John Ralph Essay Competition

JREC 2021: Should ag data be a public good?

The topic

There is no debate over the immense value of comprehensive agricultural data, whether used to improve efficiency and productivity, demonstrate sustainability credentials in an increasingly regulated market, or manage risk better. The Australian farming sector’s goal to become a $100 billion industry by 2030 will require transformational innovation which will be driven by data science and analytics. 

However, as noted in the 2018 Autumn Farm Policy Journalcollection rates of various agricultural data (while improving) remain low due largely to mistrust and little has changed since then. 

The Australian Farm Data Code has been designed to overcome producers’ concerns about how their data is used, but is this enough? Respondents interviewed for the Precision to Decision project in 2017 displayed major concerns over aggregated farm data regarding privacy, financial advantage taken by other businesses, and the potential for it to be used to influence markets.  

A ‘public good’ is something which is non-excludable (individuals cannot be excluded from using them) and non-rivalrous (use by one individual does not preclude use by another). If ag data were a public good, could this fast-track agricultural innovation and productivity via improved decision-making or would it be detrimental by exposing market vulnerabilities 

The 2021 John Ralph Essay Competition (JREC) asks authors to consider: Should ag data be a public good?

Authors are asked to argue in favour or to oppose the proposition with a clear and concise articulation of their position. 

Submitting an entry

  • Entries are due by 5pm (AEST) on 30th September 2021.
  • Entries should be emailed to with the subject line “JREC 2021 entry”. Please clearly state which category your essay is entered in (see details below).
  • There are two categories for this competition, Open & Novice:
      • 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 Friday 31st of December 2021.
  • Essays in either category should be between 1500–4000 words in length (excluding references or footnotes) and can argue for or against the topic question.
  • The essay must contain factual information in support of the argument being advanced and should be properly referenced (see below under judging criteria).
  • Where appropriate, the essays should also discuss proposed policy changes that the author believes could address the issues raised.
  • Authors may choose to broach the topic from a specific industry lens or a whole-of-agriculture perspective, noting that judging criteria (below) does require a thorough examination of the topic.


  • Open category prize: $3000
  • Novice category prize: $1500
  • Winners also receive one year’s Institute membership (valued at $220), complimentary attendance at the Australian Agriculture Roundtable Conference
  • Winning and shortlisted essays will be published in the summer edition of the Farm Policy Journal.

Judging criteria

Entries are judged using the following criteria:

  • Completeness: entries must address all 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 solutions.
  • Practicality: any proposals suggested will need to find a balance between being bold and practical – there should be a reasonable chance that proposals could be adopted.
  • Clarity: entries should be written in clear, jargon-free language so that it is easily read and understood.

Academic referencing is encouraged to demonstrate the defensibility of ideas, but entries are not judged on number of sources quoted. The AFI uses APA 7th edition for referencing, but authors may use whichever style they are comfortable with provided sources are presented accurately and clearly. The judging panel comprises members of AFI’s Board, Research Advisory Committee and staff.

Past Competition Winners

Each year the AFI publishes a selection of competition finalist’s entries in the summer edition of the Farm Policy Journal. The editions or individual essays are available to download for AFI subscribers and members, and available to purchase for non-members. Click the links below to see complete editions and individual essays.

WEBINAR - 2020 John Ralph Essay Competition

On 5 November 2020, AFI held an ‘in-conversation’ webinar on competition policy featuring finalists from the 2020 John Ralph Essay Competition in conversation with ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh and AFI Executive Director Richard Heath. Discussions focused on the key themes emerging from essay entries and the desired future direction for competition policy in relation to Australian agriculture.


  • Mick Keogh – Deputy Chair ACCC 
  • Richard Heath – Executive Director AFI 
  • Ash Salardini – Open Category Winner 
  • Michael Wellington – Novice Category Winner
  • Danielle Captain-Webb – Open Category Finalist 
  • Pete Mailler – Open Category Finalist 
  • Emma Scholz – Open Category Finalist

A selection of finalists (including panellists) were published in the summer 2020 edition of the Farm Policy Journal.

View the webinar below:

Competition history

John Ralph (pictured) was instrumental in the establishment of the Australian Farm Institute, becoming its founding Chairman in 2004 and continuing in that role until his retirement in June, 2010.

John has been CEO of CRA (now Rio Tinto Ltd), former Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, former Deputy Chairman of Telstra Corporation and previous Chairman of Business Council of Australia and Australian Mining Council. His outstanding contribution to the country was recognised in 2000 when he was appointed to Australia’s highest civilian honour, a Companion in the Order of Australia, having been made an Officer in the Order of Australia in 1988. Involved in farm enterprises in southern NSW, John Ralph argued strongly for comprehensive and objective research as the basis for sound policy decision-making, particularly for the agriculture sector.

In 2010, the Australian Farm Institute created the John Ralph Essay Competition to acknowledge John’s ongoing support for sound research and debate in agricultural economics and policies. The competition aims to engage the community in informed debate about policy issues impacting on the Australian farm sector.

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