AUSTRALIAN Agricultural Company chief executive officer Hugh Killen says the beef industry must create a 'coalition of the reasonable' to seize back the sustainability debate.
Delivering the Rural Press Club of Queensland's annual Malcolm McCosker Memorial Address before a crowd of more than 800 people on Thursday morning at the Ekka, Mr Killen said a practical, honest and nuanced discussion, about how the beef industry worked together was required.
"Part of this work must be to change the climate debate and return it to a climate discussion," Mr Killen said.
"Agriculture must accept responsibility in this process.
"Our honest engagement in this discussion might, maybe, help Australia find a way to meet this challenge."
Mr Killen said industry needed to understand those who chose to use climate change to attack beef production.
"From them, we learn what we can. And then we leave them behind," he said.
"We then have to align our work with those who are genuine about sustainability.
"None of us can address climate change on our own."
Mr Killen said this meant building a 'real coalition of the reasonable'.
"We have to navigate the extreme voices that have hijacked the sustainability debate. And we can only do this by working together," he said.
We have to navigate the extreme voices that have hijacked the sustainability debate. And we can only do this by working together.
"The ones we want to work with believe in a sustainable balance for our industries and the environment.
"They recognise that we need to act, but always in an environment of inherent uncertainty.
"They draw on the science, but do not overstate its conclusions.
"And they do not use it as a weapon to attack their enemies."
Mr Killen said AACo was committed to being a leader in sustainable beef production.
"Production of high-quality beef is dependent on a healthy environment and healthy, happy cattle," he said.
He said that required transparency, investment in people, continuous data driven improvement, cooperation, and industry leadership. Initial priority areas were environmental stewardship, animal health and welfare, and livestock transport.
It also meant factoring in climatic events including extended drought and the extreme flooding.
Mr Killen said his company's policy would evolve over time and include meaningful metrics to measure the company's progress.
"As more detailed action plans come onstream we'll share them," he said. "And we'll share the impact these actions are having."
He said as well as AACo acting in its own right, the pastoral giant needed to join with others to increase the impact of the industry's shared work.
"We want to learn from those who believe in our industry, to learn about their approaches and successes," Mr Killen said.
Mr Killen said surviving and prospering in the 'new world' required every part of a business being aligned to a vision, a goal and a plan.
"We need to grow the right customer base," he said.
"We need to connect our beef to people who are willing to pay a premium for quality product.
"We need to deliver that quality product for our customers every single time, or we lose them forever.
"That first connection with the customer needs to be with us directly."
For AACo this meant owning its own brands.
"We then get the opportunity to deepen that connection by telling our story," Mr Killen said.
"That story has to be something that resonates. And it has to be true.
"Because if our story isn't really us, again, the connection will be lost forever."
Mr Killen said sustainability was fundamental to building AACo over the next 200 years and would play a critical role in transitioning AACo from a pastoral company to a branded food business.
"Our customers want it and our stakeholders want it," Mr Killen said. "But most importantly, it's what we want."
Mr Killen acknowledged the language surrounding sustainability could be confronting.
"But sustainability is already in our blood," he said. "Every farmer wants to leave something more than they found.
"You can't do anything of value if you can't work with the environment over time.
"None of us wants to leach from the soil or scar the land we love.
"Yet the wider sustainability issue has been hijacked by extreme voices. On both sides.
"It's been easier to keep our heads down and stay out of the fray.
"But those days are gone."
The story Ekka breakfast: Beef must seize back sustainability debate first appeared on Queensland Country Life.