NATIONAL Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson is calling for increased diversity in a strengthened skills landscape for national farm representation and advocacy leadership – not just gender.
The first female NFF leader has spoken out on the back of Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce’s release today - coinciding with Harmony Day - revealing the official application process for the Coalition’s new $5 million Leadership in Agricultural Industries Fund (LAIF).
The LAIF was unveiled in the Coalition’s $240 million agricultural policy, announced during last year’s federal election campaign, to enhance leadership capacity and capability within Australian agricultural industries.
Applications are set to open on April 5 and close on May 17.
Mr Joyce said the Fund delivered on a Coalition election commitment which recognised the continued importance to the Australian economy of strong leadership support in the agriculture sector.
“A stronger agriculture sector will boost Australia’s productivity, jobs and exports and to drive it we need strong industry leaders to champion issues as well as identify opportunities for their sectors,” he said.
“The fund will ensure agricultural leaders and their organisations are equipped with the skills to fulfil regulatory responsibilities in consulting on use of farmers’ levy funds, supporting biosecurity responses and managing structural adjustment.”
Ms Simson said the NFF was currently developing a specific leadership program that it would submit to the government’s LAIF application process with greater diversity a core focus.
“The NFF will be putting forward an application around advancing leadership in agriculture generally,” she said.
“We have talked about the need for diversity in our industry – not just in agricultural representation but also in agribusiness.
“And by diversity I don’t just mean gender diversity - I mean ethnic diversity and commodity diversity.”
Ms Simson said agriculture was an “extraordinarily” diverse industry comprising all sorts of leanings, beliefs, people and ages.
She said it was important that diversity was reflected in representation at the agricultural leadership table and to achieve that goal, farm leaders - who are largely voluntary - needed to be actively supported on their journey.
“As the lead industry body for agriculture with the capacity to deliver a program across Australia and across industries, the NFF will be putting in an application to the new leadership Fund,” the NSW Liverpool Plains farmer said.
“Unfortunately the way our industry is structured, it means that we do operate in silos and some of the existing leadership programs are just commodity based.
“We need a broader, industry wide approach to leadership in agriculture and the NFF is actually well-positioned to deliver that.”
Ms Simson said the NFF represented farmers across all locations and commodities throughout Australia and “really welcomed” the $5m leadership program.
She said the peak national lobby group wanted to continue to not only seek out good, strong farm leaders but ensure those leaders were properly supported which agriculture “hasn’t done well to date”.
“I think part of that is also around the fact that farm representation is something that we have to pay for separately,” she said.
“We don’t have a levy generally across Australia – South Australia does but most of the other states don’t.
“People belong to farm representative bodies on a voluntary basis and it is hard to find the money sometimes to commit to leadership programs and advancing leadership within our organisations.
“I’m hoping this $5m will be hotly contested by some fantastic leadership programs throughout agriculture - but I would also hope the money is put to good use in places where it can be best and broadest, in its use.”
Mr Joyce said the Fund was a competitive grant process open to Australian national agricultural industry representative bodies.
He said the grants can be used to fund activities such as professional development, training courses, webinars or strategic planning activities to give industry members the skills, knowledge and support they need deliver on the challenging obligations national farm leaders face.
“This once-off funding opportunity should enable peak agricultural representative organisations to develop the training and capacity to boost their elected representatives’ leadership skills long into the future,” he said.
“Information sessions in capital cities have already been held and staff in my department are also happy to discuss the application process with interested people ahead of the grants opening.”