Australian Farmers can supply us (and the world) with so much more than food and fibre

With 21st Century thinking and smart government policy there are many new and exciting opportunities for Australian farmers to thrive in a world of big data, a community screaming out for clean energy options and developing countries with a burning thirst to soak up our knowledge as well as our produce.

A number of our Young Farming Champions work with, share their knowledge and learn from farmers in developing countries. A number of them have taken advantage of the Crawford Fund scholarship support to engage in international research, development and education for the benefit of developing countries and Australia.

Young Farming Champion Sam Coggins has just landed a job with ACIAR and this article by Professor Andrew Campbell CEO of ACIAR is a great opportunity to share the work they do and the exciting opportunities for Sam in his chosen career in the Australian agriculture sector .

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Sam Coggins taking his knowledge and passion for the Australian agriculture sector to the world 

Agricultural aid is in Australian farmers’ interests

Andrew Campbell, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research considers the pragmatic reasons why well-targeted aid, especially in agriculture, is in the long-term best interests of Australian farmers and rural communities.

Why should Australian farmers support overseas aid?

Especially agricultural aid – doesn’t that just give a leg-up to our competitors?

Well, no.

Leaving aside moral arguments that overseas development aid is ‘the right thing to do’ for wealthy nations like Australia, there are also pragmatic reasons why well-targeted aid, especially in agriculture, is in the long-term best interests of Australian farmers and rural communities.

Specific examples of benefits from aid flowing back to Australia described below all stem from the direct experience of ACIAR – the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

ACIAR was established by the Fraser government in 1982, out of a recognition that Australian agricultural, fisheries and forestry science has much to offer developing countries in our region as they seek to feed their people and develop their economies.

ACIAR is an independent statutory authority in the foreign affairs portfolio, reporting directly to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.  I am just the sixth CEO of ACIAR in 36 years.  We have enjoyed remarkable stability over that time, enabling us to build very solid long-term partnerships from east Africa to the Pacific, developing many projects that have delivered benefits back to Australian rural industries and communities.

Last week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop launched our new 10-year strategy.

In many ways ACIAR is similar to Rural R&D Corporations, in that we organise and fund research, but our focus is overseas, taking Australian science to developing countries in the Indo-Pacific region, and we work across livestock, crops, horticulture, fisheries, forestry, land, water and climate.

Australian farmers and rural communities benefit from the work of ACIAR in several ways:

  • At the most basic level, as an exporting country, we do better when the countries in our region can afford to buy our products.  As economies develop and people get richer, they consume more meat, dairy, fruit, processed cereals, sugar, wine and wool, and they demand higher quality food.
  • Australian scientists working on pests and diseases in developing countries can help to manage risks and limit the spread of major problems before they reach Australia.  In doing so, they also get opportunities to work on problems that thankfully don’t (yet) exist in Australia, enabling them to build skills in detection, diagnosis and control of exotic diseases.  This has proven of crucial value for Australia, for example with Panama Disease in bananas, and Newcastle Disease in poultry.
  • ACIAR investment in collaborative breeding programs gives Australian industries access to new varieties.  For example, seven new citrus rootstocks were recently released into the Australian market, developed from disease-resistant and salt-tolerant Chinese cultivars through a collaboration with NSW DPI funded by ACIAR.  Germplasm used by Australian wheat breeders to release high performance varieties to Australian growers draws heavily on material from CIMMYT – the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico – funded by ACIAR and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
  • ACIAR-funded fruit fly research directly helped mango farms in North Queensland, when exports to Japan were withdrawn in 1995 due to fruit fly incursions. The Queensland DPI was able to develop postharvest treatment protocols for Australian mangoes much faster because of their work for ACIAR in Malaysia, resulting in approval to restart exports at least six months sooner than would have been possible otherwise.
  • ACIAR often supports Australian researchers to work with partners in neighbouring countries to tackle a shared challenge.  The strength of our innovation system leads to new technologies being trialled and adopted first here. Research on growing tropical tree crops, such as mango, jackfruit and cocoa, on trellises for greater productivity and cyclone resistance, led by Queensland DAF with support from Horticulture Innovation Australia and ACIAR, is now offering trellising as a potentially transformative technology to Queensland growers. Research to tackle productivity problems associated with plant viruses in sweetpotato crops in PNG, has led to virus therapy techniques and virus-free planting material being adopted as the foundation for a more productive sweetpotato industry in Australia.  Techniques developed by Prof Peter Harrison from Southern Cross University to restore degraded fringing coral reefs in the Philippines (by stocking hatchery-reared coral larvae at the time of larval settlement into enclosures over the reef) are now being trialled on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • ACIAR is an important source of applied research funding for regional universities and state departments of primary industries, with major flow-on benefits for regional centres like Wagga, Armidale, Orange, Lismore, Toowoomba, Gatton, Roseworthy, Mildura, Yanco, Townsville, Hobart, Darwin and Maroochydore.

