John Ralph Essay Competition 2018: Society should determine the right to farm

Competition entries have now closed

The Australian Farm Institute established the annual John Ralph Essay Competition in 2010 to honour John Ralph, who was the inaugural Chairman of the Australian Farm Institute. John made a major contribution to the Australian Farm Institute during his six years of chairmanship, and always insisted that comprehensive and objective research should be the basis for policy decisions, particularly for a sector such as agriculture, which has a wide diversity of different commodity groups and business arrangements. (More information about the history and previous winners of the competition is available here.)

The topic for the 2018 John Ralph Essay Competition is:

Society should determine the right to farm

The right to farm describes the ability for farmers to undertake lawful agricultural practices without conflict or interference arising from complaints from neighbours and other land users.

But the differentiation between a legal right and a social privilege has become blurred. Increasingly, primary production practices are being dictated by neighbours, activists and political representatives without a connection to or understanding of agriculture.

Is this public determination of farm business operation appropriate, or should farm businesses be allowed to determine their own practices without interference? What degree of influence should a community have on its food production systems?

Essays must be no more than 4000 words in length and can argue for or against the above proposition. In either case, the essay must contain factual information in support of the argument being advanced and must be properly referenced. Where appropriate, the essays should also discuss proposed policy changes that the author believes could address the issues raised.

Competition entries closed on 5pm on Monday, 3 September 2018.

There are two categories for this competition:

  • The Open category is open to anyone, including students, farmers, agribusiness participants, policy-makers, consultants, researchers, etc.
  • The Novice category is open to persons 25 years of age or under, on Saturday 31st of December 2018.

The two winning entries will be selected by a panel of judges and these will be published (along with a number of other papers on the same topic) in the Summer 2018 edition of the Farm Policy Journal, to be released in December, 2018.

Entries must be between 1500 and 4000 words in length, and material beyond the 4000 limit (excluding reference list) will not be considered by judges. The essays should be in 12 point Times New Roman font and no greater than 250 MB.

The essay is expected to present the author's point of view based on sound and well-argued reasoning.

A scientific style (method, quotes, references and reference list) is not compulsory, but important references should be cited. The essay should be written in a style suitable for an audience that has some familiarity with the topic, but does not have a great depth of technical knowledge about the issue.

Entries should be submitted in electronic format (.doc or .docx for Windows) with the entry form by 5pm on Monday, 3 September 2018.

The winner of the Open category of the John Ralph Essay Competition will receive a cash prize of $5000 and the winner of the Novice category will receive a cash prize of $1000.

Both winners will also receive a one year's membership of the Australian Farm Institute (valued at $330) and complimentary attendance at the Australian Agriculture Roundtable Conference.

Professors and lecturers are encouraged to participate by encouraging their students to enter this competition.

The Australian Farm Institute has established this essay competition to create discussion and debate on current agriculture sector topics, and to encourage students and the wider community to engage in issues of strategic importance to the future of the sector.

Any professors or lecturers interested in having their students participate are invited to include the competition topic in their students' assessment tasks, and to enter some or all of the resulting essays in the competition.

Professors and lecturers who have two or more students enter the competition will be offered:

  • One year’s free subscription to the Farm Policy Journal
  • One hardcopy of an Institute research report of their choice.

Please note that any professors or lecturers who wish to set this topic as a class project need to contact the Institute to register on 02 9690 1388 or

Entries will be judged using the following criteria:

  • Completeness: entries must address all the issues raised in the competition topic.
  • Originality: entries should go beyond just repeating 'common' beliefs, and carefully and objectively examine the question posed by the topic.
  • Comprehensiveness: entries should canvass the full extent of the issue, and carefully consider the positives and negatives arising from any proposed 'solution'.
  • Practicality: any proposals will need to find the right balance between being bold and practical – there should be a reasonable chance proposals could be adopted.
  • Clarity: entries should be written in clear, jargon-free language so that it is easily read and understood.

Images: Hayley Becker, NFF, Polycart, Simon Wright