2019 Nuffield Australia Conference Presentation

The Business of Branded Beef

Well it was with a great deal of nerves and anxiety… and now I am pleased to have completed my presentation “The Business of Branded Beef” at the 2019 Nuffield Australia national conference held in Brisbane, Australia during September.

Here’s a link to my presentation where I tried to sum up, in a short duration, the key things I learned from successful producer-led brands about collaborative value chains, the use of provenance in attaining a premium and the opportunity for adoption of distributed ledger technology.

My report should be out soon – will share once available… I think I have a lot more I’d like to say about things I think we need to change in industry, especially to address the gap in service processing capability.  Will publish here in due course.   Right now, I’m busy adopting many of the initiatives I discovered during my scholarship for my own business and learning on the go – watch this space.

An oldie but a goodie… customers first

I am literally sitting here putting the finishing touches on my Nuffield Farming Scholarship report and thinking a lot about the mental shift from being a cattle producer to a beef producer and my natural tendency to think from the customer’s perspective backwards, retrofitting the business processes to the desired outcome or product rather than product first….  2017 scholar, Toby Bekkers also talks about customer-led design in his report about “What Can Agribusiness Learn from Luxury Brands?” and it really resonated with me.

Here’s a link to his 2018 Nuffield Australia national conference presentation for your viewing pleasure:

It got me to thinking about when I first started investing in a transition away from commodity production to producer-led branded beef.  The fabulous Fleur Anderson of Cahoots Radio fame (amongst other things!) and I sat down a few years ago to record an episode of her “Beating Around the Bush” podcast series and I recall already talking about this kind of thinking back then.

Thought it might be timely to share 🙂  https://player.whooshkaa.com/beating-around-the-bush?episode=93366       It’s about 1/2 an hour long.  A huge number of things have changed since then, with my exit from Comiskey Beef and Born Country Baby mere months away in tandem with the launch of my own independent heritage beef brand.  The passion and the principles remain the same though!

Heritage Foods USA

Earlier this month I was invited to join the panel for “The Main Course O.G.” show  in on Heritage Radio Network with Heritage Foods USA’s Emily Pearson+ Patrick Martin’s amongst the panel. Had so much fun!   Link to play is just here:


heritage radio group w vegemite JUL2019.jpg

Who doesn’t love the gift of Vegemite?

Never one to turn up empty handed to a party, I brought some travel-friendly tubes of Vegemite for the panel.  No doubt would have been better listener experience if by TV but the on-air tastings were hilarious (for me!).  I suspect, Chef Jeremy Price will be adding #Vegemite to the menu at  Cecconi’s Dumbo in New York, any time soon though! 🤣

chef jeremy price in heritage radio studio JUL2019.jpgInside the studio with the coolest boar’s head overseeing recording, Sonya Comiskey, Nuffield Australia and Chef Jeremy Price, Cecconi’s Dumbo USA.

Thanks so much for the experience everyone!  I also spent some time with the panel afte the show which was enlightening.  Enjoyed my first New York pizza at Brooklyn’s iconic Roberta’s restaurant. Thanks for the good food and chat Chef Price.

For me it was very interesting to talk all things heritage foods with Patrick Martins – some similar issues to those we face here in Australia around truth in labelling, cold chain logistics, managing the challenge of carcase balance as a brand owner / distributor and most significantly, access to custom processing and packing services.

I truly believe we have a crisis in the Australian beef industry – not only with a critical shortfall in access to quality, export accredited service processors, but also in the lost opportunity for brands who area unable to come to market as a result of the current composition of processing capability, both in terms of geographic location and their core business (custom processors or otherwise).

Big thanks to Patrick for the gift of his book, “The Carnivore’s Manifesto”, which I devoured with gusto whilst waiting for dinner at the highly recommended, St. Anselm in Williamburg that night (after aperitifs at Spuyten Duyvil first, of course!).  I hadn’t been able to source it elsewhere and it was a great read.

carnivores manifesto Brooklyn JUL2019.jpg

For those playing at home, I’m drinking Renegade Wine Co 2016 Columbia Valley Red Blend (crackerjack drop!)

Later that week, I saw a terrific documentary-style piece put together by PBS TV Wyoming as part of their Farm to Fork Wyoming series.  This episode, entitled “Beef to Butcher” encapsulates the challenge faced by producer-led brands so effectively – I urge you to find the time to watch it – set aside about 30mins.

Jump on Twitter and tell me what you thought of it – tag me at @QSP73Z.   The issues they are dealing with there are largely the issues we are dealing with here – though throwing in the export opportunity that is more characteristic of our Australian industry that that of the USA.

PART 2 Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference 2018, Netherlands

Day 2 – Reflections so far… possibly after a glass of wine.

At the risk of sounding airy fairy…. everything is interconnected. I don’t think feeding the world is actually about producing more food. I believe it is really about economic, political, social and cultural change. The same can be said about our own national agribusiness sectors down to individual farm business level. It’s all interconnected.

For me, this really highlights the vital importance of collaboration. I just don’t think we are truly collaborative (generally speaking) in Australia. I feel we have a culture of “How can I get the most out of this relationship? How can I win right now?” I often hear people boast about how they “screwed the supplier or contractor” as sign of business prowess and power. I rarely hear people talk about “how can we both win out of this relationship so that we create value that is sustainable (and possibly scaleable) for both of us?”

