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 http://www.nff.net.au/blueprint.html

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.