While I have great admiration for agricultural economists, benefit:cost ratios tell only a fraction of the story of why investing in agricultural aid in our region makes good business sense for Australia.

 Andrew Campbell, CEO, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

All over the world, evidence over the decades since World War 1 has shown that investment in agricultural research delivers great returns, within and between nations.  ACIAR has a fine tradition of measuring and tracking the impact of our investments.  Some projects deliver exceptional benefit to cost ratios.  For example, clonal improvement of eucalypt and acacia plantation genotypes in Vietnam delivered returns of around 80:1, and vaccination of village chickens in east Africa delivered returns of around 60:1.

Perceptions that our aid helps competitors to out-compete our own exporters don’t hold up under closer examination.  Smallholder producers in developing countries rarely compete in the same high-value markets as Australian exporters.  The gap in most instances remains very large, and reducing it somewhat usually creates opportunities for Australian industries.

For example, Indonesia wants to become self-sufficient in beef, and ACIAR is funding the University of New England, CSIRO and the University of Queensland to help lift beef productivity and production in eastern Indonesia in particular.  But beef self-sufficiency for Indonesia remains a very long way down the track.  In the meantime, they will need many breeding cattle from Australia and multiple linkages with the northern beef industry in particular.  Building these links will help Australian exporters and producers.

Mangos are another example.  Market studies around the Asia-Pacific, led by Griffith University in collaboration with the Australian Mango Industry Association, with input from state and territory DPIs and support from ACIAR, have shown how mango markets are differentiated by seasonal time slots and price points, local market preferences and varietal characteristics.  Innovations in pest and disease management, flower induction and post-harvest handling can bring benefits to the mango industry in Australia and in partner countries.

Overall, over the last 36 years, using very conservative assumptions and only counting the benefits that can be quantified and costed, the ACIAR portfolio has delivered benefits at least five times greater than our total expenditure.  Many benefits from more recent projects are yet to be fully realised.

While I have great admiration for agricultural economists, benefit:cost ratios tell only a fraction of the story of why investing in agricultural aid in our region makes good business sense for Australia.

Being a trusted science partner across our region, helping neighbouring countries to tackle some of their most pressing problems using Australian know-how, is a very tangible, practical demonstration of our commitment to regional security, prosperity and sustainability.  In doing so, we learn a lot and we develop new capabilities that help our own industries, and in the long term we create more and better market opportunities for Australian farmers.

In short, the 2.5% of the Australian overseas aid budget managed by ACIAR delivers terrific value for Australian farmers, rural industries and rural communities.

Andrew Campbell is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Early adopter farmers are agriculture’s biggest threat

This year as part of The Archibull Prize students in schools across NSW and QLD are studying and reflecting on the biggest challenges facing agriculture in this country.

