Blight the desk builder - can he do it?

By Lucy Skulthorp
Updated January 5 2016 - 6:14pm, first published August 2 2007 - 11:00pm

GRAHAM Blight has taken on arguably one of agriculture’s toughest gigs - building a new wheat export marketing system by March. But he says establishing a new single desk in just a few months isn’t mission impossible.In fact the former president of the National Farmers Federation and NSW Riverina farmer is hopeful of having a new structure developed in a matter of weeks.Mr Blight was appointed as independent chairman of the Wheat Export Marketing Alliance last Friday after weeks of speculation. His job will be to drive the formation of a new wheat entity or demerged AWB International after the Federal Government allowed the wheat industry to keep its single desk, but ruled it had to establish a new entity to manage it.Notably he entered the scene in the same week AWB dramatically changed tact on the way it hoped to restructure the company – a proposal Mr Blight is yet to weigh in on - and the approval of a third licence to export wheat outside the existing desk structure.It’s reported Mr Blight will be paid $10,000 a month in the role – a figure he won’t comment on – and will also be provided additional secretarial support, currently funded by the State farm lobby groups which created WEMA.Mr Blight said he wanted to make it clear he’s not going to be getting “too involved” in the disunity issues which have plagued the wheat industry throughout the Cole inquiry.“Of course it’s of peripheral interest simply because we’ve got to get a unanimous or strong position (on the final entity structure) and that will require the support of the State organisations,” Mr Blight said.“My main task is to try and develop the business proposition and that requires understanding what is possible.“I think I bring to it enough experience to understand the commercial reality of doing the business.“I guess the big question is will we succeed, and there’s no guarantee of that.”Mr Blight wouldn’t comment on the essential services proposal announced by AWB Limited last week until he had a chance to properly examine the model, but said it was good to see the company “not walking away from the process”.He suspects the final outcome for grower services and crop end-selling services will see them delivered on “a competitive basis”.“This is early days for me, and although I may have some ideas about how this can develop I don’t really want to say too much. I’m the chairman, I’m not the dictator.”He said WEMA has to develop a firm position on the type of structure it wants “within weeks”.“I’ve told the group that, because this is a difficult task, and we are talking about building a whole new corporation to handle a $5 billion wheat crop. “It’s not the scoping or financing the business (that’s going to be difficult), it’s putting in place the procedures and the legal requirements which allow it to happen, which is the bigger issue. “In the long run I don’t think money’s the issue.”He believes if WEMA can’t get financial institutions to back a proper structure within the industry it’s because WEMA hasn’t got the right structure. “I believe financial institutions will back the wheat industry when we can demonstrate a sustainable business model.”Despite reports the alliance approached the Grains Research and Development Corporation for $1 million to help develop the new desk, Mr Blight said he had not spoken to GRDC and thinks money should come in from “a mixture of sources”.While closely involved in trade and marketing debates for many years, Mr Blight still believes farmers are entitled to use a single desk when the global marketplace is skewed by farm subsidies.“I believe that there should be a marketing process that effectively deals with a global trading situation that is not fair,” he said.“Farmers have every right to get together to sell their product and use their combined marketing power to do that.“The Americans do it, and the Europeans do it with the continued help of their governments - they jump up and down about the single desk, and yet they’ve got the biggest single desk in the world simply because their governments provide farm and export subsidies.“And while ever the Americans continue to be letterbox farmers, I give scant regard to any of their criticisms.”

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