chief Executive Officer John Murray said on July 30 that Australia’s grain industry must collaborate on key issues to help the nation grasp its opportunity to become the food bowl of Asia.

In a panel discussion at the Australian Grains Industry Conference, Murray said poor rail infrastructure, high labor costs and lack of research and development could hamper Australia’s long-term competitiveness in international grain markets.

“Australia is a trusted, reliable and quality producer of safe food. We must maintain this reputation internationally,” Murray said. “But at the moment we aren’t adding enough value for our international customers. We need to be doing more research and development on new grain varieties and find new niche products.

“Knowing our overseas customers in Asia and the Middle East really well and growing with them is vital. If Australia doesn’t develop its grain supply to produce the varieties and quantities these customers want, then they will look elsewhere for that supply. Our customers’ needs are going to grow so we have to grow with them.”

He said that while many companies including Emerald Grain were investing in the supply chain to create efficiencies, poor rail infrastructure and high labor costs could disadvantage Australia on the world stage.

“The rail system in parts of Australia is appalling. Rail is absolutely vital to the long-term competitive position of Australian grain,” Murray said. “There is the opportunity for the industry to galvanize and work with government on fixing rail.”

He said problems with port bottlenecks and the much-maligned shipping slot auction system would be overcome though the industry’s continued investment in grain storage and port infrastructure.

“We are going through growing pains, but competition should eventually solve the shipping stem issue and improve port access,” Murray said. “It may end up that we over-invest, but it’s something that needs to occur for things to balance out.”

He said both industry and government should be responsible for formulating a plan to improve farm productivity so grain growers could get a better return at the farm gate.

“We need a strategic, long term plan to ensure growers remain viable. Otherwise we don’t have an industry,” he said.