We have told the teachers and students those challenges are:

  • Climate Change
  • Declining natural resources
  • Food and Fashion Waste
  • Biosecurity

We have left out the most immediate challenge and the most important because the program itself by default addresses this

That problem is consumers are increasingly concerned about the way their food and fibre is produced

Surveys continually back up the following

Consumers want  Safe, affordable and healthy food

Consumers are concerned about

1. environment

2. animal welfare

3. chemicals in food

4. Farmers ability to make a living

I have dedicated the last ten years and the next 20 years of my life to showing consumers that they can have faith in the way food and fibre is produced in this country

I am lucky enough to work with a wonderful team of supporting partners and advocates helping me do this including agriculture’s rising stars

The biggest barrier to achieving major gains in building trust with consumers is our farmers themselves. There is a culture in agriculture that values quiet achievers and frowns upon being proud and loud

Too often I hear those early adopter quiet achievers say that the farmers talking in the media do not represent the majority and are not walking the talk whilst they are at home doing what they do best and don’t need to share it.

Let me tell you early adopter quiet achievers. You are the biggest threat to agriculture in this country and I put it to most of you that like me ten years ago you are very proud of what you do and would be delighted to talk about it if you had the confidence and skill sets to do so.

I have spent the last ten years building my confidence and skills sets and now help others by sharing my journey and providing them with the same technical experts that I was lucky enough to have access to.

Let me share with you what I believe the problem is.

You can break farmers up into the following demographics

  1. Innovators
  2. Early adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

Interestingly enough you can break consumers up into the same demographics. Looking at mainstream technology – love this graph but can’t understand why it wasn’t the girls who were the innovators. See postscript

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In agriculture the early adopters get their information from the experts and other farmers follow by having conversations with and witnessing the successes of the early adopters. We have all heard the stats –  9 out 10 farmers learn from other farmers.

Agriculture’s big problem is early adopter consumers have great difficulty accessing agricultural experts or early adopter farmers prepared to share their journey so they get their information from the internet. In a lot of cases that’s a very scary thought. Dissemination of information in the community occurs in just the same way as it does in the farming community. Early adopters (or thought leaders) are highly respected by their peers and listen to what they say.

So I rest my case. Like it or not Early Adopter Farmers is time to come out from behind the bushel and it you were like me and want to build your confidence and skills sets –  lobby the organisations you pay levies to for the access to technical experts to help you Because in reality this is the only way you can save your fellow farmers from extinction.

Self driven extinction by our lack of across the board acknowledgment that the consumer is King and Queen and without their support we are wasting our time and money and our physical and emotional energy

Postscript.

I just love twitter my question as to why girls weren’t the innovators re the iPhone the brains trust on Twitter tells me and you will love this-  its because boys watch porn online that’s why they are innovators. Bit confused but amused

Now there is a research topic for the scientists – Online porn the driver of innovation

Agriculture – an endangered species

MPP-hand-threat-spec-web620Just like this little cutie agriculture in this country is under threat and this can potentially have huge ramifications for access to safe, affordable, nutritious food for Australian families  

If we are going to ensure food security in this country agriculture has to be a partnership between farmers and the community

So lets investigate the Australian communities relationship with food ( please assume when I write the word food, I am referring to the two f’s-  food and fibre)

Nobody likes to be put into a box and labelled. However sometimes it’s very useful to help you make a point so please forgive me for putting Australian consumers of food  into 4 boxes.

In one box you have the million people in Australia who are labelled Food Insecure and that means 1 million people in Australia go to bed hungry every night. Yes you read that right.  5% of the people in our wonderful country go to bed hungry every night. Please take the time to read about it here

Then there is the extremely larger box that holds the people who buy their food in the main based on Cost, Convenience and Quality (CC&Q) with a huge focus on cost and convenience

Then there is a small but growing box that I am going to label the people who ‘care’. I am going to call them this because they are the group that will potentially make purchases and are prepared to pay a premium for food grown in a way that meets their values. This group of consumers are interested in the ‘how and why’ of growing food and fibre, and also environmental values, sustainability, appropriate animal care, safety, nutrition, affordability and so on.

