Cranky questions for the NFF about Woolies and the Blueprint

The NFF has “welcomed a new major partner in the Blueprint for Australian Agriculture: Woolworths”. Yes, one of the two giant supermarket chains that has slashed the value of milk to less than that of water is now helping to chart our farmers’ futures. My future, my children’s futures.

"It’s a matter of funding..."

In a media release, NFF president Jock Laurie said: “Having Woolworths on board will ensure that what consumers believe are the key issues for Australia’s food producers are captured in the Blueprint”. I felt betrayed. After the red mist settled, I wrote a list of six cranky questions and called the NFF. Admirably, the NFF’s Ruth Redfern has responded.

Would love to hear what you think! You can also participate in the Blueprint at

1. How do you anticipate farmer reactions will be to Woolworths’ involvement as a “major partner” in the Blueprint for Australian Agriculture?
We hope that farmers see Woolworths’ involvement in the Blueprint as positive. From our perspective, having Woolworths on board as a partner means that we can reach more farmers and more people in the supply chain with what we believe is a very important project.

Importantly, being a partner in the Blueprint does not mean that Woolworths has any more input into the outcome than any other single participant in the process. They have the same amount of input and the same opportunity to contribute as you do – so if you’re a farmer or anyone else with an interest in, or involvement with agriculture, and you haven’t attended a Blueprint forum or completed the online survey yet, please do so – as the more input we get, the stronger the outcome will be for our sector.

2. What is the rationale for such high-level involvement of Woolworths?

Having Woolworths (and Westpac, our other major partner) on board will allow us to take the Blueprint to as many people as possible. It’s a matter of funding – running a project like the Blueprint requires money, and as the NFF is a not for profit organisation, we couldn’t do this without support. By sponsoring the Blueprint, Woolworths and Westpac are actually putting money back into agriculture by supporting a project that will help us achieve a strong and sustainable future.

The important thing is that the agricultural sector makes the most of this opportunity. Blueprint is about giving everyone that has an interest in agriculture the opportunity to say what they believe the sector should look like in the future, and what we need to change or do now to get there. If you don’t contribute, you’re missing the chance to say what you think our future should be, or to raise the issue/s that are of most importance to you and/or your business.

3. Has Coles been invited to participate and, if so, what has been its response?

Earlier this month, we posted letters about the Blueprint to 500 organisations and businesses in the agricultural sector – including Coles as they are part of the agricultural supply chain, and all the banks that work with agricultural customers – encouraging them to participate in the Blueprint and to pass information on to their staff, customers, suppliers and networks.

At this stage we haven’t heard back from Coles, but we do hope that they participate – just as we hope that all other people and organisations in agriculture and the supply chain participate. If they do chose to take part, they will have an opportunity to contribute that is equal to every other participant – be it a farmer, the owner of an agricultural supply business, a truck driver, a food manufacturer, or a retailer, like Woolworths.

4. Aren’t we already painfully aware of the demands supermarkets place on suppliers?

The Blueprint provides an opportunity for suppliers to raise these, and any other issues they see as critical for agriculture to overcome.

5. Why should a supermarket have such an important role in setting the agenda for Australian agriculture when so much of our produce is exported?

There are two important things to take into account here. The first is that Woolworths will have no more input into the Blueprint than any other single person, business or organisation that chooses to attend a forum or complete a survey. They are simply helping us make the Blueprint a reality. Setting the agenda belongs to everyone who takes part – so the more input we receive, the more representative and inclusive the outcome. It’s up to us, as an agricultural industry, to set our own agenda – that’s really what Blueprint is all about.

The second is that while 60 percent of our produce is exported, 40 percent of what our farmers grow is consumed domestically – so both the export and non-export supply chains are important stakeholders in the Blueprint process.

6. The two supermarket chains control 40% of Australia’s retail sales and are in the midst of a price war. How can Aus ag resist the push for lower and lower prices?

Having a strong and competitive retail sector is very important – for suppliers and for consumers. Ensuring farmers receive competitive prices for their produce – be it those farmers who are supplying their produce to supermarkets or those farmers who are shipping bulk commodities off-shore – is expected to emerge as one of the key issues in the Blueprint process.

11 thoughts on “Cranky questions for the NFF about Woolies and the Blueprint

  1. Whether we like it or not the supermarket chains are not just buyers of ag product but controllers of the supply chain. This goes to the heart of the future of ag. We have to expect they will have a strong voice at the table. Hopefully the NFF won’t be unduly swayed by the money from Woolies but history shows that won’t be easy.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tony. I hope you’re right but if I were at Woolies and had committed a lot of money to the Blueprint, I’d be a little miffed if Woolies was given a link to the online survey like the rest of us and told “thanks very much and see you later”. Beggars belief in my view.

  2. Good on you for asking those questions, Marian. I still don’t agree with the NFF asking the duopoly to be ‘major partners’, and given the level of funding I imagine they’ll provide, can’t imagine how their voice is just the same as yours or mine, but perhaps I’m being overly cynical.

    On your last point – my understanding is that they control 70% of retail food sales, not 40%. Australia’s is the most concentrated grocery sector in the world, making Walmart’s 25% control of America’s grocery sales look paltry in comparison.

    Perhaps the NFF thinks it’s strategic to keep the retailers who have done their members (and Australians more broadly) such harm close rather than getting them offside. As a farmer, however, I don’t feel very happy about this partnership.

  3. I would love to see Woolworths investing ‘real money’ in the future of Agriculture through our young people. They seem to have money to splash around for various ‘Ag’ identified projects such as ‘AYOF’ and the ‘National Blueprint’ but from my perspective, this is just to try and make themselves look good. I want to see them put their money where their mouth is and support nation-wide education programs. The future of farming is lost if we don’t support the young people who want a career in agriculture!

    • Goodness, Alison – you’ve really stuck the boot in! I don’t know what else Woolies does to support ag. If you’re out there reading this, Mr or Ms Woolies, please do let us know.

  4. I went on a little tour of Woolies own private label ‘ Select’ the other day, and it really is interesting to find products from Spain, New Zealand, Thailand – you name it! Woolies are sponsors of other community programs and they have of course aligned with the Blueprint. It is really a dilemna where they give support and yet compromise it by operating in price cutting wars that affect primary producers.
    We need to encourage people to participate in the Blueprint, in order to make a difference. It is certainly a complex issue, and not a fair playing field for all agricultural enterprises.

    • That’s a very interesting point, Lisa. It was Coles rather than Woolies that sparked the price war and Woolies did publicly say the $1/litre price was not sustainable, which makes me feel less hostile towards them than I otherwise would. On the other hand, the little people – farmers and ultimately consumers – will bear the brunt of this discounting sooner or later. I don’t believe that the people with all the power in the supply chain will be the ones who pay the price.

      The big retailers are already very good at communicating what they want from suppliers (including farmers). Why we need them to help us shape a response to the environment they have (at least partially) created for us, I just don’t know.

  5. Well done Marian on questioning NFF. I tend to agree that we have to have all players involved but trying to balance funding with how much say each one gets is tricky. It was said to me recently that “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu” which sums up why farmers and all levels of the supply chain need to be talking to each other.

Leave a Reply