IT WAS 1985, I was two-years-old and we were living on King Island just off Tasmania farming beef.
Dad also was a Cray fisherman and spent every second week at sea. Mum, in her 20s with two kids, started designing and manufacturing quality jumpers made from Australian wool, milled in Ballarat. They came with suede elbow patches making them quite unique and 30 or so years on, you still see one or two floating around the Agfest Field Days in Tasmania.
She had a strong response to the jumpers, so left my sister and I with neighbours while her and Dad took off to the LA County Fair in California for a few weeks to promote their wares. LA County Fair used to have a strong agricultural scene and sees over a million people walk through the gates every year.
Mum and Dad went over to show off her unique line of Aussie jumpers and knitted dresses, some designed with hints of “Australiana” that, I’m sorry to say Mum, were good to have been left in the 1980s. They decorated the catwalk with eucalypt branches Dad hacked down and “borrowed” from the local botanical gardens and to start the show, he’d climb up on stage in the uniform (RM’s, moleskins and a blue shirt) and make a 12 foot stockwhip crack and dance above the hundreds of heads eager to watch on.
Next door on the site was New Zealand - its stand took up three spots and its representatives there were showing off the evolving brand “New Zealand” with its rich agricultural talent. Mixed with tourism, they were selling plane tickets and trade tours along with showcasing their premium brand of lamb, beef and dairy.
Mum thought she’d touch base with Austrade (the Australian Trade Commission), and eventually found them occupying a desk in the administration building, just so Australia had presence in case someone wanted or needed them. They said they’d just launched Paul Hogan’s “Put another shrimp on the barbie” advertising campaign, which apparently constituted for all the international branding and development in trade we needed. I’m not sure if it’s arrogance or ignorance, or both, but comparing Australian and New Zealand 30 years later, little has changed.
Before you shift to your back foot and get all patriotic on me, next June get yourself to Fieldays in New Zealand and see for yourself. I was blown away last year when I visited by Kiwis having a bloody good attitude towards agriculture, and having just returned from this year’s event, I was further astounded.
Their focus at home is not China, Korea, China, Japan, China, like so many other countries, but on innovation, collaboration, investment and getting younger generations skilled up to take it all on in future. It’s a smart move as there’s not much point knocking on the doors of key markets when the engine room at home isn’t ready or able to sustain relationships abroad through quality, quantity and safe food with a global brand to match. That said, they’re out there, working hard to maintain and build relationships worldwide and that was highlighted this year at Fieldays.
Last year’s theme for the epic four-day event was “Getting down to business in the global economy”. Well they created some great momentum there as the list of international guests who were there watching, trading, learning and snooping is too long to mention.
I was able to chat with Ministers from Ecuador, Canada and New Zealand and Ambassadors and Governors from Mexico, Korea and Argentina, not to mention the numerous delegations from China, Chile and Europe.
Unsurprisingly, local agribusiness leaders hovered around the Business International Centre where meeting rooms were constantly in use. The Australian High Commission was there as a sponsor but the presence from any Australian ag leaders was almost nil. It was a shame, given the hive of high calibre guests from key markets around the globe were just a five-hour plane trip from Sydney.
As I mentioned last year, we should be learning from our neighbours, to build us all up. The opportunities are there.
While deals and conversations were had in meeting rooms, the 350 acre site heaved with its 900 exhibitors selling, feeding and entertaining nearly 120,000 people this year.
The live robotic milking was a stand-out feature, but the best was hard to pick as the sites and their fit-outs were world-class and would almost overwhelm the hungry mind of a person who’s absorbing all things ag. On-farm technology or “agritech” was a strong focus and was noted by many of the international guests I spoke with. It’s a sector New Zealand businesses and innovators can sell onto almost any agricultural industry around the world.
And if that’s not enough to convince you, it’s estimated Fieldays generates up to half a billion NZ dollars in sales and run-off business.