Values are an emotion. They in the main are not measurable and everyone of us has different values and how they prioritise them so the descriptors of the word “care’ can be very diverse.

At the other end there is a little group I am going to label “Extreme” for the want of a better word. What I mean here is that this group of people have very very strong views about what the word “care’ means and these people sometimes join organisations to lobby policy and decision makers to regulate and legislate industries to align with their values

For the people who sell food direct to consumers in this country like “Colesworth” for the ‘Food Insecure’ there are initiatives like Foodbank and  Second Bite they can donate food to. Food for example that is going out of date or does not meet the quality expectations of the C,C&Q group

The C,C&Q  are easy to satisfy. Sell food at rock bottom prices and build beautiful mega stores in areas that are within easy reach.  The C,C&Q group scare the living daylights out of ‘Colesworth” and their ability to meet shareholder expectations. Selling food at rock bottom prices from stores that cost you a motza is a no-win race to the bottom for profit margins.

So the group that “Colesworth’ is extremely interested in is the people who “care’.  The group that may pay more if you can meet or exceed their values expectations and help them feel good about their food choices. Colesworth want to grow this group. What is extremely disappointing is Coles in particular have chosen fear based marketing campaigns to grow their market share. I say to you Coles – disgraceful conduct.

Our good farmers also want to grow this group and I believe for all the right reasons. We want to grow this group by having courageous and open and transparent conversations with them.

To do this we have to be prepared to ‘open the door’ to our farms and bring consumers on our journey with us and that means not only showing them the ‘how’ – paddock to plate or field to fibre process but also the  ‘why’ of growing food and fibre,

We want to show them they can trust us to farm without feeling the need to ask policy and decision makers to impose overly budensome regualations on our food and fibre industries. Unlike “Colesworth’ farmers had want to allay consumer fears and reduce stress levels

Today our good farmers are now reconnecting with the people who buy their food and fibre. Listening to them and waking up every morning committed to meeting or exceeding their customers’ expectations

It is imperative that we take consumers on our journey with us or we run the risk of consumers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations like expecting farmers to wake up every day to produce food at rock bottom prices for nothing. Our farmers have families too and just like everybody else their first priority is to feed and clothe their families.

So the key for farmers is to work with the community to get that very necessary balance. Today more than ever agriculture is a partnership between farmers and the community.

This year the theme for the Archibull Prize will be “Agriculture* – an endangered species” (ht SK) and students and teachers will investigate the many challenges that farmers face and how we build community partnerships to ensure Agriculture can make the most of many opportunities that are on offer and gets off the endangered species list permanently.

Earth Hour 2015 will celebrate Australian farmers and the challenges they face under increasing conditions of extreme climate variability 

That the Food Insecure group gets smaller and smaller and that the people who care group gets larger and larger not because they worry about how food and fibre is produced but because they trust farmers and have the time to put their energies into causes like making sure all Australians have full stomachs every night, have clothes to wear and have a roof over their heads

I want to live in an Australia where we all care about people first. I look forward to that day and I am very proud that the Archibull Prize is helping to grow and support that vision.

Kildare Catholic College

In 2014 the Reserve Grand Champion Archibull Prize award winner from Kildare Catholic College exemplified their community – Wagga Wagga

Footnotes

  1. * Agriculture – the industry that provides us with our most basic of needs. The industry that feeds us, clothes us and puts a roof over our heads
  2. Please note this post is a work in progress. It has been updated following excellent feedback from a number of people since it was first posted it.
  3. Rider – I admit the only thing I look at when I buy eggs is how crushproof I believe the box they come in is.
  4. HT – Hat tip to SK – a lovely lady I met at the NSW Department of Secondary Education yesterday. I shared my vision with her for what I wanted to the Archibull Prize to investigate this year and we work-shopped the theme and I loved her idea