IF I HAD a dollar for every time someone had pointed to Asia as the key for Australian agriculture in the future, I’d be a wealthy man.
However, in recent years I’ve become a bit frustrated with the never-ending conveyor belt of speakers spruiking just how much demand there is in China, or Indonesia, or Vietnam and how we’re all bound to strike it rich as a result.
Most of the commentary has been heavy with sweeping generalisations and light on for detail.
That’s why it was refreshing to listen to a series of speakers at this week’s Innovation Generation conference, hosted by Grain Growers who had a clear vision of how we can capitalise on the undoubted potential of the Asian market.
The key take-home message was that it is not just going to fall in our laps.
The much-touted freight advantage isn’t enough to stop Asian buyers sourcing grain from elsewhere should our costs become prohibitive or our product not meet their specifications.
We are going to have to work hard, especially in developing the premium markets so beloved of the hype-men.
Providing good post-farmgate information and services will be critical – and there’s no time to lose, you can see our North American rivals sparing no cost in familiarising Asian millers with the best way to use their product.
Another point that is missing from commentary is the need to better acquaint ourselves with potential customers, in terms of cuisine, customs and language.
We don’t talk about going out to eat ‘European’ food, its probably just as broad a statement to talk about a definitive ‘Chinese’ cuisine.
But that’s not all, its commonsense that if we want to win business we’ve got the best opportunity if we can speak the lingo.
As RIRDC ambassador Catherine Marriott pointed out, we take it for granted people doing business here will speak English, it’s a must if we at least attempt a similar courtesy abroad.
Finally, we have to target the right market sectors – and there are surprisingly growth opportunities. For those with high yield potential in particular perhaps rather than targeting the human consumption market, there will be opportunities in providing feed stock, given Asian agricultural land is generally too scarce for the production of non-human consumption crops. It’s a similar story with fodder, especially as a supplier of a growing Chinese dairy sector.
So there is reason to be excited, there are some fantastic opportunities across all sectors of agriculture here in Australia as Asian affluence continues to rise, but we’re going to have to work hard and continue to innovate if we are to get the most out of the Asian century.