John Ralph Essay Competition

John Ralph Essay Competition 2021: Should ag data be a public good?

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 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. 

Entries are due on 20 September 2021.

The Winner of the Open category will receive a cash prize of $3000 and the winner of the Novice category will receive a cash prize of $1500. Winners receive one year’s Institute membership (valued at $220), complimentary attendance at the Australian Agriculture Roundtable Conference and their Essay is published in the Summer edition of Farm Policy Journal.

Essays in both categories should be between 1500–4000 words in length and can argue for or against the topic question. 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.

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 ‘solution’.
  • Practicality: any proposals will need to find the right 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.
Entries should be emailed to with the subject line “JREC 2021 entry”.

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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