What was your Churchill Fellowship research?
For my Churchill Fellowship I investigated the use of horticultural QA standards to stay ahead of social license demands. The Fellowship enabled me the opportunity to gain an international perspective of social, political, environmental and social factors facing the horticultural sector and to find leading examples of where growers and industry have been proactive in using their systems to move beyond compliance and address social license concerns. My itinerary was concentrated in New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland and The Netherlands. The areas I investigated included the benefits and use of QA systems; government policy impacts; sustainability initiatives; and community concerns, strategies and engagement.
How did the Churchill Fellowship benefit you as an agricultural business consultant?
I learned firsthand how growers and industry in the countries I visited have harnessed the power of QA systems to build capability and credibility to address community concerns about how fresh produce is grown and communicated the #howandwhywefarm message. With only 29% of Australians living in regional and rural areas there is a rapid change in consumer expectations about what they consider is safe and sustainable. Growers can no longer automatically expect that society will support their practices and their products. I will be using key learnings from the Churchill Fellowship to assist growers to build a ‘bank of goodwill’ with their community and consumers. Through conversations, growers can build connections and common ground, leading to a values-based climate of acceptance, understanding and support
How will the knowledge you gained benefit the wider agricultural / horticultural industry?
The horticultural sector is in a prime position to benefit from rising consumer interest in plant based food. Leading growers are considering aspects such as health and wellness, food and product safety, ethical labour practices, sustainable sourcing and value chain transparency. For future food security Australia needs farmers as well as farms. This fact is recognised in the EU and now the UK who recognise that a low-cost food model (like we have in Australia) is not sustainable. We need clear, strong policy objectives and industry mechanisms aimed at delivering a true-cost food system, where growers receive the true return for producing quality, safe and sustainable food. Report recommendations include development of industry sustainability reporting dashboards, initiatives to reduce the time required by growers to meet compliance requirements, development of a long-term food security strategy, increased funding for research and development into agroecological farming practices and funding for grower training to develop communications plans and community relation strategies to assist in the #howandwhywefarm message.
What major achievements or milestones have you reached since going on your Fellowship?
My report recommendations have been disseminated to Hort Innovation and PIBs such as Aus-Veg and National Farmers Federation as well as various levels of government. I have also spoken on a number of radio interviews and PIB conferences to promote the knowledge gained and how the sector can benefit from the case studies I have available.
What’s next for you?
I am available to help growers gain the skills to promote the #howandwhywefarm message. Conversations are replacing declarations; good stories are easily retold and as a sector we just have to be bold enough to do this.
Travel overseas to grow your horticulture expertise – three Churchill Fellowships sponsored by Hort Innovation Australia will be offered for award in 2020.