FUTURE Farmers Network (FFN) Chair Dan Korff believes farmers young and old need to present a more cohesive message about their industry to our political leaders, to maximise the industry’s potential.
His group is also getting on the front foot and putting words into action by applying for funding to run a new national mentoring program, as part of the government’s new and hotly contested $5 million leadership in agriculture fund.
Here, he answers questions about the hot button issues facing young farmers while providing some of his background and the FFN’s role in the national agricultural landscape.
What’s something that frustrates you or could be easily changed but make a big difference, to the way agriculture represents itself to Canberra?
“Communication is a very broad topic but if we had a cohesive way of going about it and not shooting each other in the foot, it would make a big difference. What’s frustrating to me is when people just react to issues, purely for their own interests, and don’t consider the bigger picture first. Agriculture is underpinned by strong individual businesses but we’ve also got a whole industry that we need to represent so it’s not just about me or you or any one individual, on any one day, if things go wrong. We need to have greater appreciation of each other’s positions and we also need to pick our battles and be smart about how we communicate and not fly off the handle. We need to try and keep emotion out of it which is not easy but if we do that right, when the pressure’s on, it can make all the difference to the end result. It’s also important in any organisation that, if you’re not going to be a leader, to be supportive of the people in front of you. Too often we see people get burnt out and decide to just quit and go back to just doing their own thing which is a big loss, not just for young farmers but for all age groups.”
What’s your background?
“I’m off a small block up at Coonabarabran in north-central NSW. My history is in the stud sheep industry mainly managing farms up until about two years ago when I started working as a livestock consultant for Meridian Agriculture based out at Hay, working in the Riverina region and out to Western Victoria. The areas of focus in my professional role are; breeding program design and genetics; a little bit of succession planning; and project management for industry bodies. I’ve also worked with Twynam Pastoral Company and have a Bachelor of Agricultural Management from Marcus Oldham College, Geelong. The FFN is also a member of the NFF and we have a representative on the NFF members council Rebecca Gowen and I sit on the drought taskforce committee and the animal health and welfare taskforce.”
How did you get involved with the FFN?
“I knew a few people who were involved in the FFN and had been a long-term member and was then approached in 2012 to join the board and was voted in at the next AGM. In November this year, I’ll have been Chair for two years”
What motivated you to take on such an important industry leadership role?
“I’ve always been passionate about supporting and encouraging young people in agriculture and have been fortunate throughout my career to have some really good mentors support me at work who helped me to get where I was going. I wanted to give back and pass on some of that experience to others, and to help and encourage other people to do the same through the FFN.”
What’s the toughest part of your role as FFN Chair?
“Securing and managing partners and funding – which enables us to do what we want to do and are able to do. However at an operational level we have a really good Executive Officer - Toby Locke who grew up on a beef and lamb property near Walcha. His role helps to alleviate some of the day to day work-load pressure but another challenging part of the President’s role is getting member feedback to implement strategic planning about where we want the organisation to go and then putting it into operation.”
What’s top of the FFN agenda?
“One of our primary aims is giving our members access to bursaries for practical training opportunities they’d like to pursue but we’re also seeing a lot of interest in members wanting support for financial literacy and business education opportunities. We’re working with two of our partners, Westpac and Bayer Crop Science to roll out some workshops over the next six to 12-months on financial literacy and business planning, to strengthen the non-production aspects of how young farmers run their business. Although, there’s no real age limit, and anyone can come along if they want to learn, because we’re targeting anyone who wants to upskill themselves.”
What else does the FFN do?
“We run a couple of our own events, notably the Youth Ag Council which involves the heads of other youth organisations coming together and collaborating. The next one will probably happen next year, in Canberra. We also run a young beef producers forum at Roma in Queensland each year which is growing in popularity and because of that we’re going to add a sheep producers’ component to the event because a lot of sheep are now moving back into that part of the world. We’re also looking in the next 12-months to hold a young sheep producers forum equivalent, somewhere in NSW, partnering with the Sheepmeat Council of Australia. We also partner with other events like the GrainGrowers Innovation Generation conference and the Global Youth Summit.”
What are young farmers saying about federal politics and the way its treating agriculture?
“There’s good level of enthusiasm and optimism out there, and Barnaby Joyce the agriculture minister has put some good initiatives in place, like the leadership in agriculture fund which we’re excited about. We’re about to go out with a member survey in a fortnight, which will also help to gauge some of the views on federal politics or other important topics.”
How do you feel about having Barnaby Joyce as the sector’s federal minister?
“It’s great to have someone with the type of passion and dedication like Barnaby Joyce has, as the Agriculture Minister but also he’s the Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader and when Malcolm Turnbull is out of the country’s he’s the Acting Prime Minister. Barnaby has done some great things for agriculture like helping to open up new export markets but he also has a rare skill of being able to communicate agriculture to the broader public and help explain to them what farmers do and some of the often complex challenges we face like drought or commodity pricing. One of the things I like most about Barnaby Joyce is that he stands up for farmers and takes positive action and does what he says he’s going to do on most things.”
Is Canberra getting it right for our farmers?
“Very broadly our politicians seem to getting a lot better at agriculture and understanding our needs but there’s also a constant challenge for agriculture to be clear with what it wants from politics too. I certainly feel there’s movement in some priority areas that will have positive impacts for all farmers in the future but in particular for young farmers by enabling better market access or access to capital models. There’s also an improved culture of supporting our farmers and that sort of thing. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this leadership fund.”
What is the FFN application for the leadership fund?
“We have applied for about $400,000 over the three years of the fund to run a modern, relevant mentoring type program that would start with a three or four day summit in Canberra with 30 to 40 people representing various commodity sectors. Small groups of them would be paired up with a mentor for 12-14 months, with some structure around that. They would then come together for another summit at which they would wind-up and a new intake of about 40 people would start their program with their mentors. So two intakes of about 40 people really looking at developing networks linking the young people with older wiser heads with experience in the areas of expertise that the program participants are working on to build their confidence and experience and generate some really tangible leadership outcomes in the end. For example, a group of young producers could be paired with a minister or someone working in farm policy could be paired with a producer mentor to increase their knowledge of the issues. I really see it as being about crossing those barriers where there’s poor knowledge or lack of communication and understanding of the practical aspects of the agricultural industry, where that lack of knowledge could really cause damage and have unintended consequences.”
What would you like to see come out of your leadership program?
“I’d like to see a really strong cohort of leaders developed who can communicate clearly to politicians, industry bodies and the general public about what they do and how and why they do it and to help instigate a bit of culture change about being proactive in how we talk about our industry and getting on the front foot.”
What is your view about the future of agriculture?
“At the FFN, we certainly believe Australian agriculture has a lot to look forward to and is worthy of support, hence our involvement. Not every commodity is kicking goals all at the one time but there’s a real genuine passion out there in people like us who will be involved in agriculture for a long time, if not a life-time. At a grass roots level, there’s increasing understanding around production efficiencies and the type of gains we can make in a business sense as well as on-farm practices. When we look at the global perspective of where Australia sits, we’re a small player but there’s huge opportunity in the branding of Australian agricultural products, now and in the future. We may not feed the entire world but if we can get a good price for what we do, making a quality product, I’m confident the market will be there for the future. I’m not an expert but if you look at the major players in the global economy, the rising trend of affluence in some markets, particularly in Asia, and I’m a wool person, that’s a big target for us. And that global outlook, in terms of marketing and Australia’s position, produces a high quality outlook for farmers.”