It has been quite a revelation to me to hear how this way of thinking is so ingrained in the Dutch national character. Yesterday Marc Calon, Chairman of the Land-en Tuinbouw Organisatie (LTO, Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture, an entrepreneurial and employers’ organisation – a cooperative organisation) said two things that stuck with me; “It’s in the DNA of the Dutch to collaborate and it’s in the DNA of the Dutch to trade abroad”. Of course, this mentality has been borne out of the history of the Dutch nation, yet it seems to me, to be intrinsically critical to their success as a small nation punching well above their weight in agricultural outputs.

Which in turn makes me wonder, what is in the Australian agribusiness DNA?

  • Is it to innovate because we’re isolated and no-one’s coming to help us?
  • Is it to help a mate when the chips are down?
  • Is it to work hard and wear that like a badge of honour?
  • Is it being resilient?

And are these the things that help us to survive or to thrive?

A couple of things I left Australia despairing about are the unworkable number of peak body representative groups and for some of them, such as Agforce Queensland, the relatively poor uptake of membership compared with the number of producers in industry. The problem with this is that as a primary sector or specific industry, we don’t truly have one voice that is strong and true and significantly influential. As someone who should know said to me in Canberra before we left for CSC: “It’s great for the government, they just cherry pick the opinions they need to support their agenda.” This spaghetti tree of complicated industry relationships has been quite the source of discussion amongst the Nuffield cohort and the overriding impression is a sense of “too hard basket” coming from most industry bodies and leadership. It’s not good enough and like many of my peers, I disagree with this state of play. What has happened with producer bodies in the Netherlands is a great example of what can be done.

The Australian Farm Institute’s Opportunities to Improve the Effectiveness of Australian Farmers’ Advocacy Groups report abstract says: “In fact of almost all farming sectors worldwide, the Australian farm sector is the least ‘organised’, and has very few examples of successful collective action – either in pursuit of policy or commercial objectives.”

Significant change CAN be achieved. LTO (the Dutch Farmers Union) dramatically reduced the multitude of farmer’s representative bodies to form one strong group now representing approximately 70% of Dutch farmers. With a pool of some 50,000 growers, they have 35,000 members and interestingly, 16,000 members are in the dairy industry. They had previously been aligned along religious, regional and ideological values. I believe values-driven organisations are the hardest to influence. Look how many conflicts, even wars, have been stated over difference of opinion in relation to religion, geography and ideology!

So… a massive achievement in my mind and one that really needs to be discussed in Australian agriculture, with a plethora of shouting voicing fragmenting advocacy and watered down influence on how and where agriculture fits in to our way of life. We are diluting and diminishing our own value by putting this kind of representative reform into the “too hard basket”. Not to mention the enormous financial leakage through duplication of roles, resources and services etc..

Too many cooks spoil the broth

Figure 1 TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL THE BROTH… Source: http://www.quakerquaker.org/m/blogpost?id=2360685%3ABlogPost%3A151920

As Dr Henk-Jan Kooij from Radboud University, Nijmegen said in his earnest presentation on national ag history here at the CSC, “If you have a problem, you do something about it”, a cornerstone of Dutch culture. In Australia, we have a problem and we need to do something about it.

Since writing this article, this issue has come into sharp focus in the Australian agricultural media with a recent article 31st July 2018 Queensland Country Life newspaper article by Kelly Butterworth and Shan Goodwin, excerpt as follows:

THE big players in red meat must step up, take positions on boards and re-invent their peak representative bodies. That’s the only way to halt the “crisis of relevance” currently eating away at some of the organisations advocating for, and conducting research, development and marketing on behalf of, cattle and sheep meat supply chains.
That has been the feedback from agribusiness consultants in the wake of claims levy payer funds are being chewed up by duplication of roles across the many industry groups in red meat. The number of research and development corporations (RDCs) servicing red meat sectors has come under heavy fire, with the argument being that, at times, each is paying for the same expertise and work. Managing director of big beef, sheep and goat meat service provider Meat and Livestock Australia, Richard Norton, says the duplication is costing the red meat value chain “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.”

Source: https://www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au/story/5555258/big-players-urged-to-drag-red-meat-representation-into-this-century/

richard norton from QCL article 2018

Figure 2 Richard Norton MLA who announced in September 2018 he will be leaving the organisation by the end of the year.

Richard Norton firmly believes in one research and development corporation. “The inertia of the industry at times holds back its ability and desire to go out and understand what makes us globally uncompetitive,” he was quoted as saying at an industry event in Cloncurry, Queensland, in July 2018.

A big hearty “hear hear” from me in response!

PART 1 Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference 2018, Netherlands

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.


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…

yvon jaspers image web

Figure 1 – Yvon Jaspers from Dutch television program “Farmer Wants a Wife”
Source: https://www.nu.nl/entertainment/5275472/15-miljoen-mensen-zien-nieuw-programma-van-yvon-jaspers.html


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.

netherlands export etc.. slide in english

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.

un global goals

Figure 4 United Nations, The Global Goals for Sustainable Development
Source: http://www.globalgoals.org


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!


on my way to conference in NL so cold

Figure 5 – On my way to conference venue in Zeewold, NL
Very cold for this Central Queenslander! It snowed later that week…