In August CPD was delighted to host leaders from across the Australian agricultural sector to discuss how to seize the potential of ‘virtuous cycles’ in agriculture, and entrench sustainability at the heart of the strategic vision for the sector.
The roundtable doubled as a launch of CPD’s discussion paper ‘From vicious to virtuous cycles: a sustainable future for Australian agriculture’.
The discussion was hosted by EY in Canberra, and was moderated by Mr Andrew Metcalfe AO, former Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. Major General Michael Jeffery AC CVO MC, former Governor General and now National Advocate for Soil Health, delivered opening remarks.
We were also joined by Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Member for the Hunter the Honorable Joel Fitzgibbon MP, senior representatives from industry associations, business, academia and government, as well as farmers with first-hand experience of regenerative agricultural practices. Government departments and agencies represented included the Departments of Agriculture and Environment, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Austrade, and the CSIRO.
Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon (l) and EY Partner Andrew Metcalfe (r)
In his opening remarks, General Jeffery framed growing food demand and climate change as two key global challenges with major ramifications for Australia. He emphasised that Australia has good farmers and scientists who are making progress on soil health and sustainability – but that this effort must be pulled together in a national way. Fixing what happens in the paddock is one thing, but to do that you need to get the government policy settings right – something that can only be achieved with a coherent vision of how the totality of Australia’s landscapes can enjoyed and protected by all users, including agriculture.
The roundtable then heard from Sue Ogilvy, lead author of CPD discussion paper From vicious to virtuous cycles: a sustainable future from Australian agriculture. Sue highlighted the sustainability and productivity potential being demonstrated by ‘first practice’ farmers who had embraced regenerative practices. She also emphasised that the progress on sustainability that farmers were already making needs to be supported by better price signals and support for innovation throughout the entire agricultural supply chain.
The discussion that followed, which was held under Chatham House rules, explored two main topics: how to take advantage growing demand for sustainable products, and the role that natural capital accounting and other measurement techniques could play in supporting better information and market-led outcomes.
Key points raised by participants included:
- The importance of recognising the progress farmers have already made in shifting the conversation from landscape degradation to restoration.
- The role that exciting new ‘big data’ capabilities would play in contributing to improved productivity and sustainability outcomes.
- The need for a more sophisticated discussion in the sector about how to push a competitive edge based on differentiated products with verifiable sustainability and quality attributes.
- The importance of putting existing data and knowledge together – including to develop the time series data that is crucial to tracking sustainability and other outcomes over time.
CPD CEO Travers McLeod concluded the discussion by reflecting on the importance of linked-up thinking between different participants in the sector. He noted that siloed thinking and barriers to collaboration in R&D reflected challenges that are apparent across Australia’s innovation system – issues that CPD has taken up in other research.
CPD would like to thank all participants for their contribution to an excellent discussion, and to EY for their support in hosting the roundtable.
Coverage and related media
Colin Bettles, national political correspondent from Fairfax Press, published a summary of the discussion in The Land on 25 August: Sustainable ag must pay.
Major General Jeffery was interviewed by The Land on 25 August: White Paper ‘missing’ soil health
Major General Jeffery also wrote an op ed on soil, water and food security in The Australian on 29 August: Australia cannot remain secure in a food and water insecure world
Tim Wright – whose property Lana in Uralla, NSW was featured on the cover of the CPD discussion paper – spoke to The Land in August about using new land management practices to improve drought resilience: All dry and mighty
Quotes and reactions
Andrew Metcalfe: “EY was delighted to co-host the launch of CPD’s discussion paper and the accompanying roundtable on agricultural sustainability. The success and sustainability of agriculture is something all Australians have a major stake in, and it is essential that we take a broad and long term view of the challenges and opportunities in the sector. Bringing different viewpoints and unusual suspects together to tackle vexed and complex policy issues is vital – and this is a real strength of CPD’s approach. We are committed to playing a continuing role in helping to facilitate and deliver on these conversations.”
Sue Ogilvy: “Farmers are extraordinarily important because of their role in looking after our landscape and because this requires an amazing range of skills and capabilities. But businesses and consumers that enjoy the benefits provided by farmers have not traditionally shared either the responsibility or the benefits fairly. If we want more from farmers – if, in addition to good food and fibre, we want better soil, more biodiversity and healthier waterways, we must be prepared to create the markets and the supply chains that recognise and reward the farmers for delivering it”
Travers McLeod: “The discussion demonstrated the expertise and commitment of the key players across the sector when it comes to sustainability. What is lacking is a strategic vision for agriculture that puts sustainability at its core. Any other strategy would be self-defeating because in the long run profitability, productivity and sustainability are bound up together. But this is about more than just being defensive – strong performance on sustainability could offer a major strategic edge as global markets for clean, green, healthy products continue to grow.
(l-r) Andrew Metcalfe, lead author Sue Ogilvy, Travers McLeod and Sam Hurley