Talking leadership

Tomorrow I am going to the doctor. What’s so unusual about that is that I am actually going

I am extremely disappointed (devastated might be a better word) that I am not free to attend the Australian Farm Institute’s launch of their research report tomorrow in Canberra

Opportunities to improve the effectiveness of Australian farmers advocacy groups – a comparative approach’

Are advocacy groups necessary? (the rationale for collective advocacy); Getting inspired: International and national case studies of advocacy groups; What do Australian farmers really think of agricultural advocacy groups?;

Workshop: Developing a preferred model for agricultural advocacy in Australia

So what’s all this got to do with going to the doctor? A lot actually

There has been a lot of talk about leadership (or lack of) in agriculture for as long as I can remember.

Whether leaders are born or made?

Is the advocacy model flawed?

The Smartest person in the room

Lots and lots of talk and I haven’t seen much change over the last 20 years. So when I was asked last year to be on the NSW Farmers Dairy Committee I was very reticent. I was reticent because I don’t necessarily believe leaders are born and I didn’t feel I had the required skills sets

I was eventually convinced that it wouldn’t involve any more time and that it might help fast track some of the initiatives that I was trying to achieve.

I also felt a bit guilty and that I had a responsibility to give it a go and maybe, just maybe with the right team around me (all those people who had the skill sets I didn’t) I could really help make a difference.

More time. You are joking. 24/7 just took on a whole new meaning.

Face to face meetings are twice a year. The first meeting is taken up with identifying the priorities of your industry, your committee members’ area of expertise and where each person can be most effective and then developing the action plan.

Then putting it all into action seriously becomes 365 days plus

This is because you find most of the priority issues have been around for a long time and if your committee is going to be the one to get action you have to do a lot of backgrounding to understand the politics, the barriers, the personalities (and trust me its normally the personalities) as to why your committee may just have what it takes to surmount what all the committees before you couldn’t

State level representation often means federal representation and that means you are dealing with people all over the country and Australia is a big place. So that of course means teleconferences. Endless teleconferences. Urgent teleconferences. Workshops, summits, industry briefings, industry breakfasts, briefing notes and yes cancelled doctor’s appointments.

So I have found in the majority of cases there are lot of well-meaning people who put their hands up to take on these roles who just like me are floundering around in the dark, frustrated they are putting in all this time getting no-where and putting the rest of their life on hold

Leaders may be born, so might doctors but they don’t give you a license to operate until you have knowledge and the skill sets and the mentors and the support networks in place so you can be the very best doctor you can be physically and emotionally

The world is complex, agriculture is complex and leadership requires many things and we have to do a lot more than talk about it

As always no matter how good the concept it’s the people who make it work

Lets not forget the world is run by those who turn up. How do we make sure the right people are in the room. The people with all the skills sets required to make an effective team

For me we don’t have near enough people talking about how we can best help and support our people who put their hands up.

I look forward to reading the Australian Farm Institute’s report. I look forward to talking to some of the people I know who are going

Mick Keogh and his team are definitely world class leaders in their space. Let’s hope we take on board the learnings and the insights and so we can get on with the doing

10 reasons why the world should buy Australian produce

Grown in Your own backyard

Grown in your own backyard 

Today’s blog is inspired by this article in the Australian Farm Journal by Mick Keogh.

Promoting Australian farmers and the farming lifestyle to Australian consumers has undoubtedly resulted in some benefits for the industry, but unfortunately these are likely to be limited, and short lived. Promoting Australian farm produce to Australian and international consumers, and giving them sound reasons to seek out and buy those products, has the potential to result in long-term benefits. In domestic markets, it has the potential to create a price premium and also to pressure major retailers to preference Australian produce. In international markets, it has the potential to ensure Australia secures a strategically important foothold in the quality end of booming Asian consumer markets.

Neither of these will occur unless the Australian agriculture sector focuses on promoting the benefits of its produce, rather than merits of its farmers.

As Mick says Australian farmers have a high trust level as indicated by this yearly survey Reader’s Digest Trust Poll 2012 Professions (interestingly enough farmers have dropped three places from 2011 survey).

Surveys by Australian supermarkets routinely show Australians want to buy Australian produce

Buy Australian

According to the supermarket that undertook this study

Australian consumers are amongst the most passionate in the world when it comes to supporting local producers with almost 70 per cent placing a ‘high’ or ‘very high’ level of importance on choosing products made in their own country. 

