GET over the fractures and cotton on to the power of unity.
It’s a simple message and one that has been expressed before in the beef industry, but when one of the country’s most successful agribusiness leaders delivered it this morning at the Royal Queensland Show with a liberal dose of colourful anecdotes and eyebrow raising commentary it certainly resonated.
David Foote, managing director of Australian Country Choice, one of the world’s largest vertically integrated beef supply chains and the major supplier to Coles, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Ekka breakfast hosted by the Rural Press Club in Brisbane.
In no uncertain terms, he told the 700 beef and agribusiness leaders, journalists and politicians at the event that Australia’s beef industry did not need visionaries but was deeply void in united leadership.
Political leaders, too, came under his wrath.
They had become gun shy of driving change because in the current climate they needed to be protective of their jobs - it’s a constant “single term outlook”, he said.
“Have we all gone vanilla? Are we all wearing cardigans?” he said.
“Who would have thought rugby league would have thrown up the most notable leaders of our time?”
One thing which clearly drove Mr Foote to raise leadership questions was his experience at a recent industry-hosted event, where he asked the deputy prime minister who he seeks out for sector advice.
“He struggled a bit after he rolled out the fifth private name - there was not one reference to an industry body or peak council,” Mr Foote said.
“In fact, he even mentioned a guy and company that hadn’t been together for 15 years.
“That’s the advice he’s relying on.”
Mr Foote said it was clear ministers were very busy and if industries did not form a relationship with senior policy advisors “it ain’t going to get across the minister’s desk.”
“As an industry, it’s time we worked that out,” he said.
“I asked same question of a former ag minister - he said it doesn’t really matter because he asks for industry consensus.
“So they play with us because we’re not a united voice.
“Disunity is death.”
The right message
ENCOMPASSED in Mr Foote’s message was the idea that beef needs to get itself on the front page for reasons other than disaster and calamity.
Get on with positive promotion and get away from disaster sympathy, he said.
To reinforce his point, he had a very telling little tale.
Consider the perceptions of a 30-year-old bloke living in suburban Brisbane, driving a 1987 Nissan Patrol, three kids at the local primary school, earns $35,000 a year, lives in a four bedroom fibro house on a 450 square metre block.
“He reads in the paper about these poor farmers asking for support,” Mr Foote said.
“His vision is of the farmer with his Landcruiser probably less than two years old, kids at boarding school, living in a large home on thousands of acres which he converts back into 450 square blocks.
“Every time we have a disaster, he is the person we are crying out to for help.”
IF beef doesn’t have a common theme, let alone a common voice, how will it be heard?
That was the concept underpinning David Foote’s Rural Press Club talk this morning.
From Cattle Council to the Red Meat Advisory Council, the National Farmers Federation to Agforce, there were so many peak representative bodies it was “starting to look like a mountain range”, he said.
“Are each of these truly representative of their sector?” he asked.
“Do they have the critical mass, do they carry any weight?
“When they walk up to the door of the local mayor or into Canberra, does the bloke sitting on the other side of the Mahogany desk really have to worry?
“What game changers have those organisations been able to extract?”
If we’re not happy with the answer to those questions, who is to blame?
Mr Foote’s advice is to look close to home.
Take the way those in the industry treat Meat and Livestock Australia, for example.
MLA was “probably the most kicked to death organisation across our sector”, according to Mr Foote.
It has 50,000 members yet the voter turnout at its annual general meeting each year was less than five per cent.
“So less than 5pc want to have a say on the biggest vehicle in town deciding on marketing, research and development in their business,” he said.
“Is everything not really bad enough that we want to contribute?”
On the same page
FROM grass fed versus grain fed, horned against poll and the famed rollout of the objective carcase measurement technology DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) - the battles at play in beef are plentiful.
The D in Dexa should be for duel, Mr Foote said.
“For the last ten months that’s what it has been between processor and producer.
“How do you think that bloke behind Mahogany desk is viewing it when those in the industry are still fighting about the appropriate implementation of a system that is to deliver wonderful things?”
For the record, he does believe DEXA will deliver - to 50 per cent of producers, anyway.
“It will clearly identify the 50pc above the average,” he said.
“I do not know any processor who will be shifting his line to carry the 50pc below, this is, after all, being driven on a value based marketing model.”
So be careful what you wish for and have full understanding of what the outcome will be; given our industry has operated under an averaging system for the past 70 years, he said.
THERE are two other commodities increasing market share against beef - pork and chicken.
There is only one representative body for both these industries which encompasses the whole chain.
So - back to the bloke behind the Mahogany desk - he knows he is talking with someone who represents all.
That, to Mr Foote’s mind, is the key to getting things done.
He pointed to the Chemist Guild of Australia - an association that represents 5500 community pharmacies.
“The two major retailers have been trying to put chemist shops in their supermarkets but are no closer today than they were 20 years ago because a single group is on the case,” he said.
And even Lock the Gate warranted praise in that department.
“They are a disparate group who don’t wash, shave or have jobs by hell they’ve shut down some things that are important to us,” Mr Foote said.
“We celebrated quietly because we don’t want to be on the front page with them but they delivered for us.”
Collective bargaining equals collective threat, he said.
“Who knows the boss of the Chicken Meat Federation or what structure they operate under? “No-one, they are never on the front page.
“They have stocking rates that’d make a feedlot blush, run potential smelly operations in very urban areas but we never hear of them.”
Their industry representation is getting the job done.
“Beef has to recognise the importance, power and strength of the group rather than self,” Mr Foote said.
The bottom line was a fragmented message fails.
And not changing today, not bringing the next generation on and taking their ideas to the forefront is not always a positive, he said.