Innovation ‘top of mind’ at Global Farmers Master Class
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Innovation ‘top of mind’ for leading international farmers attending Global Farmers Master Class

Nearly 40 leading farmers from around the world converged on New South Wales’ Hunter Valley earlier this month to attend a global master class program on farming.

The Rabobank Global Farmers Master Class saw 35 producers from North and South America, Europe, Africa, New Zealand and Australia spend four days in Australia before travelling to Canterbury in New Zealand for the final six days of the program.

With this the fourth global master class to be held since 2012, the programs are designed to provide a unique opportunity for farmers from around the world to network and share best practice.

Focused on the role of innovation and agri technology in the future of farming, the 2016 Master Class program covered topics including global supply chain trends, succession planning, sustainability, the evolving model of family farms, precision agriculture and social enabling factors. Delivered through a mix of farm visits and best-practice demonstrations, it also included keynote presentations from industry leaders and farmers from a number of different enterprises and countries.

The Master Class participants also attended Rabobank’s Farm2Fork Summit, which bought together around 1200 agribusiness industry leaders, local and international farmers, food and agri start-ups, technology innovators and investors at Sydney’s Cockatoo Island on November 3.

For Brazilian farmer Vicente Bissoni, the Global Farmers Master Class provided an opportunity to visit Australia for the first time. Mr Bissoni is chief financial officer for his family-run business, Botuverá Group, which spans 30,000 hectares in Brazil’s prime agricultural Mato Grosso region. The business produces soybeans and corn, while running 7000 head of cattle. It also incorporates a transport company, which makes up 50 per cent of the Group’s total operation.

Describing the Master Class as a ‘lifetime opportunity’, Mr Bissoni said by bringing people together from around the world, the program provided a platform to share cultures, knowledge and experiences.

“We are often limited to mixing with people from our region or industry, but this experience has given us a global network of farmers that are willing to share and exchange their knowledge in a very open environment,” he said.

Hopeful that this network will continue well after the program has concluded, Mr Bissoni said it was surprising how many of the issues and challenges facing his business were similar to other participants in the program.

“While we all manage those issues differently, we are all looking to grow our business for the next generation in a sustainable way,” he said, “and we were able to debate these issues throughout the program, with the speakers providing an updated view of the market.”

For Mr Bissoni, the sessions around succession planning were among the most pertinent to his business.

“With my father and his four brothers starting the family business 40 years ago, initially as a transport business, it now incorporates the next generation with seven of my 12 cousins working in the company,” he said. “And now we will have to start looking at the management and ownership of the business for the upcoming generation, with my wife and I recently welcoming our first child.”

Leading US dairy farmer Stephen Maddox from Riverdale in California, was another participant to attend the program.

Chairman of the US National Dairy Board until 2013, Mr Maddox runs a large-scale dairy operation with over 12,000 Holstein cows, and exports RuAnn Holstein stud genetics to Australia. The third-generation business also incorporates a vineyard, almond and pistachio plantations, and lucerne and silage crops for cattle.

Also serving on the Sustainability Council for the Innovation Centre for US Dairy, Mr Maddox is a firm believer in feeding the world sustainably through the improved care of animals, which he says also pays dividends to producers by lifting profitability. However, he concedes that converting these positive messages to consumers can be difficult.

“Today, our consumers want to take away some of the tools we need to remain sustainable, such as GMOs and the latest scientific practices, many of which make farming possible,” he said.

Surrounded by “outstanding people” on the Master Class, Mr Maddox said there was much discussion around the next trends and steps to remain competitive in the global marketplace, while also continuing to be sustainable.

“Everyone on the Master Class is really pushing the envelope, and the stories and experiences that have been shared have just been mind-blowing,” he said.

“And while the program is not in any way telling us ‘what to think’, it is giving us the impetus to reassess what we are doing and reflect on the next steps for our business.”

Mr Maddox and Mr Bissoni were also joined by five Australian farmers on the Master Class including, quinoa producer and processor Ashley Wiese from WA, managing director of Burlington Berries Kate Sutherland, Queensland cattle producers Nikko and Jade Lord and broadacre cropping farmer David Brownhill from northern NSW.

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 115 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.6 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group is one of Australasia’s leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 94 branches throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Media contacts:

Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525 

Skye Ward
Media Relations Manager
Rabobank Australia
Phone: 02 4855 1111 or 0418 216 103