AWB is facing something rather akin to a strike by West Australian farmers – a drought-induced action that could threaten the wheat export monopoly more than anything Terrence Cole might eventually have to say.

And there’s a little matter of threatened legal action by WA’s CBH when its export application is inevitably blackballed by AWB, as reported by the The West Australian:

The move by CBH has split farmers and the Liberal and National parties amid warnings it could put AWB at financial risk and herald the end of the existing single-desk system.

CBH declined yesterday to detail its plans if AWB rejects its application. But they are expected to include pursuing legal action around whether growers should be compelled to deliver to a company and an export pool under stress.

It is also likely to resubmit the application and step up calls on Prime Minister John Howard to end AWB’s veto over exports by others.

How worried is AWB about getting access to WA wheat to meet its long-term contracts and expensive hedge commitments? Worried enough to slash its often-criticised charges. As the Smage headlines it, AWB pleads for farmers’ wheat:

THE monopoly wheat exporter AWB is about to make a desperate attempt to win back farmers’ support by revealing it has slashed its controversial base fee by nearly half to between $35 million and $40 million.

In another move to lift its return for the current harvest, the company will also surrender half the bonus it might have claimed for managing the export pool.

It is believed it will announce the changes – which could add $5 a tonne or more to its estimated pool return – this week.

It will be hoping they will be enough to stop a threatened mutiny by growers this harvest because of its comparatively low forecast return and unprecedented fears about the security of its pools amid the fallout from the Iraqi kickbacks scandal.

With Australia looking to import grain for the first time in three years and Wilson Tuckey threatening a private members’ bill to end the AWB veto, life is only getting harder for the monopolist.

Which leaves one wondering how much further the National Party is prepared to go to try to help its mates – and whether the Liberals will let it.