Monthly updates from Niki Ford, CEO of Australian Organic Ltd

JULY 2019

It’s hard to believe we are six months through 2019 and FY19 is solidly behind us.

What a 12 months it has been since we demerged from our certification arm ACO, now ACO Certification Limited. Whoever thought a demerge was going to be seamless were kidding themselves; however, after more than thirty years of being together, both businesses now very proudly can say they are entities of their own.

FY2019 was the year of rebuild; Australian Organic Ltd (AOL) has previously been known for its marketing capabilities and bringing members together to socialise. However, when members (of which I was one) voted in November 2017, you tasked AOL with the responsibility of becoming the peak industry body for the organic industry as a whole. And for the past 12 months that is what AOL has been executing.

In order to become the peak industry body, we have had to chart a course that has not always been smooth and has certainly taken turns no-one had considered. We have had to re-evaluate every aspect of our business operationally – review the financial model, restructure the team, prioritise events and activities to support the progress of this change while still delivering value to our members and establishing our name on a federal and state level.

It hasn’t been simple, but our lean team has delivered results our members will be proud of.

Over the coming year I will continue to update you monthly on how we are tracking as the peak industry body. It is my commitment to deliver value to members by visiting more regions, creating more value-add forums, continuing to lobby government, proactively provide industry support on key issues and provide a consultative pathway forward. Together we are stronger.


Niki Ford
Chief Executive Officer
Australian Organic Ltd


We talked about key sector challenges at the November workshop prior to AGM 2018 and have since established four Advisory Committees for Standards, Export and Grain based issues.

In recent weeks, the grain committee and myself met with key representatives of the Biosecurity division of the Department of Agriculture. Through a measured and considered approach we were able to present a compelling case and influence decision on import permit restrictions that would have crippled the organic poultry sector. AOL will continue to work alongside all certified operators and departments to ensure positive outcomes for the future of the industry.

An additional five committees are currently being convened to work through challenges and opportunities in the Horticulture, Livestock, Vigneron, Allowed Input and Cosmetic sectors. Each committee member volunteers their time to assist the industry work through key issues and we appreciate the time and effort each member contributes.


One the greatest opportunities coming into AOL was to review the current Membership Model and how we could position the business to support the needs of all certified operators into the future. We are taking a considered and managed approach to all options and will present a new model for member approval at the 2019 AGM.

While reviewing the Membership model, the AOL Board and I have also spent considerable time developing a strategic plan. We have consulted and engaged with the Department of Agriculture during the development of this plan and will present the final version to members at the 2019 AGM. This document will be the backbone of our organisation for the next five years and provide a very clear roadmap on how we will drive future outcomes to protect and promote the certified organic industry.

The ACOS has also not escaped review. To ensure the standard remains up to date and relevant we will continue to evaluate its content as new recommendations and global updates are advised. The first of two updates in 2019 has already been published; updating EU requirements, COSMOS and cosmetic standard changes and harmonisation to National Standard requirements, a second update will be open for public consultation and is due out in the coming months.


Monthly trips to Canberra to meet with Ministers and Departments of Agriculture, Trade and Industry have ensured the certified organic industry has a firm but considered voice. Continued dialogue on domestically enforced regulation, market access into overseas markets and grain importation challenges are amongst the key strategic discussions.

Strong relationships have been developed with the new Minister for Agriculture, Bridget McKenzie and her advisors; the Biosecurity division, Departments of Agriculture and Industry. AOL continue to prosecute the interests of the certified organic industry and its operators to ensure a future for generations to come.


During March, I travelled to the USA to understand how we could build a successful structure for membership and lobbying. I attended Expo West in California, meeting with US organisations to gain insights into how AOL can best serve our members and represent the broader industry.

Key relationships were established with Laura Batcha, CEO for OTA, the US peak industry body; various representatives of CCOF, California’s (and the USA’s) largest certification body; while also taking in the learnings of a developed certified organic market.
Visiting the world-renowned Rodale Institute was a key highlight of the USA trip. Rodale’s Executive Direct Jeff Moyer shared research insights and the Institute’s commitment to the high standards of organic and regenerative agriculture.

AOL has also established collaborative partnerships with Soil Association. 2019 Organic Awareness Month will see Australia and the UK co-promote each other’s events while driving awareness globally of the benefits of the certified organic industry.

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Carlo Leifert, internally renowned Professor and Director of Organics Research Southern Cross University (AUS) and Newcastle University (UK). Carlo is currently leading research teams in three countries working specifically on science-based evidence for the nutritional content in organic produce and grains. His peer-reviewed publications are due out later this year and we look forward to partnering with him to circulate this valuable content.


AOL became proud members of National Farmers Federation (NFF) which has allowed us in a very short time to develop meaningful relationships with broader industry partners. The NFF membership has opened doors and provided networking opportunities that will benefit AOL members into the future. Discussion on key industry matters such collaborative grain growing opportunities with Grain Growers Association, state-based support on industry matters with Agforce, federal issue support from the NFF itself and most importantly promoting the organic industry on the national stage.

Australian Organic Schools (AOS) program is now available on the PIEFA education platform offering all teachers and students seeking Agricultural school content access to our Nationally accredited Organic education program. PIEFA meeting attendance has identified what more the AOS program can be offering to encourage younger generations to consider agricultural jobs as a future pathway.
Our membership in the Australia Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) and Australian China Business Council (ACBC) have both offered introductions to further our resource bank for delivering engaging and business development content to members.


The organic industry has traditionally found consumer access via independent health food and supermarket stores with only a select range of commodity lines making their way into the major retailer chains. The past 12-18 months have seen a transition to support certified organic products like never before. AOL has been working closely with Woolworths, Coles and ALDI to ensure that the certified organic categories are well promoted across the key periods such as September. All three major retailers have committed to supporting the Awareness campaign for the second year in a row and will proudly display the campaign logo online, while Woolworths has also committed this year to POS material in-store throughout key locations.

AOL will again this year provide POS material to all retailers, wholesalers and businesses who express interest. Digital marketing content is also available for social and website requirements.

Outside of September, AOL now offers advertising/marketing opportunities at a very low cost to all Members wanting to grow their consumers reach, especially via social media channels. To understand more, send the team an email at marketing@austorganic.com


To support the future of the leading industry body we restructured the operational team. This restructure has provided growth and development both personally for existing staff while also establishing new roles to support members and industry needs.

Rhonda Vohland remains our oracle and Finance and Administration Manager, while the following changes have been made to form a dynamic team that will in my view take our organisation and industry into the future.

Kelsie Taylor is our Social Media & Events Coordinator, an expert in creating events and developing Social Media content.

Bianca Staats took on the exclusivity focused Membership Coordinator role in March.

In late April, Amanda McLennan became our newly appointed Project Coordinator, managing all project and campaigns.

Harriet Kendrick became our new full time Communication & Digital Coordinator, a position previously only part time.

Kelly Treacy began her role as Executive Assistant supporting myself and the Directors.