Make ag's Brand Australia's credentials better for trade battle

Nutrien chief sees Aussie ag's quality reputation slaying export rivals

Agribusiness
Nutrien's global president, Chuck Magro.

Nutrien's global president, Chuck Magro.

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One of the best cards Australian farmers can play in the global trade game is promoting the credibility of our agricultural products

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As the USA secures a huge $US32 billion agricultural supply agreement with China, Brand Australia will need to find fresh strategies to keep its valuable food market foothold in China and other overseas marketplaces.

One of the best cards Australian farmers can play in the fractured global trade game is promoting the quality and credibility of our agricultural products and production systems, according to farm services giant Nutrien's president, Chuck Magro.

"Australia has to find its place to continue to be competitive with the US and the rest of the world," said the former Canadian farmhand who now runs an agribusiness with 25,000 staff in 14 countries.

"The Australian competitive position already comes from having a tremendous quality brand in meat and plant protein that most consumers recognise around the world.

Compared to Brazil or the US or maybe somewhere in Asia, when you look at Australia there is a view that the quality and supply chain transparency is so much better - Chuck Magro, Nutrien

"The standards which Australia produces to are world class and based on many years of export performance.

"Australian exporters are recognised as reliable suppliers of high quality."

The challenge for farmers was to now do even better as powerful agricultural competitors such as Russia and Brazil emerged adding extra tension to global markets while new uncertainties like the US-China trade deal would likely require our exporters to work harder to retain markets they built in recent decades.

While Mr Magro said the steamroller impact of US-China trade deal was still "a big unknown" for Australian meat exports, the agreement' was much bigger than expected and may see America take a dominate share of grain and oilseed sales to China.

Improving and promoting the transparency and the clean and quality credentials of Australia's export dependent agricultural industries was now more important than ever.

He conceded most food producing nations were also striving to be cleaner and greener and responding to rising consumer expectations about food supply safety and reliability.

However, unlike Australia, it was not as easy to identify those quality goals within the complex national and international supply chains from which many overseas products originated.

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"Compared to Brazil or the US or maybe somewhere in Asia, when you look at Australia there is a view that the quality and supply chain transparency is so much better and easier to appreciate," said Mr Magro, who has led Nutrien since 2014.

"Today's consumer is changing and wants to know what's been used to produce that food, or the environmental impact, and they have certain animal welfare expectations."

Reputation is vulnerable

Australia had a competitive advantage when it came to sustainably helping feed a world population ballooning to 8.5b by 2030 and 9.8b by 2050, but it had to respond proactively to these expectations and "get it right".

A similar message about the reputation which accompanies credible resource management resounded from executive director of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Dr Steve Hatfield-Dodds in his opening address to the agricultural Outlook 2020 conference.

"The reputation of the whole industry or sector is vulnerable to the poor behaviour of a small minority," he warned.

"Every producer and supply chain participant has a stake in protecting our food safety standards and maintaining our national brand."

Ag technology to help

Mr Magro, whose first ties with agriculture began as a teenage dairy farm labourer near Hamilton in Ontario province, said there were great opportunities to use emerging agtech to empower sustainable agriculture, and for Australia be a role model for how government, industry and consumers can work together.

"We need to build a framework for better quality assurance management systems, drive leadership that provides background information about livestock growth, location, diet, or how much carbon or water was used to grow animals and crops.

"A lot of that technology to help us already exists.

"If we get it right and map what consumer preferences of the future will be like, we can lift the value of the Australian brand even further."

No free lunch

Frustratingly, however, a great conundrum of the modern marketplace was that consumers could also demonise the very technologies which made sustainable farming possible, including broad spectrum herbicide, glyphosate, now under intense fire from campaigners fearful of its health and environmental risks.

There are yield and environmental trade offs modern society must accept if we don't have these tools - Chuck Magro

Glyphosate was a "very important tool".

Without it tillage would increase to achieve weed control creating more greenhouse emissions, damaging soils, increasing moisture losses and compounding waterway degradation risks.

"Decisions we make must be based on science and data and there are yield and environmental trade offs modern society must accept if we don't have these tools."

"With more people on earth we'll need more food, which is likely to mean more forests are cleared for crop area.

"There's no free lunch here."

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The story Make ag's Brand Australia's credentials better for trade battle first appeared on Farm Online.

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