In a week that had us all reaching for the popcorn waiting to see what spectacular political calamity was going to unfold in the next 10 minutes, Australian agriculture bucked the trend with two significant announcements of unification and common purpose.
First up was the announcement of a new peak body for horticulture, with the interests of Australia’s growing and diverse horticulture sector to be directly represented through the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF). The Victorian Farmers Federation, NSW Farmers, Growcom, the Voice of Horticulture and six commodity groups will be represented on the NFF-led policy forum. Commodity groups forming part of the Council include the Australian Blueberry Growers’ Association, AUSVEG, Apple and Pear Australia Ltd, Dried Fruits Australia, Voice of Horticulture (representing their 21 members) and Summerfruits Australia Limited.
Hot on the heels of that announcement came the news that Australia’s organic industries had agreed to establish a new peak body as a united voice on organic policy and market access. Organic Industries of Australia is an incorporated association that will now perform the functions of the Australia Organic Industry Working Group as a forum for consulting with Government on policy matters. Importantly it will also consider options for establishment of a permanent peak body which include ‘merging functions with Australian Organic Ltd, merging with the Organic Federation of Australia, and considering other actions to demonstrate unity of purpose across all certified organic operators’.
Both the horticultural and organic industries have traditionally been fragmented in representation. This can easily lead to confusion amongst policy-makers about who best speaks for farmers’ interests. Fragmentation in farmer advocacy has been a consistent issue in Australian agriculture and one of the reasons why the farm lobby has not been as effective in Australia as in some other countries. A Farm Institute report from 2014 on ‘Opportunities to improve the effectiveness of Australian farmers advocacy groups’ found that ‘a consistent approach to policy issues is an important element of the identity and legitimacy of advocacy organisations, and also critical to their long-term effectiveness’.
The research found that when compared against agricultural advocacy groups from other countries and with advocacy groups from other industries within Australia, Australian farm advocacy rated poorly in terms of consistency in values and message.
It is perhaps no accident that these welcome announcements of unification come from sectors poised to take advantage of export opportunities proffered by the growing Asian middle class. As many have commented, the ‘dining boom’ in Asia – which is positioning Australia as the region’s delicatessen – is creating demand for high-value, provenance-based foods for which strong and consistent branding will be critical.
Unified, strong voices to deal with government on trade and regulation issues will also be critical if Australia is to capture its share of the export market in competition against lower-cost producers around the globe.
Let’s hope that these moves towards presenting a unified Australian voice to the world stimulate other fractured sectors to cooperatively advocate for the common purpose of advancing Australian agriculture.