Thursday, 30 July 2009

MLA Levies Survey 2008-09

Yesterday in the post we received a heap of guff from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) titled ‘Levies Notice 2008-09’. I’m now at a stage of my life where I’m ‘over’ sitting down and poring through bucket-loads of literature I’m not familiar with and have not asked for, especially when the crowd that sends the guff to me have a 1800 number that I can call. Accessing the help centre saves my time and enables me to quickly get to the point of what I’m expected to do and what happens if I opt to do nothing.

We signed up as members of MLA a year or two ago. We did this as part of accessing National Vendor Declaration booklets. Completing and making available these declarations are the primary mechanism for complying with legislation - providing (quality) assurance to purchasers of any livestock we sell in respect of, for example, how long it has been since we may have applied some form or other of chemicals onto or into our stock for health reasons. The ‘buzz words’ are ‘Withholding Periods’; that is, we have to (with) hold the stock on the property for varying periods (depending on the treatments) prior to selling or transporting them to ensure that any animals (including we humans) who end up eating the meat and by-products are not adversely impacted. In my view this is a very valid and necessary process.

Until this last correspondence yesterday I have had two additional periods of time when I’ve looked into MLA. The first was seeing what free publications and services they offer. From this I now receive an emailed glossy newsletter at the end of each week which tells me what’s happening in the livestock marketing scene in Australia. The second was reading material inviting members with ‘voting rights’ to cast a vote for directors as part of the annual process. In reading this material it was illuminating to see that the MLA Board has in place a mechanism that allows it to filter out any possible Board nominees that might have ‘radical’ and different views to those who are already on the Board (my interpretation, not theirs). Both nominees for the vacant Board positions at that time were large feedlot operators. The overall composition of the Board is ‘the big guys’ in the industry.

In the material received yesterday the instruction line near the top of the ‘Levies Notice 2008-09’ reads “To secure your full voting entitlements: Complete * Sign * Return by 6 October”. The information requested is basically figures on how many animals of varying types we’d sold during the period 1/7/2008 to 30/6/2009 together with the $ value of ‘transaction levies’ paid. A supporting document gave a summary of the nature and amount of levies that are charged when stock are sold through selling agents. With sheep the breakdown of levies is:
  • MLA (R&D) - 0.77 % of sale price
  • MLA (Marketing) – 0.87 % of sales price
  • Animal Health Australia – 0.18 % of sale price (See The company profile states “Animal Health Australia (AHA) is a not-for-profit public company established by the Australian, state and territory governments and major national livestock industry organisations. The company's mission is to ensure that the national animal health system delivers a competitive advantage and preferred market access for Australia's livestock industries.” And “There are 8 major programs managed by the company: 1. Animal Disease Surveillance. 2. Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness 3. Animal Health Services 4. Disease Risk Mitigation 5. Livestock Welfare 6. Training 7. Communications and Information Management 8. Corporate Activities.”
  • National Residue Survey – 0.11 % of sale price. See This is run by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Quoting from their website: “NRS monitors residues of agricultural and veterinary chemicals and environmental contaminants in Australian food commodities”
  • Total levies – 2 % of sale price.

I rang one of the 1800 numbers in the literature to find out what I was being asked to do and what the implication were if I did nothing. Basically what I’d received was a survey which would form the basis of how much ‘power’ I’d have in voting on MLA matters. The greater the levies paid when selling stock the more votes we get. This is another way in which the ‘big boys’ get to continue to go along their merry way without fear of small players making any noise. Whilst good for them it does suggest that MLA is most likely a dull and staid entity that does not need to do much other than care for the interests of the big players. By not completing and submitting the ‘Levies Notice’ it simply means I’m unable to vote. Given we are small players anyway there is no point in taking further action so I’ve filed the material received yesterday in the WPB.

One observation that comes to mind from the above is understanding why there is a fairly active market in selling outside the saleyard and agent system.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

White Basket Fungus Find

On 3rd July 2009 Jan and I were in the process of moving our sheep out of the White Box Paddock. I took the route around the perimeter of the paddock in the process of trying to locate the animals. Not far from the north-west corner I came across one of the most bazaar looking naturally formed (as it’s turned out) fungus structures imaginable, evident in the attached photograph.

You can see the 9-holed softball sized ‘cage’, and the base is evident in the top right just above the case. The base and the cage were separated when I came across the whole thing, and when I broke one of the links in the frame the cross section was honeycombed internally.

A friend of mine, Jacqui Stol, from CSIRO had previously assisted us in identifying what was called a ‘Slime Mould” from a photo I’d included in a previous edition of Ochre Archives. With this as a background I sent her a copy of the above photo and asked if she could assist with identifying this latest find.

Courtesy of Jacqui sending on my email I've subsequently received an email from Jim Trappe , an Oregon State University mycologist who is currently a visiting scientist with CSIRO and a colleague of Jacqui’s.

Here is a slightly edited copy of Jim’s email:

“You are right. It is a fungus in the stinkhorn group, Ileodictyon gracile (I use that name, although that species usually has about twice as many holes as your specimen…yours could be a related species but new to science). One common name is the White Basket fungus. I think of it as the Whiffle Ball fungus.

It forms belowground in a truffle-like form in which it becomes fully formed but tightly compressed. When it reaches maturity, it takes up water and its cells swell, creating great tension within its relatively tough covering skin. The slightest jar will cause it to expand instantly. More than once I've been startled by having it leap out at me like some huge, jumping spider when it reaches that stage.

The honeycomb structure enables it to expand far more at less need to build tissue than if it were solid.

