Our future focus is thriving rural industries

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By John Harvey, Managing Director, AgriFutures Australia

It’s the unique diversity of AgriFutures Australia’s portfolio – from 13 varied levied industries to emerging industries and other rural industries – that is our greatest strength. It’s what helps us create value for our industries and makes it possible for us to look across the agricultural sector to identify, understand and respond to national challenges and opportunities. It’s also how we assist in growing the agricultural workforce and keep Australian producers and tech entrepreneurs connected with global innovation networks.

In developing our Strategic Plan for the next five years we’ve heard from our industries, and the agricultural sector more broadly, exactly what it is they want action on. And the priorities that came through strongly from the consultation process are themselves an interesting insight into the future of Australian agriculture.

Firstly, what we heard from a number of rural industries is that they can see the explosion of new tools and technologies that are available, but they don’t have the resources or the expertise to undertake the testing and exploration to discover how well they work. And that’s where we can come in – it’s our role to ensure Australia is a leader in not only developing agrifood technologies, but is also exploring, testing and adopting them to maximise impacts for our producers.

Another key issue that was raised consistently across all our levied industries, emerging industries and agriculture, forestry and fisheries more broadly was workforce.  Whether it’s a shortage of seasonal labour, having trouble attracting people with the technological skills required for the robotics, automation and more that we need, or many more jobs than there are qualified graduates – attracting new people into the ag workforce is critical.

It’s an urgent issue and we are going to have to take a different approach from the past. It’s time to get creative.  Bringing people into agriculture from outside the sector is vital, and we have to be engaging with new and different audiences about the opportunities we have.

When I talk to young leaders about what’s really important to their generation, and what agriculture uniquely has to offer, it’s all about being driven by a sense of purpose. Our industry is intrinsically connected to making a difference, feeding, clothing and housing people, protecting natural resources, and caring for the environment. And this is something we have to offer that so many other sectors don’t. Not to mention the lifestyle attractions of a career in agriculture and getting to be a part of the strong, supportive community that surrounds us.

We also recognise that for the many challenges our sector faces – from climate change to biosecurity or rising input costs – the only viable solutions will come through innovation. That means we need to give people the opportunity and the space to fail while they are trying to come up with new ways of doing things. Success is built over time and experience, trying and then trying again, so innovative ideas can come to the fore.

Another theme that came through across industries during our consultation process was the need to explore alternative enterprises and revenue streams. Concepts like carbon farming, on farm power generation and biodiversity credits have industries intrigued, but that interest is to date coupled with some lack of understanding. People are seeking reliable information and practical advice about what they can do on their farm to make more money, without creating big long-term risks for their business.

The focus on alternative enterprises is particularly relevant for our emerging industries who are looking for a way to build new revenue streams, potentially for activities they’re already undertaking to protect and enhance the environment.

Overall, what we saw and heard from stakeholders was a great deal of optimism about the future of Australia’s rural industries. It is also tinged with a sense of uncertainty, but that’s to be expected as we grapple with the impacts of coming out of a pandemic, new geopolitical conflicts, a changing climate, and a new economic reality that includes rising costs. The priorities we’ve put forward in our new Strategic Plan reflect this sense of cautious optimism. We know we have to drive value for our levy payers and ensure that all our industries can thrive into the future, and that is what we will deliver.

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