THERE were a few cuts to Beef 2015, so Sam Trethewey decided to slice his inaugural visit into bite-sized chunks.
I met with Warren Truss, which as an experience I’d call ‘vanilla’ at best. Barnaby was rushed, red-faced and being dragged around so I didn’t get to hear about what the government has done for beef, farmers and markets with free trade agreements for the seventh time.
Joel Fitzgibbon was, however, delightful, engaging and happy to go ‘off topic’. Should Australians swing to Labor next election - or rather vote against Abbott - the government of the day aside, if Joel secures the ag portfolio, the industry will be in capable hands.
No celebrities to report, other than George The Farmer, the South Australian-made children’s character who continues to build momentum in both country and city households as he communicates real stories about farms, food and fibre to our youngest generation.
I met with co-creators Simone Cain and Ben Hood, who are both ecstatic with the response they’re getting from their new song and two iPad books.
No matter your bias, all the cattle looked fantastic, and they tasted good too. A huge well done to the young girls and boys who fed, watered, shined and showed off the best we have across the menu in Australian beef. You did the industry proud and I’m sure your work ethic and attitude was noted by all who attended.
Having been fortunate enough to have experienced work outside the ag industry in the city - but endured the crap that goes with it - I’m reminded how lucky we are in Australian agriculture.
Our CEO, CFOs, senior executives and thought leaders wandered around, mingling with everyone. They were approachable, engaging and interested, with no egos or carry-on. It was great to see everyone connect and share stories, ideas and experiences, not matter where they sit in the industry.
Youth in agriculture
It was great to talk with some young girls and guys who are locked, loaded and working hard on a future. There’s a real buzz which is so exciting.
One young bloke I met owns and leases several thousand acres and has leased much of his herd. He has to rely on some mining income to make ends meet while he gets through this dry spell, which makes him ineligible for a farm management deposit (FMD).
Working hard on making a start and being kicked in the teeth by red tape is no fun, so he’s frustrated and we have much work to do there.
Around 1000 people came through the gates from more than 50 countries. The Chinese and Indonesians dominated as their love for Aussie beef grows and their hunger for knowledge of our production and supply chain needs feeding.
It was great to see Indonesians not distracted by the sentiment of fickle-minded capital punishment populists in Australia. I also noted the CEO and chairman of Fieldays in New Zealand attended. They put on a show of this scale with as many foreigners every year, and were particularly interested in the symposium and selection of speakers that opened the week.
Theme and speakers
Beasts, beer and burgers aside, the speakers, seminars and presentations set the theme and ran every minute of the day on numerous topics.
I noticed sustainability - both in production and business management - didn’t get much of a mention, which was a surprise to me.
The opening symposium on Monday set scenes of a slightly bigger picture than the smaller seminars throughout the week, which were more micro-focused.
Senior marketer Craig Davis kicked off the symposium. He’s delivered presentations on branding Australian agriculture before and when he said: “Australian Beef is a snack for Asia”, he emphasised the need for Australian food to position itself as a premium brand with the relationships to match, thus maximising our revenue through selling into high-margin, premium markets and abandoning commodity thinking.
The majority of speakers who followed changed tack and steered along commodity lines around volume and the driving of numbers into overseas markets.
It’s clear the low-volume, high-margin strategy isn’t for everyone. Most prefer the high-volume low-margin strategy, which is also preferred by processors who buy at commodity prices, brand the meat and sell into premium markets anyway, thus enjoying those high margins.
The choice in strategic direction for producers is there, and the rewards and market space to match, no matter your choice. But JBS and AACo - the world's (and Australia’s) largest protein producers -left us in no doubt of their strategy: buying or growing commodities and branding into premium markets.
McDonald's presented well. Gary Johnson, their senior director of strategic sourcing, sustainability and worldwide supply chain management, made some great points about where the McDonald's brand is going and what their customers are demanding.
They’re listening to social media and have created an “our food - your questions” forum which has been invaluable in creating more transparency in the supply chain.
Gary said people will never come in and ask: “Give me that sustainable burger”, but they want a clear brand story that articulates clarity and sustainability in their food.
Love it or hate it, get it or not, being ‘close to the consumer’ cropped up regularly in many sessions throughout the week; and that a “social licence” or “community licence” is important and should be kept in focus by producers, whether or not they agree with it or not.
It was an awesome week, filled with both new and familiar faces. A huge thanks to the team at Beef Australia for having me and all the people I was able to connect with.
Good things come in threes, so we’re standing by for 2018!
At the NAB social media 'command centre'