Its spores are formed in the inner surfaces of the "basket." They are suspended in a foul smelling sticky fluid, which attracts flies. The flies get the sticky spore suspension on their feet and carry the spores as they then fly around.

The web has a number of articles about it, just Google the name.”

Prompted by Jim’s final comment my web-search brought to light the following article which gives even more detail: What’s now clear is that our find was just a tiny specimen, really.

Jim has kindly granted permission for me to post this blog article. My sincere thanks go to both Jim and Jacqui for their wonderful help. Given his comment that what we found could be a 'related species new to science' we've agreed to see if we can find another and send it to Jim for identification.

In closing I’ll share another comment from Jim’s email which is spot-on: “As the saying goes, ‘Ain't Nature grand!’”.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Property Identification Codes Information

Some time ago we obtained via application to the local Livestock Health and Pest Authority (at that time it was known as the Forbes Rural Lands Protection Board) a Property Identification Code (PIC) for Ochre Arch. This was done in the context of compliance legislation essentially designed to give protection to the end consumers of agricultural products.

Background to Property Identification Codes

To quote from the NSW Department of Primary Industries website:

“In NSW a Property Identification Code (PIC) is assigned by Livestock Health & Pest Authorities for the purpose of identifying land used for agricultural purposes. Livestock Health & Pest Authorities also maintain PIC registers which keep information related to PICs up to date. Producers usually pay a fee for this service, or the service is covered by the rates paid by the producer.

Normally each property has its own PIC; however, one PIC may be used for more than one property provided the properties are used for a common purpose and are proximate.

PICs are fundamental to the operation and integrity of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) for cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. The PIC provides traceability to specific properties. Every livestock producer should have a PIC because:

  • the PIC is printed on approved livestock identifiers;
  • the PICs are recorded with every cattle movement;
  • the PIC is recorded on stock movement documents;
  • a PIC is required for industry quality assurance programs, e.g. Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) & Australian Pork Industry Quality (APIQ) programs;
  • an National Vendor Declaration (NVD) or PigPass is required for each consignment of slaughter stock.

Property Identification Code Formats

The identification code format comprises eight characters. The first two characters are letters and the last six characters are numbers.

With PICs for properties/holdings, travelling stock reserves, public land and public roads the:

  • 1st character: State code. The default state code is ‘N’ (for NSW).
  • 2nd character: Check letter, between A and K. The check digit is calculated according to an algorithm, allowing computer programs to automatically check whether the data entry is correct and the code is valid.
  • 3rd and 4th characters: District number. This number identifies the Rural Lands Protection District in which the property principally lies.
  • 5th to 8th characters: Property number, assigned in sequential order from ‘0001’ to ‘9999’.”
Compliance requirements for meat exported to Europe
To quote from our latest Lachlan Livestock Health and Pest Authority newsletter:
"Half way through last year a small group arrived in Australia from Europe". They were Eurpoean Community auditors and "their purpose was to check the standards of our compliance with sheep identification. The Eurpoeans insist that we are able to trace every sheep from the point where the carcase commences breakup, back to the last property that this sheep came from."

Friday, 17 July 2009

Importing Electric Fencing Materials

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Recently we imported some electric fencing materials from KiwiTech International in New Zealand. The factors contributing to the decision included: recommendation from friends near Young who use materials from this manufacturer, pricing, innovativeness and creativeness of the manufacturer and our desire to 'have a go' at importing and see what we would learn from the exercise.

All-in-all there were 3 distinct and separate parties we ended up dealing with:

1. Supplier. We found the team at KiwiTech first class to deal with. Not only do they really know their stuff and offer a 1800 number making it cost effective to call them, but they also have an AUD account that you can pay what's owed into. No question was a problem. They also adjusted the price to allow for freight built into the price that would have been duplicated had they posted the items to us.

2. Customs and Forwarding Agent. Getting through all the red tape with importaing can be a real nightmare. At KiwiTech's suggestion we accepted a referral to Express Customs and Forwarders based at Tullamarine in Melbourne. The role of this business is basically to get goods cleared through customs and arrange for it to be delivered as directed. In our case we elected to arrange collection of the goods from Sydney Airport. That said it was ECandF's responsibility to liaise with our 'Aussie end' freight company to give them specific directions and documentation enabling them to collect the goods. We found this company very good to deal with.

To give readers an insight into the number of palms that have to be greased before goods can survive the jouney through to collection, here are all of the itemised costs that were listed in the Tax Invoice from ECandF:
  • International Terminal Fee
  • Security Levy
  • Documentation Fee
  • Cargo Automation Fee
  • Agency Fee
  • Sundries
  • GST / Customs Compile - which in turn was made up of GST and 'Other Charges'

3. Domestic Freight. We elected, again based on a recommendation from our Young based friends, to have Cowra Freight arrange collection of our goods from Mascott and deliver same to their Cowra depot. They were excellent to work with.

Some of our learnings from the overall exercise included:
  • We only had a small amount of goods really (70 kg) and the transport and transaction costs were comparatively high at around one-third of the total expenditure.
  • Aussie Post have a rule restricting the total length of parcels they will handle to 1100 mm. The fibreglass posts we ordered were 1250 mm which meant we could not use this option. Having the goods posted would have been much simpler.
  • When shipping goods (i.e. getting them sent via ship rather than air-frieght) the minimum shipment is always assumed and charged at 1 pallet weighing 1 tonne and comprising 1 cubic metre.
  • Where packages are less than 20 kg discounts apply. In our case we had 3 packages all slightly in excess of 20 kg.
Would we go down the import path again? Most definitely, although we have purchased the energiser for our electonic fencing efforts locally as this is where warranty issues are most important.