John Ralph Essay Competition

John Ralph Essay Competition

Topic and background

The AFI’s annual John Ralph Essay Competition aims to directly engage the community in informed debate about policy issues impacting the Australian farm sector. Established in 2010, the competition invites essays on a topical theme, with a selection of entries published in the Farm Policy Journal. in 2022, the competition asked entrants to consider: 

Is value-adding a pipe dream for Australian agriculture?

The unwelcome and unexpected combination of a global pandemic and geo-political disruption has focused the attention of policy-makers on supply chain security across the economy, and especially in agriculture. A renewed appetite and suite of new incentives for investment in on-shore processing and manufacturing could provide additional opportunity for Australian farmers and producers. But if it was easy or obviously beneficial it would have happened already. What are we missing?

2022 results

The winners for 2022 are:

  • David Thompson – scholar
  • Ashley Walmsley – opinion

David’s essay encourages readers to considering balancing resources and constraints by ‘Choosing Your Own Value-Add-venture’.

“Australia is not just a volume exporter of commodities – although we do that well,” David writes. “We have the ability, the innovative thinking and the systems that will allow us to uncover new forms of value across the food chain … (provided we are) encouraging and supporting innovators to draw on the resources available to them and manage the constraints that hinder them.”

Building on broader national priorities around digital innovation, smart production and delivery of energy systems, innovative services and complementary business models will benefit our food producers and the wider sector, David’s essay concludes.

Ashley’s essay took a humorous approach to what can often be a dry topic, asking: “how does Australia tap the bubbling spring to unleash the vast aquifer of value-adding goodness below the surface?” This essay contends that the incentive for embracing value-adding can be boiled down to three drivers: gold, glut and garbage.

Both winning essays will be published along with several finalist entries in the summer edition of the Farm Policy Journal.

Submission details

  • From 2022, entries are invited in two categories: Scholarly and Opinion (see details below).
  • Submissions should be sent as a Word document to: [email protected]
  • The 2023 topic will be posted here and circulated via email and social media

Essays should be between 1800–4500 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.

Entries in both categories should aim to include:

  • a thesis statement (answer to the question) and an argument
  • development of the thesis via a set of closely related points by reasoning and evidence
  • relevant examples, supporting evidence and information from credible sources
  • a strong conclusion which convinces the reader of the thesis value
Scholarly category

Entries in this category are to be written in an academic essay style, supported by references. An academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence, by answering a question or addressing a task. Scholarly entries should also include a 150-200 word abstract summarising the paper. Entries in this category are expected to be at the longer end of the word count.

Opinion category

Entries in this category can be written in a less formal style. While references are not required for this category, inclusion of evidence supporting the stated opinion is encouraged. An opinion essay aims to persuade readers of an intellectual position based on strong arguments and evidence. Entries in this category are expected to be at the shorter end of the word count.

  • Scholarly category: $3000
  • Opinion category: $1000

Winners in each category also receive one year’s Institute membership (valued at $220), and complimentary attendance at the Australian Agriculture Roundtable. Winning essays are published in the summer edition of Farm Policy Journal, along with selected shortlisted submissions.

Judging criteria

Entries will be judged on the following five criteria:

  • Originality: entries should go beyond repeating commonly held beliefs, and demonstrate a high level of critical thinking by carefully and objectively examining 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 must find a balance between being bold and practical – i.e., there should be a reasonable chance that proposals could be adopted.
  • Clarity: entries should be written in clear, jargon-free language to be easily read and understood.
  • Credibility: entries should be defensible, i.e. backed by evidence from reputable sources or supported by logical, well-argued reasons.

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. Panellists included:

  • 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

View the webinar recording 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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