What they didn’t say is if this patriotism translates into sales. According to the Food and Grocery Council surveys it doesn’t but is that because manufacturers and supermarkets don’t make easy for consumers to find Australian made

Yet as Mick points out

Consumers cannot easily select Australian grown produce because of Australia’s labelling laws, which do not require packaging to provide clear information about where the product was grown. Australian supermarket aisles are stacked full of products labelled ‘Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients’, which surveys reveal lead consumers to believe they are purchasing Australian grown products. This is not the case, as it is often only the packaging and some minor processing steps that are carried out in Australia, with the main ingredients being imported.

Australian Made Logo Pix

If you click on the photo – you can see the text clearly

Mick goes on to say

Curiously, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) does not seem to believe such labels are misleading, yet has recently heavily criticised proposed poultry industry labelling standards for free-range eggs because they ‘may mislead consumers’!

It is a hot topic and not everyone agrees with the ACCC as this article shows. What do you think

Leaving aside the fact that consumers cannot easily identify imported products, the critical issue is whether consumers have been provided with reasons they should seek out and potentially pay more for Australian grown products. Unfortunately, this is generally not the case, meaning that there is an implicit assumption that some sort of nationalistic loyalty will come to the fore in the case of Australian consumers, and the Australian label (where it is present) will be sufficient to attract consumers overseas. This is equivalent to Australian car manufacturers relying on Australian consumers to buy Australian-made cars simply because they are made here, irrespective of their value, performance or appearance.

There are many reasons Australian and overseas consumers should actively seek out and purchase Australian grown products, as listed below. Unfortunately, these are not promoted to consumers in any meaningful way, which means consumers are not given reasons they should select ‘Brand Australia’.

This is a major deficiency for Australian agriculture in both domestic and international markets, and especially if the sector is serious about capturing the new middle-class consumer markets that are rapidly emerging in Asia. These consumers need to be given reasons to seek out Australian products. Safety and quality are obviously paramount, as the response to recent milk substitution issues in China has highlighted, and Australian produce has a very good track record in this regard. Unfortunately, few consumers are aware of this because there is no concerted effort to explain and promote it.

Whilst Australian farmers feel undervalued and lobby their industry bodies for image campaigns we must acknowledge it is up to us (farmers) to be the image we want our customers to see .

Lets let industry get on with their role and promote Australian grown. We (farmers) can do an awesome job of this too. Lets be loud and proud and shout it from the rooftops

What are we going to shout

This is what we are going to shout

Ten great reasons consumers should actively choose Australian grown food and fibre products (as per Australian Farm Institute )

1. High quality
Australian agricultural products are regarded as being of the highest quality by fussy consumers in places like Japan, Korea, Singapore, the US and the EU. Australia is one of the few nations that has consistently exported agricultural products to all these nations for many years, and the high quality of Australian produce has helped to retain access to these markets.

2. Safety
Australian agricultural products have a very high level of safety for consumers, being free of disease and chemical and biological contaminants. This is regularly highlighted by the results of the National Agricultural Residue Survey and the National Antibiotic Monitoring Program. The fact that only Australia maintained access to both the Japanese and Korean beef markets during the entire period of the Mad Cow Disease incident is just one example of the high levels of biosecurity associated with Australian agricultural products.

3. Traceability
Australia has the most advanced national livestock identification system (NLIS) of any nation on earth – a fact that is readily acknowledged by competitor nations such as the US and Brazil. This provides Australia with an unmatched ability to ensure the integrity and safety of meat and other products. Similarly, advanced logistics and supply chains used in the grains, horticulture, sugar and wine industries ensure the integrity of Australian products.

4. Cost to consumers
Australian agriculture operates with the lowest levels of taxpayer support of any agriculture sector in the world, according to annual surveys carried out by the OECD. This means Australian taxpayers do not pay any hidden or extra costs for Australian agricultural products, unlike consumers in most developed nations whose taxes subsidise farmer incomes.

5. Low and declining greenhouse emissions
According to the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Australian agriculture is the only sector of the economy to have reduced greenhouse emissions over the last two decades. Were it not for the 30% reduction in emissions from the agriculture sector over this period, Australia would have exceeded its Kyoto Protocol national emission target by a considerable margin, and taxpayers could have experienced a considerable cost if Australia decided to purchase international carbon credits to offset the additional emissions.

6. Fair treatment of workers
Australia has the fourth highest wages in the world, and some of the highest standards of workplace health and safety enforced by regulation. Even in cases where overseas labour is used, these workers enjoy the same award rates, and health and welfare benefits of Australians. This is in stark contrast to the agriculture sectors of many overseas nations, which rely on low-paid immigrant labour, or have much lower wage and safety standards than Australia.

