From left: Professor Ross Kingwell, AEGIC; Gary Spiel from Hassad Australia; Lawrence Richmond, a grower now working in the Ukraine. 
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — International speakers provided insights on future global grain prices and where Australian agriculture falls short in building ‘social license,’ at the Australian Grains Industry Conference (AGIC) in Melbourne, Australia.

AGIC, Hightower report

David Hightower, president of the Hightower Report.

U.S.-based commentator David Hightower said he expects current low grain prices will continue, but that they should recover more quickly in the medium term as farmers drop production in response.

He warned growers to monitor the La Niña weather system and extreme weather conditions which could influence the market very quickly, particularly given the large American corn crop which will be ready for harvest in August.

Hightower was skeptical about the size of China’s corn stocks, but said the global giant remained critical in terms of feed grain demand, which showed no sign of slowing.

Another U.S. speaker, Jack A. Bobo, shared his experience in developing ‘social license’ or consumer trust in agriculture, as chief communications officer of the U.S. biotechnology giant, Intrexon.

AGIC, Intrexon
Jack A. Bobo, chief communications officer of the Intrexon Corporation.
Bobo, voted one of the 100 most influential people in biotechnology in 2015, said consumers often saw the negatives and perceived risk of advances in agriculture, rather than the benefits – a circumstance that needs to change.

“To combat anti-GM sentiment we need one food that consumers buy because of the benefits of it being GM – maybe an apple that stays fresh in school bags,” Bobo said.

The conference room filled for the session outlining Black Sea Grain and its increasing competition in Australian markets.

Conference attendees heard that the region has low production costs, a large area of fertile soil, low cost supply chain and increasing wheat yields, and Black Sea sellers are actively targeting markets in Southeast Asia.

Professor Ross Kingwell from AEGIC said Australia should actively monitor the Black Sea region, work closely with Asian buyers to supply the specific varieties they require, and realize the freight advantage formerly benefitting Australia has evaporated. 

The second day of the conference will consist of some of the country’s leading chief executive officers front the conference, to be quizzed by the ABC’s Emma Alberici: Wesfarmers’ Richard Goyder, ANZ’s Graham Turley, GrainCorp’s Mark Palmquist, Hassad’s John McKillop and Andrew Crane from CBH Group.

ACCC Commissioner for agriculture, Mick Keogh will provide the keynote address, while another session will focus on consumer megatrends in pulses, including an update on activities and success stories in the international year of pulses.

The conference will conclude with a gala dinner, where the winner of the GTA Nuffield Fellowship will be announced.