The culmination of Tony Mahar's personal experiences, growing up working on farms and in Canberra, and his professional roles in the years since have made him the perfect fit as the chief executive of agriculture advocacy group, National Farmers' Federation (NFF).
In his younger years, Mr Mahar (pictured below) attended Orange Agricultural College, New South Wales, and besides a stint as a chef straight after school, he has remained in the sector, holding positions in international trade for the Department of Agriculture and with multinational food companies before joining the NFF in July 2012 as the deputy chief executive, general manager for economics and trade.
Now a husband and father of three, Mr Mahar has a rare perspective and understanding of all of the intricacies of agriculture, food and fibre which he uses daily to get the best outcomes for a sector which he has a deep respect for.
Farm Weekly journalist BREE SWIFT spoke to him about what challenges and opportunities may lay ahead for Australia's farmers over the next few years.
QUESTION: Can you tell me about your upbringing?
Answer: I grew up in Canberra and my parents came from country Victoria, from farms outside Ballarat, so I always had a really strong connection to farming and agriculture.
I used to spend lots of time on farms down around there and I have always loved and had a passion for agriculture.
I distinctly remember going to work with my cousin who has a farm, and thinking he has the best job in the world and that it was something I would love to do, so that was a major influence.
Dad ended up working in the construction industry and mum was a nurse, so although they weren't farmers themselves they came from farming families.
Because there were five kids in my dad's family, I think one of them worked on the farm while the others continued with other jobs.
Q: What did you want to be when you were younger?
A: I always wanted to have some affinity with agriculture but I also wanted to be a chef.
I worked in hotels and restaurants immediately after I left school and started an apprenticeship as a chef because I just loved cooking.
However I realised that you were working when everyone else was playing, so I decided it wasn't the career for me.
But I still love cooking and being in the kitchen.
Q: With a lot of your work having involved policy development for the agricultural industry, including your previous role as a senior policy adviser for international trade for the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, have you ever been tempted to become a politician yourself?
A: I find politics interesting and, from my time working in government and through my NFF role, I've come to understand politics, but I never really wanted to be a politician.
It's an incredibly valuable position but its also incredibly hard - government and parliament is a big machine and they work incredible hours
I feel that in my role now I can do as much, if not more as politicians can do for the agricultural sector.
Q: You were the director of sustainable development at the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) for eight years before joining the NFF in 2012 as the general manager economics and trade deputy chief executive.
How did your time at the AFGC and working with major food and grocery manufacturing companies shape your views on the agricultural industry?
A: It was fascinating to work with companies like Coca Cola, Mars, Nestlè and Arnotts and these sorts of companies that have a direct relationship to agriculture - they source raw agricultural products and process them into the goods we see on our supermarket shelves.
The global perspective I found so interesting and rewarding - working with some of these companies that have such a large influence over not only consumers but also producers because they are such big buyers.
The reach that these guys have - whether it's buying cocoa beans in South America or palm oil... it's gave me a really good understanding of the influences of the supply chain.
Q: With the Federal election due before the end of May, does the NFF have a view on which of the parties and their policies would best serve Australia's agricultural industry?
A: Not yet.
We go through a process of writing to the political parties, providing them with our policy priorities for agriculture and asking them to respond formally to our advocacy requests and agendas.
We haven't done that yet, and some of the parties are more committed to some issues than others.
Ultimately, we have the $100 billion roadmap for the industry and both parties have signed onto that strategy document for the agriculture industry.
We feel agriculture is well placed to get the right level of partnership and support from whoever takes government.
That's our day job - to make sure we have an influence on parliament and government to support agriculture, so we are working hard on that.
Q: The conflict between Russia and the Ukraine is going to potentially distract and put two of the world's major grain producers out of action.
What opportunities does that create for Australia's grain industry?
A: Obviously it's a humanitarian, social crisis, but stepping away from that, in terms of opportunities - we are yet to see what it exactly means.
Russia is a huge grain producer, Ukraine is a huge agricultural and grain producer, so while global markets always have a level of fluctuation and dynamics, disruption of this scale is likely to have some negative impacts.
We hope it has some positive impacts - but not at the expense of the humanitarian agenda, which is the key priority.