7. Environmentally-friendly
Australian agricultural businesses operate under some of the strictest environmental controls in the world. Australia’s most recent ‘State of the Environment’ report noted the substantial improvements that have been made to land management in Australia, with the adoption of conservation tillage practices higher in Australia that in any other nation. A recent ABARES report has detailed the very high level of engagement of Australian farmers in biodiversity conservation, and Australian water management policies are acknowledged as world leading by international agencies such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Australian farmers utilise much lower rates of chemical and fertiliser use than farmers in virtually any developed or developing nation, and are rapidly adopting precision agriculture technologies to make artificial input use even more efficient.

8. Supporting Australia’s regions
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian agriculture sector is a much bigger direct employer of people than the mining sector, and has been and remains the main source of employment in many Australian regions, bringing important income and helping to maintain services and infrastructure in these regions. Purchasing Australian agricultural products directly results in the creation of Australian jobs.

9. High animal welfare standards
Australian farm animal welfare standards are some of the highest in the world, with many practices and production systems banned in Australia that are still utilised in overseas locations that export products (such as pigmeats) to Australia. Australia is also the only nation in the world that has major programs aimed at improving animal welfare standards in markets that are destinations for Australian livestock exports. Purchasing Australian livestock products is the best way to ensure high standards of animal welfare.

10. Supporting family farming
Australian agriculture overwhelmingly consists of family farming businesses, a contrast to many overseas locations where large-scale factory farming is carried out in intensive production systems that use very high levels of inputs and create significant waste and pollution problems. Purchasing Australian farm products directly supports Australian farming families.

Love this pix from the article

Support Aussie Farmers

Time to get our act together and tell it like it is OZ farmers

Today’s blog post is in the main a refection on this article by Mick Keogh (reprinted below) from the Australian Farm Institute “Australian Food is probably better and cheaper than US Food but Australian farmers just don’t tell anybody”

As part of the Archibull Prize we undertake entry and exit surveys to get an understanding of what young Australians today think about agriculture and farmers 

As part of the survey we ask the students if they think food in this country is too expensive. We use content like this post to raise awareness and then ask the question again in the exit survey

As you can see from these graphs (entry survey on top left and the question do you think food in this country is too expensive is in blue) we are cutting through slowly but surely.

Slowly we believe is because the misconception that food in this country is too expensive is not rebutted by farmers and promoted by individuals with an agenda that says food at rock bottom prices ( and to hell with the consequences to farmers, their livestock and the environment) is a birth rite in this country  .   


Food as a percentage of income in Australia is 10% according to

Food for 9B OZ 

  In the US on the other hand food as a percentage of income according to the same source is 6.4%

Food for 9B US

Mick Keogh in this article challenges the accuracy of the US stats

While travelling through the USA and talking to both farmers and agricultural policymakers, it is not uncommon to hear the claim being made that US farmers produce the cheapest and the best food in the world, and for that reason US consumers should be grateful, and the US government should maintain current farm support policies. Given the unfailing generosity and courtesy of people involved in US agriculture it would be rude to challenge that assertion, but it does raise the question of whether such claims are valid. 

A careful comparison of US and Australian food prices would be a major task, and no doubt the comparison would vary depending on seasons and relative abundance of different products in different locations. However, a quick and dirty (and statistically invalid) comparison reveals an interesting result. 

Using the online prices advertised by one major Australian retailer for a select basket of basic grocery items and comparing those with the prices charged in-store for (as near as possible) identical items in a major US grocery retail outlet, and including adjustments for sales tax (not included in US grocery shelf prices) and relative exchange rates, the following graph displays the differences in prices per standard unit (Kg, Litre, dozen, standard weight loaf) in percentage terms. 

Grocery prices

Meat items were generally cheaper in Australia, fruit was generally cheaper in the US (although that varies by location), vegetables were mixed, and milk and home-brand white bread was markedly cheaper in Australia.

For the full ‘basket’ of items, assuming a consumer purchased one unit (Kg, Litre, dozen, loaf) of each item, the total cost in Australia was 14% less than the cost for the US consumer.

As noted, this is not in any way a statistically valid comparison, but as a quick snapshot it seems to indicate that food prices in Australia may in fact be marginally cheaper than those in the USA. And when it comes to quality of fresh produce, first impressions are that the quality of trim, packaging and products are generally better in Australia than the product on offer in the USA. This applies in particular to dairy and meat products (and to coffee, which is absolutely atrocious in the US!).

One of the major differences observed between farmers in the two nations is that Australian farmers are generally more reticent about proclaiming how good they are at what they do, and seem less willing to make claims about how cheap and good food is in Australia, compared to other nations. 

Perhaps its time Australian farmers and the agriculture sector started to more actively promote the benefits they provide for Australian consumers, and the advantages more generally for consumers who buy Australian farm products.

Another great article by Mick on how we could do promotion better can be found here