Beef producer, agribusiness leader and former National Farmers Federation (NFF) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) boss, David Crombie, is this year’s Rabobank leadership title holder, recognised for an outstanding contribution to food and agribusiness.
Mr Crombie, also a one-time Wallaby and Queensland rugby star, has been applauded for “a truly awe inspiring” contribution to the farm sector and wider community over four decades.
The agricultural industry luminary collected the trans-Tasman award at this year’s Melbourne presentation dinner, alongside 2017 emerging leader, organic farmer, Nathan Free.
Mr Free is managing director of Victoria’s largest organic farming operation, Duralgai Horticultural, based on his family’s irrigation farm at Lake Boga in the state’s North West.
He started growing vegetables at 15, selling his produce at a roadside stall.
Both men were among 300 food and agribusiness leaders from across Australia and New Zealand at the annual Rabobank leadership event – the “night of nights” for Australian agribusiness.
“You would have to go a long way to find an individual who has accomplished and contributed as much in agriculture as David Crombie
Presenting the awards, Rabo’s Australian and NZ managing director, Peter Knoblanche, described Mr Crombie’s contribution as “exhausting”.
“You would have to go a long way to find an individual who has accomplished and contributed as much in so many aspects of Australian agriculture – indeed Australian business and public life – as David Crombie,” Mr Knoblanche said.
He pointed to more than 40 years of commercial and representational experience in agriculture, much of it at the top of industry bodies and business enterprises.
Busy Crombie career
Mr Crombie chaired MLA between 1998 and 2005 and Meat Standards Australia (MSA) from 1996 to 1998, and was NFF president for four years to 2010.
He is now a director of Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), Alliance Aviation Services and Barrack Street Investments.
He is a past managing director of King Ranch Australia (Queensland Northern Territory Pastoral Company) and a founding partner of international development company, GRM International, which provides development assistance and impact investment around the world.
His corporate career has also involved board positions with Grainco, the Export Finance Insurance Corporation, Foodbank Queensland, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, plus Queensland Rugby Union and the Australian Rugby Union, of which he was president.
In 2014 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to agriculture, communities and sport.
Meanwhile back in southern Queensland, near Warwick and at St George, the fifth generation cattle producer still heads up the family’s farming enterprises.
“Such is David’s great passion for agriculture I am sure there is much more yet to come,” Mr Knoblanche said.
That passion included strongly advocating opening up northern Australia’s farming potential.
“Australian agriculture has indeed been fortunate to have such an outstanding and tireless ambassador held in such high regard, both in and outside the sector,” Mr Knoblanche said.
Let’s be proud of what we do, let’s tell our stories and let’s keep getting better at doing it
He was always generous with his time, mentoring and fostering others, including leading the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation from 2000 to 2008.
“During David’s tenure at MLA, he played a seminal role in building the meat industry’s reputation and skills at a crucial time in its development and driving change in the sector,” Mr Knoblanche said.
“He was the chief protagonist for MSA, the world’s gold standard for meat tenderness and consistency, and the National Livestock Identification System.”
He also served as co-chairman of the IndoBeef program – a collaborative research initiative between the Australian and Indonesian governments to strengthen Indonesia’s community-based beef sector the the country’s rural poor.
Mr Crombie said his career had been driven by a deep belief in agriculture.
“Australia is wonderfully positioned to take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.
“Let’s be proud of what we do, let’s tell our stories and let’s keep getting better at doing it.”
“There’s a view out there that ‘oh, I’m just a farmer’.
“Well, no, we’re not just farmers, Australian farmers are among the best food producers in the world.
Mr Crombie said while it was an important element of leadership to have clarity of vision and to advocate that view strongly, it was also essential to adapt to changing circumstances.
“In that sense, the production paradigm is shifting in agriculture,” he said.
“We are moving from a ‘fair average quality commodity mindset’ producing what we are comfortable with towards delivering the needs of our customers.”
The other peer-nominated and judged award for emerging leadership, collected by Mr Free, recognised him as “a force to be reckoned with” in the horticulture industry.
His ambition is to make organics mainstream and a bigger part of the consumer shopping basket.
“As someone with a huge thirst for knowledge, and passion for organics, Nathan’s potential is enormous – to not only grow his business, but to exponentially grow the retail market share of organics,” Mr Knoblanche said.
The 29-year-old returned to the family’s produce farming business nine years ago, converting conventional Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District blocks into a productive organic fruit, vegetable and cereal operation.
Under his leadership the business evolved a stronger customer focus with on-farm packaging facilities to distribute produce directly to major supermarkets and wholesalers Austalia-wide.
It also exports to the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Dubai.
Mr Free is also managing director of marketing business Wattle Organic Farms, the director of organic consultancy, Evolution Agriculture, and a recent Nuffield scholar.
“Nathan’s focus on the end-consumer drives every decision, whether that be around what variety to grow or how to present the produce in its packaging,” Mr Knoblanche said.
“This mindset and thought leadership that has seen him propel his business to where it is today.”
As someone who believed leadership was based on “good knowledge of what they’re doing”, Mr Free said he always kept his eyes open “to see how people innovate or do things differently”.