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Future outlook: Australian ag leaders share insights on the challenges and opportunities ahead

Future outlook: Australian ag leaders share insights on the challenges and opportunities ahead

This is sponsored content for Syngenta Australia.

The global pandemic will impact the agri sector for at least the next decade, water and labour shortages continue to worry farmers and the global population just continues to rise - so what is there to feel so optimistic about in Australasian agriculture?

If you ask Paul Luxton, head of Syngenta, the answer is: plenty.

Syngenta has just announced the 26 regional winners in the 2020 Growth Awards, and among them they are already working on solving the industry's biggest challenges, while creating opportunity from improved seasonal conditions and strong markets.

The Growth Awards has four categories: Sustainability, Productivity, Community & People and a new Innovators category. Here, the finalists share some of their insights and ideas around the most topical conversations in ag and identify what they see as the the next decade's key challenges.

Labour shortages & reskilling

Victorian vegetable grower Adam Schreurs identified the availability of labour as the biggest issue, along with climate change. "It is getting harder and harder to get unskilled labour. It's not too bad for us with skilled labour for machine operators but guys on the ground are hard to come by for industries like ours," he said.

Grace Brennan, the Dubbo-based founder of Buy From the Bush, said transitioning employment is a major challenge if we are to keep rural communities thriving as agricultural transformation takes place. "Agriculture needs to be resourced with really great people with great skills as we transition into a more technologically focused industry," she said. "The skills we have are still going to be required but they are just going to change, so transitioning people already in agriculture into those new skill sets is vital to maintaining rural communities."

Labour shortages: Vegetable grower Adam Schreurs from Clyde, Victoria, is a regional winner in the Sustainability category.

Climate change

Australia has an opportunity to be a global leader in meeting the challenges of climate change, said Sarah Nolet the CEO of agricultural innovation program, Farmers2Founders. "Climate is the biggest challenge, and that spans a range of things," she said. "In Australia, we are clearly facing challenges and the rest of the world is starting to look to us on subjects like drought and bushfires. We can't overstate the pressure these challenges are putting on the system. With the changing climate, there are new opportunities being created; whether that is new genetics and practices, carbon credits or ecosystem service payments, direct to consumer opportunities, or new value chains to fit in premiums and more alignment with consumers."

WA citrus producer Sue Middleton said agriculture is "sitting on a precipice of huge growth and there is interested capital" with action on climate change one of the keys to achieving that growth. " Ag needs to build its narrative around climate change - we need to be solutions orientated and demonstrate we can manage that risk to attract the capital and serve our markets." she said.

Creating product not commodities

Australian producers need to get better at creating food products rather than commodities, said Western Australian grain growers Tanya and Rob Kitto. "We know that when our agricultural produce is sold as commodities it is not achieving what it should," they said. "Australia needs to change its mindset and look at what we grow. Perhaps we need to produce more specialty products or increase the amount of value adding we do. No one cares as much as producers do about the quality they produce."

Changing mindset: Grain growers Tanya and Rob Kitto from Geraldton in Western Australian are regional winners in the Innovator category.

Disconnect between city and regions

WA grain grower Brett South believes it's vital that the broader community understands agriculture and its role in the world. "You could ask city people where their beef comes from and they will say the supermarket, not a cow," he said. "If the general community has a better understanding of farming, then that helps with the issue of enough labour too as people will want to be involved.

Seeds and cereals grower Murray Hall said "social licence" is the biggest challenge and ties in with climate change. "In south-western WA, we are already seeing the effects that were predicted with climate change and reduced rainfall...but I think we are adapting really well. Because of these pressures with climate, the whole population is now in a mindset of being aware of the social licence to farm, around the environment but also food safety. We need to articulate what we are doing well and rebuild that connection between the country and the city and knowledge about what we do as farmers."

Loss of farmers

Attracting new participants into agriculture is one of the great challenges to overcome, said South Australian vegetable grower Anthony De Ieso. "We need to make agriculture a desired career up there with medicine or law - something that people want to do. The average age of vegetable growers in Australia is 56 and I think it would be pretty similar across a range of industries. We need a continual crop of new fresh people who want to be involved in agriculture."

A desired career: Adelaide vegetable grower Anthony De Ieso is a regional winner in the Community & People category.

Health and safety

Improving the health, safety and wellbeing of rural men, women and children is the biggest and most important challenge, said Alex Thomas the South Australian woman behind the establishment of the #PlantASeedForSafety Project. "We need to take a more holistic view of the rural ecosystem and promote not only a sustainable industry, but sustainable human beings as a part of that. Industry health, safety and wellbeing is not well entrenched on boardroom agendas or in strategic plans, and it needs to be," she said. "The world is becoming increasingly complex. We have COVID-19, we have bushfires and we have droughts and all those things are going to continue to hamper people. It's all very well to have a plan on how productive we're going to be and how the economy is going to recover, but we have to factor in how we're going support our people to get there, too."

Better water practices: David Haak from Tent Hill in Queensland is a regional winner in the Productivity Category.

Water security

Developing better water practices is at the heart of the industry's future, said Queensland horticulture grower David Haak. "In 30 years in the industry, things only appear to be getting drier and worse. You don't see the creeks run now that you did 20-30 years ago," he said. "The government and other stakeholders need to get on board and help build and improve water practices and infrastructure. If you can get water use that is fair for everyone, then that would be really good."


The fallout from COVID-19 will impact on agriculture for probably the next decade, said Tasmanian ag farmer and consultant Tim Walker. "The immediate impacts will be seen in the lack of labour to harvest crops. Then there are the flow on effects of the hospitality trade and the failure of businesses within this. I know of a Kipfler potato grower who normally sells his potatoes for more than $2000 per tonne and this year they were stock feed. He had a niche market, and it is now gone."

Meet all of the regional winners and read about their ideas here.

This is sponsored content for Syngenta Australia.