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Beyond the Bale : Dec 08 - Jan 09
20 Education Beyond the Bale Wool scholar seeks greater stake in supply chains Smaller producers need direct links with the supply chain, says Nuffield Scholar Ben Ranford By Catherine Norwood S outh Australian woolgrower Ben Ranford has returned from his 2008 Nuffield Scholarship travels with renewed determination to become more involved in the supply chain of the wool, grain and sheep meat he produces. His travels to India, the UK, the US, South America, Europe and Ukraine as part of his AWI-sponsored scholarship have also given him renewed confidence in cooperative agribusiness ventures as a means of providing increased returns to growers. Ben believes that if farmers want to be anything more than commodity producers it is essential they understand the requirements of their customers. It is a regularly repeated observation by anyone who meets agriculture’s customers, but gaining that understanding and putting it into practice tends to be easier said than done. This can only happen, Ben says, by becoming more involved in the supply chain and developing relationships directly with customers, rather than “leaving all that to others”. “It’s hard to meet customers’ specifications when you don’t know what they are,” he says. “I think feedback from customers is essential, and too often farmers don’t get any feedback about their product at all, especially if they sell into a pool, or through an agent, and don’t even know who the end customer is. “It leaves farmers very much at the mercy of agents and buyers, whose interests are not necessarily aligned with growers.” Nuffield ScholaR BeN RaNfoRd SayS hiS iNteRNatioNal Study touR haS highlighted the impoRtaNce of WoolgRoWeRS SeeiNg themSelveS aS SupplieRS of a pRoduct, Not juSt commodity pRoduceRS. Ben’s Nuffield Scholarship was based on the pressing topic of securing a vibrant future for agricultural communities in Australia. It is his view that successful farming businesses lead to prosperous communities. One such strategy for success is encouraging farmers to have a greater stake in the supply chain. He says it will help growers increase the return from their produce, with flow-on effects to local communities. And despite what Ben sees as the increasing distance between traditional cooperative companies (such as AWB Ltd) and the farmer-shareholders they were originally created to serve, he maintains collaboration is one of the best ways for growers to aggregate their capacity, to supply markets and have greater control of market processes and prices. “At the moment, farmers in Australia get little of WeSteRN auStRaliaN WoolgRoWeR aNd foRmeR aBc Radio pReSeNteR david cuSSoNS Will focuS oN media RelatioNS duRiNg hiS 2009 Nuffield ScholaRShip tRavelS. the retail value of their products – only about one per cent of the price of a designer woollen t-shirt, or a glass of beer goes to the farmers for the wool or the barley in that product,” Ben says. “If smaller farmers are to survive, we need a collaborative approach to supplying commodities and we need direct links with the supply chain, be it wool, grain or meat.” Ben is already incorporating the findings from his Nuffield travels into the development of new collaborations and market opportunities through FREE Eyre Ltd, an unlisted public company in South Australia committed to the development of the Eyre Peninsula region. The company was formed in 2007 and already has more than 300 rural business members and the support of the Eyre Regional Development Board. It launched a joint venture grain storage and marketing business this year, and investigations into other initiatives are under way. AWI will continue to support the development of woolgrowers and their capacity to contribute to the wool industry through the Nuffield Scholarship program in the coming year. Woolgrower David Cussons from Kojonup, Western Australia, has been awarded the AWI-sponsored scholarship for travel in 2009. David will investigate how agricultural industries manage public perceptions of farmers and agriculture in the media, visiting the US, the UK, Sweden and Japan. He will study communication strategies used during a number of international agricultural crises, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as mad cow disease), foot-and-mouth disease, equine influenza and Australian sheep mulesing practices. “It is apparent to me that the public perception of agriculture is currently poor, due to a string of recent high-profile incidents domestically and internationally,” David says. “I would like to investigate the lines of communication between farmers, lobby groups, government and the public, with a particular focus on the public relations strategies agricultural industries use. “I hope to develop some guidelines and strategies for proactive communication so that we can better promote our industry, instead of constantly trying to put out ‘spotfires’ when a crisis erupts.” More information: www.nuffield.com.au ú
February March 2009
Oct - Nov 08