11 August 2022

Media Article

A rewarding aspect of the work I do is the opportunity it offers to speak to different groups around the country, engaging with people from all backgrounds on the agricultural industry, and the issues we must address if we’re to continue on our current trajectory globally. Late last month I travelled to Armidale to speak to University of New England students as part of their annual Farming Futures event, which aims to provide students with opportunities to meet and network with companies across a broad variety of ag industries. It also raises funds for a particular charity, which this year was BlazeAid, which has done so much for country communities in recent times.

As part of the event they also invite a keynote speaker, and I was honoured to asked to fill that role this year. With such a primarily young audience, about to embark on ag careers, the potential themes for the address were endless, but I chose to speak to them about leadership and how critical it is to the goal of Australian agriculture becoming a $100 billion industry by 2030.

As part of my presentation, I also asked them to participate in a poll comprising several questions related to the industry, current challenges and the future. The results, based on more than 200 responses, were interesting in many ways and provided a valuable, if relatively small, snapshot of how these young people view the current state of play and what they see as the key priorities, opportunities and challenges for the ag industry.

On the question of the most critical issues in the push towards 2030, 56 per cent of respondents identified biosecurity as the highest priority. Not surprising given the current FMD situation in Indonesia and the varroa mite crisis facing our bee industry, but certainly an indication that our current relatively ‘clean’ status when it comes to pests and disease is viewed as one of our biggest assets. Climate change (38%), workforce/labour challenges (36%) and water – availability, cost and policy (30%) were the next most popular responses.

The second question was even more definitive, with 95% of respondents agreeing that if Australian agriculture is to reach its goal, it’s important to build the awareness of all Australians – particularly those from non-farming communities – around agriculture. This question was based on research from the NFF that found 83% of Australians describe their connection with ag as “distant or non-existent”. There’s no easy fix for this, but what is clear is that increasing community understanding of the critical importance of agriculture will benefit the whole industry, from helping to maintain our current biosecurity status to encouraging consumption of more Australian-grown products.

Finally, the audience’s thoughts on leadership were also very interesting. When asked if they had considered the importance of their ‘personal brand’ and leadership style and how that would potentially influence their career, a whopping 88% of attendees said, yes, they had.  This surprised me a little, and I actually think the same question to a group of university students 20 years ago would have elicited far fewer ‘yes’ responses. The self-awareness of young people in 2022 is far greater than generations past – social media, I think, plays a big part in this – and if that means they’re more cognisant of their own personal strengths and future career ambitions, then that’s good news for our industry into the future. Progressive and motivational leaders are critical if agriculture is to realise its full potential, and our young people must be prepared to put themselves forward and accept the challenge.

To read Robbie’s article in The Land, go to https://www.theland.com.au/story/7856524/ambitious-future-ag-leaders-set-to-maintain-industry-momentum/