It has taken me a long time to sit down and get my head around this blogging business, but I have finally got it all set up and started documenting what I’ve seen and learned along the way this year. First up, the Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference held in the Netherlands during March 2018. I attended this incredible international event through the generous investment by Rabobank Australia (thank you!) with the 2018 Nuffield Australia Farming Scholars contingent.
DAY 1 – CONTEMPORARY SCHOLARS CONFERENCE, NETHERLANDS
First day of the Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC) hosted by Nuffield Netherlands at the marina of Centre Parcs in Zeewold, NL from 10 March to 17 March 2010. Some 140 or so people will be coming and going this week. The room is buzzing with energy!
Wow! What a huge crowd of interesting, enthusiastic and diverse people of agriculture from around the world. I’m sharing a table with people from Ireland, Brazil, France, the UK and Dutch TV star Yvon Jaspers of “Farmer Wants a Wife” fame. I understand the show is taken much more seriously than the cheesy Australian version, having been aired since 2004 with a plethora of successful marriages and baby blessings. I’ll find out later in the year during my return to the Netherlands on the Global Focus Program just how special Yvon and her show are and how they are influencing agriculture in a big way…
Figure 1 – Yvon Jaspers from Dutch television program “Farmer Wants a Wife”
We are treated to a potted version of Dutch history and the development of land and agricultural practices. Straight off the bat, I’m impressed by how this small country is really punching above its weight in terms of agricultural production. A nation of some 41,543 square kilometres (comparable to just 60% of the size of Tasmania!) with 17M inhabitants and 2nd only to the USA in its global export production status. Amazing! The reclamation of land from “the water wolf” through a cleverly engineered system of controls, mainly dykes and canals and use of windmills is key to their success. I do have a soft spot for clever engineering.
Figure 2 Netherlands Agrifood Export Figures 2017
The master planning by Dutch engineering legend, Cornelius Lely , in the form of the “Zuiderzee Works” following the great flood of 1916 has been paramount, as well as a practical approach to risk management. This is best summed up in the statement we heard, “when you straight jacket the river, you might open up vast opportunities, but you also live with increased risk such as bigger floods. The dyke will always break and you have to plan for it.”
Figure 3 Statue of Cornelius Lely located on the Afsluitdijk between Freisland and Wieringen, NL
Several things really resonated with me in these presentations.
- It’s in the Dutch DNA to collaborate. To work with others to find ways for us both to win. An open attitude to collaborative negotiation and business in that we talk about “I need to make money, you need to make money. How can we do a deal where we both make money and build a relationship that ensures these transactions are sustainable and benefit us both in the long run?” I feel like these discussions are more a matter of intent than actual practical, real discussions in Australia. We might think we or the other party has a collaborative intention, but we rarely, in my experience, transparently talk about it and bring it out in to the open. In developing a branded beef business working in the premium niche space, there are several relationships e.g. processor or sub-primals customer where there is great risk in that business or your relationship with them failing. I think the Dutch attitude is one we could learn from in this respect. I heard this sentiment over and over during my Netherlands visit.
- If you see a problem, you must do something about it. Big fan and something we could learn from. So much pontificating, so little action on some issues in Australia.
- Dutch Engineering Culture, summed up as:
- Believing in “make-ability”– working *with* the forces of nature, steering nature to our benefit;
- Agricultural engineering principals, you can create land and soil and develop “wild areas” (though there is much controversy surrounding the recent “Dutch Serengeti” Oostvaardersplassen project, making for interesting discussion after 5pm);
- Nature engineering, and;
- Social engineering (Joop Den Uyl, former Dutch Prime Minister was credited by the presenter here). The Almere area where our conference was being held was one area of interest in this respect. It is “new land” reclaimed from the water wolf and populated by nominated person based on social engineering principles in what is a relatively recent history. The idea of this ‘purposeful, planned population’ by a Social Selection Committee of an area to me is unheard of! I’m not even sure what I think of it yet. These new areas were founded on three pillars of Catholic, Protestant and Socialist ideological beliefs, aimed at developing “societal spirit” rather than class society. A community of “doers rather than whingers” was how I interpreted it.
Interestingly there isn’t perceived to be the same kind of wedge between agriculture and green groups as we are seeing in Australia. Particularly in relation to water management. With two-thirds of the Netherlands land mass being below sea level, water projects are seen to be “in the interests of public safety” and there’s little push back from Greens. This is such a contrast to my domestic reality where I can’t remember the last major water infrastructure development project in Queensland!
Furthermore, Environmental NGOs are often government funded. Projects tend to be consensus seeking with Greens incorporated into governance structures rather than see as an external stakeholder to “manage”. More of that “it’s in our DNA to collaborate” culture I think. I see the complete opposite in Australia, with a polarity between numerous environmental factions and agriculture e.g. vegetation management, Murray Darling Basin and animal welfare would be the main battle fronts I reckon. I wonder how far down the road we will go fighting each other and what the casualties will add up to?
We had a look at the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which thanks to the Threshold Accelerator program I did with Dent Global in 2016, I was already familiar with and a big fan of. My particular area of study around producer led beef brands (mainly marketing around heritage provenance) would best align with:
- Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure
- Life on Land, and;
- Good Health & Well Being.
Figure 4 United Nations, The Global Goals for Sustainable Development
I was really interested to learn that there is a correlation between housing affordability and the rise of the “foodie market” with people under mortgage / rental pressure or saving for 1st home tending to stay home more and entertain in-house rather than eat or entertain out. I hadn’t thought much about that before and it’s an interesting phenomenon and one worth considering that in March 2016, Sydney’s nominal median house price was $999, 600 and the national full time average weekly wage was only $1,516 before taxation in May 2016.
What a day! Mind. Blown. This is only a tiny snap shot of the many presentations and discussions which took place. Loving it!