AGIBUSINESS Australia is aiming to dust-off, re-schedule and revitalise the National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF) shelved Blueprint for Australian Agriculture.
The ambitious strategic document was released by former federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig in February 2013 to act as a guiding roadmap for the farm sector’s future, outlining goals out to the year 2020, in seven core priority policy areas.
Its design was boosted by $150,000 from the previous Labor government with half of it going towards assisting the NFF to consult views of farming communities and the other half for in-kind support from the Department, including technical backing by ABARES.
Agribusiness Australia CEO Tim Burrow said the Blueprint was an industry initiative, led by NFF, which did a “fantastic job” of producing a document outlining specific 2020 goals, linked to the seven core themes.
But asked why the plan was shelved after being released almost five years ago, Mr Burrow said it was “just human nature”.
“We get so busy doing other stuff and forgot that we actually went away and worked out a plan on where we wanted to be in 2020, with objective goals,” he said.”
But he said any such strategic plan was only as good as the review associated with it and measuring progress towards its central goals.
“We’d like to extend and update the Blueprint with a new timeline out to 2022,” he said.
“We want to put together a team to take it another two or three years out from 2020, so we can judge ourselves against the objectives that were set by industry in 2013, and how we’re progressing against those targets.
“We’d like to have it done by the end of the first quarter of next year and it’s a much simpler task now because the work has already been done previously, led by the NFF.”
Mr Burrow said the NFF’s vision was to see the Australian agricultural sector reach $100 billion in value by 2030 and the current mark of $63b was slightly ahead of the goal, set in the NFF’s Blueprint.
But he disagreed with a suggestion the Blueprint had been superseded by the Coalition government’s Agricultural and Competitiveness White Paper which was released in mid-2015 and contained a $4 billion package of policy initiatives, like tax and drought reforms and export trade development goals.
“I think the White Paper, cemented, supported, challenged and extended the Blueprint as it was called,” he said.
“The White Paper also picked up ideas and a lot of it came from people who had significant input into the industry’s Blueprint.
“I don’t think the two strategic documents are in material conflict with each other.”
Mr Burrow said his group recently held a private forum in Melbourne attended by about 40 CEOs and leaders from “significant companies” in the agribusiness sector and NFF CEO Tony Mahar.
There, a “health check” on the Blueprint’s forecast policy goals was conducted, through a “straw poll” of participants, which produced some mixed results.
Mr Burrow said he expected the Blueprint’s recalibration process would now be driven by those who attended the forum to provide initial feedback on progress.
But he said other industry members who couldn’t attend the meeting will have an opportunity to provide their input and feedback, into the recalibrated document.
“We haven’t decided exactly who will be involved in driving that process yet but we’re working with a consulting group, to get all of that detail together,” he said.
Mr Mahar said the Blueprint was an NFF initiative that underwent a “comprehensive” consultation process involving an estimated 4000 farmers and industry stakeholders throughout the nation, devising seven core themes which largely “reaffirmed” the policy concerns of Australian agricultural communities which remained relevant today.
He said the industry document had been “critical” to the NFF’s strategic thinking and policy development since 2013 and “has never been shelved”.
“In fact it continues to shape the agenda in terms of new committees and priorities for our organisation,” he said.
Mr Mahar said it was “noble” of Agribusiness Australia to now want to “revise” the 2020 plan, “but it never went away”.
“We acknowledge the work the agribusiness sector are doing and hope the farmers voice will be incorporated into any work they are doing,” he said.
“I’d like to think it can feed into our whole-of-supply-chain strategy which we are currently developing as the national body representing farmers in Australia.
“The Blueprint has always been with us and will continue to help drive where we’re going.
“It has never been buried in a draw somewhere and it still sits on my desk.
“The seven themes are as relevant now as they were then, and given the nature of them I suspect they will be for some time.”
The Blueprint’s “health check” was facilitated by Agribusiness Australia Chair Mark Allison.
Mr Burrow said it was good for industry members to reflect on the Blueprint’s progress and realise parts of the plan had been achieved and not others and to see where it can now be improved.
“It was interesting to see what a group of senior industry members thought of it all,” he said.
“The plan contained 14 statements on ‘what success looks like’ for Australian agriculture.
“We put them up at the meeting and after some debate we did a straw poll of what people thought about how we’ve fared against those objectives or what we thought success looked like back in 2013 and what it looks like now, in 2017-18.
“I don’t think there were any shock results but it was interesting for me that the senior people were very, very interested and spent 30 to 40 per cent of the time on the ‘people’ aspect of the resources needed to meet the agribusiness opportunity.
“They were very positive towards the opening up of access to global markets and quite negative to the issue of not just farm labour but the whole supply chain in the industry; whether that’s researchers and technical people, or the people picking the fruit or those in roles strategising about how to access markets throughout the world.”
One of the Blueprint’s prime goals was to generate a policy and taxation environment to encourage increased RD&E spending in agriculture.
The straw poll’s question however, at the Agribusiness Australia forum, on whether food and fibre RD&E is currently enjoying increased levels of real government and private investment and experiencing an increase in the total RD&E spend, saw 61pc of the participants disagree and 7pc strongly disagree.
On whether Australian agriculture had a reliable supply chain and access to critical infrastructure, 51pc disagreed and 29pc strongly disagreed.
On the question of does the farm sector speak with a clear, consistent voice on key issues, using appropriate technologies and mediums to reach audiences, 90pc either disagreed (40pc) or strongly disagreed (50pc).
Asked if Australia had established and completed multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements with key growth markets and improved overall access to key global markets, 64pc of the poll participants agreed and 26pc strongly agreed.
On the question of whether Australian agriculture has built better understanding and closer links with the rest of society to build high public understanding and trust of agriculture, 60pc leaned towards disagreement and 40pc to the agreed view.
That percentage result was reversed on the question of whether Australian agriculture has brought about genuine improvements in the environment, in balance with economic and social needs and is being recognised for its work in environmental care, including through income streams for providing ecosystem services.