Q: Extreme weather events already seem to be occurring more frequently, including storms and flooding on the east coast and fires and a drying climate affecting the southern region of WA and South Australia.
Will the higher frequency of these events have any impact on NFF's climate change policy?
A: What we are seeing and what we will have to keep at the forefront of our minds are these severe weather events do appear to be more frequent, so we have to get the right policies, and that includes our climate change policy, but it also includes risk management strategies for these events, whether it's droughts, floods or fires.
The agenda we are pushing is how can the government and industry work together to prepare for these events and manage them so that the volatility in the sector's production isn't as wide and high as what we've seen.
Our focus is on having a continued sustainable production cycle and supply.
Climate change is a critical policy that we need to keep looking at and seeing if we need to tweak.
Q: Australian ports have been a vulnerable point in the supply chain for our import and export industries, with port workers able to hold our farmers to ransom when they strike.
Although the dispute is between the employee and the employer, agriculture is a third party that is totally dependent on that relationship working.
What do you think can be done to decrease the vulnerability of farmers to industrial action at Australia's ports?
A: We need stronger compliance, stronger regulations and stronger enforcement of the rules by the government.
It appears to be a free-for-all where there can be disruption to ports by particular stakeholders that hold the rest of the country to ransom - we can't have that continue.
We have to put in place stronger measures that make people, sectors and stakeholders accountable and reduce the vulnerability.
Farmers are entirely reliant on a functionable, equitable, transparent ports system and at the moment we are seeing too many disruptions and too many players just acting on their own agenda which has huge flow on impacts.
Q: What is the NFF doing about the issues of fake meat and fake dairy impacting the industry?
A: We've said to the government we think the rules need to change and that there be transparency and fairness.
At the moment we see packaging and products that are potentially misleading.
Plant-based meat is a misrepresentation - that's like having a Ford Ferrari - it's inconsistent.
Q: Do you think enough is being done to support carbon farming in the agricultural sector?
A: No, I think we need to do more to make people aware, understand and enable them to engage in the carbon market sector.
It's not going to be for everyone - there's a range of sectors and perhaps regions that are more open to it than others, but agriculture can be part of the solution and at the moment the settings aren't right for farmers to engage.
We need more funding to allow farmers to monitor and manage what's happening on their farm.
If we measure and monitor the biodiversity or natural capital aspect - then we can do good things about carbon and reduce carbon emissions and increase capture and storage, but we can also improve the biodiversity natural capital.
It's about soil, water quality and vegetation, so carbon is just one, but we need to do more to enable farmers to manage the landscape and the natural capital.
Q: What is your favourite aspect of your role as NFF's chief executive?
A: I love the connection, both with the agriculture industry, but also with the exposure that we get in government and with key stakeholders.
NFF is in a really good position that we can have an influence and we are seen as a credible body to talk to when people want to talk about the agricultural industry and farming.
The other aspect is the ability to work so closely with farmers and rural producers, see their businesses, their innovations and technology.
Having the opportunity to sit in some of the machinery and the tech that farmers have still blows me away.
It's super impressive to be able to see what's happening in the ag sector - I really do genuinely love when I get to go to farms - my cup gets filled.
Q: Of what achievement, professional or personal, are you most proud?
A: I am most proud of leading the NFF and being able to work with amazing people that have such passion for the industry.
I'm very satisfied that I'm able to do this job and make a difference - that's a big thing for me.
Q: What is something people might not know about you?
A: That I love to cook and I know my way around the kitchen.
If I need to relax I'll spend a few hours in the kitchen.
Q: Who has inspired you most in your career?
A: In short lots of people.
I tend to gravitate to sportspeople like Patty Mills or Ash Barty - talented people that get the most out of themselves by working hard, but who are also decent individuals who help set an example.
One who has inspired me the most has been Dylan Alcott - he is a star but also has a great attitude and determination and is an outstanding example of someone that makes the most of life.
Q: What is your next goal?
A: To continue to work in the agricultural sector in a role that helps it become more productive and profitable.
I don't know what that job looks like, but I'd love to be able to keep working in the ag sector as it's such a great industry.
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