Biosecurity concerns front of mind for ag’s future leaders


As Australia’s largest field day event announced a visitor ban related to the threat of foot-and-mouth disease, the need to protect the country’s biosecurity status has been identified by tertiary agriculture students as the biggest economic threat to the industry into the future.

Gunnedah’s AgQuip field days kick off next week and organisers have made the decision to exclude visitors who have recently returned from Indonesia from attending the event, as that country battles outbreaks of foot-and-mouth and lumpy skin disease.

Rural and regional advocate and managing director of communications company, Seftons, Robbie Sefton said it was not a surprise major events based in country locations were considering additional precautions given the current situation in Indonesia, and it was reflective of the concerns she saw at a recent ag industry event in Armidale.

Robbie was recently a speaker at a Farming Futures dinner at Armidale’s University of New England, attended by more than 300 guests, many of them studying agriculture at UNE. As part of her presentation she conducted a short poll* based around gauging the audience’s thoughts on what agriculture needed to do to help it achieve its current goal of becoming a $100 billion industry by 2030.

“On the question of the most critical issues needing to be addressed in the push towards that $100 billion vision, 56 per cent of respondents identified biosecurity as the highest priority. Not surprising given the current FMD situation in Indonesia and the varroa mite crisis facing our bee industry, but certainly an indication that our current relatively ‘clean’ status when it comes to pests and disease is viewed as one of our biggest assets,” she said. 

Climate change (38%), workforce/labour challenges (36%) and water – availability, cost and policy (30%) were seen as the next most critical issues, one respondent commenting: “The government needs to address issues such as workforce challenges and water availability in order for agriculture and rural communities to survive and to encourage more young people into the industry by promising a future”.

The audience was also asked for their thoughts on the awareness and understanding of all Australians of the agriculture industry, and how important that was if the industry was to maintain its current economic trajectory.

An overwhelming 95% of respondents agreed it was vital to increase the awareness of Australians from non-farming communities around agriculture and its importance to all Australians and the economy as a whole. Robbie said the question was based around research from the National Farmers Federation that found 83% of Australians described their connection with ag as “distant or non-existent”.

“Figures like this tell a very important story and identify real opportunities for agriculture. There’s no overnight solution to this issue, but what is clear – and what must be addressed – is that increasing community understanding of the critical role of agriculture in our society will benefit the whole industry, from helping to protect our current biosecurity status to encouraging consumption of more Australian-grown products,” Robbie said.

“One of our respondents on the night said education around the agriculture industry should be mandatory in all schools and that it was imperative that peak industry bodies take a lead role in the education of all Australians. Another emphasised ‘having people champion and support agriculture comes from being exposed to it and understanding how it works and the practicalities’.”

Robbie said leadership was also critical to achieving the future aims of the industry and she was impressed by the audience responses on the night. 

“I asked them if they had considered the importance of their ‘personal brand’ and leadership style when it came to their career, and how it might affect their future career path. I’m not sure what kind of response I expected to receive, but I have to say the 88% that said, yes, they had considered it, surprised me a bit,” Robbie said.

“I think the self-awareness of young people today is a lot higher than it was, say, 20 years or even 10 years ago, and social media probably contributes to this. Leadership is so important to maintaining agriculture’s momentum, so if our future leaders are already thinking about what they can bring to the table, then that’s an enormous positive.”

One respondent said ‘personal brand’ affected “your personability and your employability, plus your ability to lead and influence others”, while another noted, “how you present yourself to the industry and the wider community is just as important as the quality of work you put into your career and I feel that that’s a factor that many overlook”.

When asked to identify the top three qualities in an effective leader, from a supplied list of traits, accountability (44%), passion/purpose/commitment (35%) and strong communication (29%) came out on top.

“’Empowering people is the key to great leadership. You can’t have all the knowledge so we need to surround ourselves with people who do have the knowledge’ was one of my favourite responses from that question because it speaks to the importance of self-awareness and understanding not only your strengths when it comes to being an effective and decisive leader, but also your weaknesses, which is just as critical,” Robbie said.

“Agriculture’s push to be a $100 billion industry by 2030 is very achievable, but to do it we need the right people in the driver’s seat and from what I saw and heard from the students I met in Armidale recently, I feel we’re in safe hands.”

 *The poll was conducted on the Slido platform and respondents had the opportunity to make additional comments as part of that poll.

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