Tell us about yourself Olivia…
I grew up on a mixed-enterprise farm near Dubbo, NSW, where we have dryland and irrigated farming as well as commercial sheep and cattle and a Merino Stud. As one of four children, we are very lucky to have parents who have empowered us to be involved in the business if we choose to but who have also encouraged us to go and expand our skill sets and try other things. Whilst working in the city now, I am still very involved in our family business, particularly the Merino Stud and the launch of our new, branded Merino meat product.
Why did you join the FFN Board & what do you love most about the organisation?
I joined FFN because I believe there is so much to be done in helping young people get involved and advance their careers in agriculture and so much benefit to the broader industry to be gained in doing so. We need a strong talent pool of young people to run our businesses, ensure greater innovation and technology adoption and continue improving the global reputation of Australian agriculture.
I think educating and skilling young people up for their careers, and connecting them with mentors is vital to ensure we have a capable group of young people to run the ag industry in the future across all areas – production, logistics, finance, marketing, legal, policy etc. FFN does a great job achieving this: connecting diverse groups and linking young people with scholarships and training programs, facilitating mentoring, encouraging ideas sharing and networking through event promotion and hosting.
Tell us about your career…how did you get from high-school to where you are today?
I studied Agricultural Economics at Sydney University before working in business consulting and then going overseas. When I came back there was an opportunity to work on the delivery of a state-wide infrastructure fund in the office of the Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, John Barilaro.
I really enjoyed this role, as it involved travelling throughout NSW working with businesses and industry bodies to build regional infrastructure – everything from bridges, industrial precincts to mobile black spot towers to a livestock exchange in Casino. I am now managing the broader Regional Development portfolio for the Minister, looking after other funds, programs and policies that fall under the banner of Regional Development. We are now in the design phase to build inland freight hubs and airports, faster rail, more mobile black spot towers, more timber bridges and roads, more industrial precincts etc. under the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund.
One of my favourite aspects of this job is that each day I am working with different industries, businesses, councils and community groups and thinking long-term and big-picture about the future needs of rural and regional NSW. This includes looking at ways the NSW government can invest in the industries that underpin our rural communities such as agriculture, services, logistics, manufacturing etc. and delivering infrastructure, transport, roads and telecommunications to facilitate the continued growth of these industries.
My advice to anyone starting their career is to get as much work experience you can whilst at high school and university and also to get a good mentor who can help with tough decisions and provide general career advice.
What excites you about the future of agriculture in Australia?
There is so much growth and change in the agriculture industry at the moment – from major changes in consumer demand to changes in how commodities are supplied, packaged, transported and consumed as well as the mechanisation of traditional forms of production. I think Australian farmers are well placed to respond to these trends, with significant opportunity to gain more margin at the farm-gate through value-adding, better branding and direct supply models, more efficient production and capitalising on Australia’s reputation for producing ethical, safe and quality commodities.
New markets and value-added products will require new modes of marketing and distribution, from daigous to subscription services such as MeatMate and I can’t wait to see how Australia leads the charge in developing these alternative models, given that we have the means and impetus to do so.
We are in a period of major investment in infrastructure, which will be crucial to minimising transport and freight times for our overseas exports. Inevitably, industries that are making money will attract both public and private investment in R&D and infrastructure, so I am looking forward to seeing how the ag sector will evolve with more resources underpinning it.
At the same time, I am wary of the challenges Australian agriculture is currently faced with, from trade wars and price volatility, access to finance, climate change and domestic access to energy and water – all of which are impacting our ability to operate. I look forward to seeing the Australian ag industry find innovative ways to tackle these challenges – adopting technology, implementing new modes of production and processing, investing in R&D and increasing the productive capacity of our existing assets through improved management.