THE push for non-levied horticulture industries to receive matched commonwealth research funding was given an almighty shove at this week's Protected Cropping Australia Conference in Adelaide.
PCA chairman Robert Hayes didn't hold back in his opening address, attacking Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) over funding arrangements, even accusing it of misappropriating funds.
But the following speaker, assistant minister for agriculture, Senator Anne Ruston, defended HIA saying the organisation wasn't to blame and it was in fact a federal government matter.
Mr Hayes welcomed the HIA delegates present before launching into a pointed speech with stinging remarks over the organisation's approach to non-levied industries.
"This is the second PCA conference whereby HIA's board policy excludes voluntary contributions from across commodity entities such as the PCA from funding support," he said.
"Just a few months ago, here in this venue, hundreds of vegetable growers were subsidised to attend the PMA Horticulture Convention (Hort Connections).
"Here today, there is not one dollar of R&D levy or matching commonwealth funding yet many protected cropping growers pay levy on their produce.
"More significantly, this HIA policy applies to exclude voluntary contribution projects originating from non-levied commodity and related supply chain entities from attracting R&D matching funding from the commonwealth."
He said non-levy horticulture industries contributed about 12 per cent of the gross value of the production of horticulture in the 2014-15 period.
"In effect, it's my view that HIA is misappropriating that 12pc without matching grants from the commonwealth and spending it on Pool 2 projects that it considers to be in the broader interest of horticulture," Mr Hayes said.
"In so doing, it simultaneously denies individual or groups within unlevied industries access to matching R&D grants."
Mr Hayes said the policy has a severe impact on small or emerging crops but also affects one of the largest horticulture commodities by value, table tomatoes, worth more than $500 million in farmgate annually.
"To this end, the PCA calls upon HIA to create a new investment Pool 3 to enable equitable access to match commonwealth contribution towards essential and urgently needed R&D," he said.
"HIA's current approach is discriminatory and will continue to divide horticulture. It must change immediately."
However, Mr Hayes commended HIA for investing in a project looking at delivering an Australian Standard for and harmonising horticulture structures.
He then invited a visibly taken aback assistant minister for agriculture, Senator Anne Ruston, to officially open the conference.
Ms Ruston immediately took the opportunity to respond to Mr Hayes' remarks.
She apologised for not being aware of the situation but put it back onto Mr Hayes to have a conversation that was "well overdue" about industry investment.
"You can't blame HIA - you have to blame the federal government who has put in a series of rules regarding the statutory funding agreements that we have with HIA," Ms Ruston said.
The reality is, sometimes industry has to give government a damn good whack because we do do some really silly things sometimes...
"I'm actually a great hater of levies. I always get myself into trouble for this because I largely think it's been the cause of the downfall in industry advocacy because many people out there in the industries that have statutory, compulsory industry levies believe that they have paid their dues to their industry for all the things that they used to get before levies but the one fundamental thing that's missing from levies, is that levies don't pay for advocacy.
"The reality is, sometimes industry has to give government a damn good whack because we do do some really silly things sometimes, not necessarily out of spite or intention but sometimes because we simply don't know as well as you know what the outcomes of our actions are."
Ms Ruston and Mr Hayes met later for further discussion what was described as a beneficial discussion regarding the funding arrangements.
She described the protected cropping industry as clever, efficient and resilient.
"My view is that it's not whether you've got a levy on or whether you haven't got a levy on, my view is that if we are going to get the best investment of Australian tax payers' dollars and the best outcomes for those investments, then that's what we should be doing with Australian tax payers' money," Ms Ruston said.
The biennial conference brought together protected cropping experts from around Australia and the world.
The biosecurity vigilance within the industry was felt firsthand with several of the scheduled farm tours cancelling due to the risk of spreading tomato potato psyllid which was discovered in Western Australia in February.