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Australian farmers urged to become more resilient in a disruptive world

03 Oct 2017

Business of Agriculture Symposium 

Australian farmers will need to become increasingly sophisticated if they are to remain viable in a world of e-commerce, digital disruption and more discerning Asian markets, according to a senior researcher at the University of Sydney Business School.

Speaking after the School’s inaugural ‘Business of Agriculture’ symposium, Professor Eddie Anderson said that by world standards, our farmers are highly business focused but added that they would have to become even more so in the future.

“Australian farmers know how to use available data, they work from well prepared business models, they can create opportunities and they can manage risk,” Professor Anderson said. “But two thirds of their output is being sold into a rapidly changing international market.”

The challenges and opportunities presented by the evolving structure of the farm sector, the arrival of e-commerce giants like Alibaba and Amazon and the changing expectations of Asia’s growing middle class dominated the Symposium co-sponsored by the newly established Sydney Institute of Agriculture.

Joining the discussion were senior representatives of from the NAB, Westpac, Graincorp, the Productivity Commission and a number of agriculture focused not for profit and research organisations.

Matthew Cahill of ANZ Dow Agrosciences, predicted that the next 10 years would see continued consolidation in the farming sector with “a lot of the independents being swallowed up by the big agencies”.

Stratigis Partners managing director, Jay Horton, said social licence and public interest in farm produce would only build in the future and Laura Mattiazzi, the head of Asia Business Development at the NAB, urged farmers to spread their risks and build resilient business mixes.

Ms Mattiazzi also said that Australian farmers perhaps needed to be more proactive and less reactive in order to successfully harness disruption.

“The farming community here, when it comes to the global community, has the most challenging weather, the most challenging soil, the most challenging landscape and yet we punch above our weight,” she said. “But the problem we will have for a long time to come is around reactive resilience.”

The emphasize her point Ms Mattiazzi pointed to the proactive research undertaken by the US Department of Agriculture.

As a result, “US farmers know when China is consuming more soybeans and so they say ‘we’ll dial down on wheat and go into soybeans,” she said. “That’s proactive. We need, as a country and an industry proactive resilience to identify what is good for us, and what is coming, so we can address it earlier.”

Professor Anderson has committed the Business School to another Business of Agriculture Symposium next year saying that “the School must be involved in this exciting and vitally important sector of the Australian economy”.

For more information on the launch of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture go to – http://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/09/27/new-food-and-agriculture-not-as-we-know-it.html.