CEO UPDATESUpdates from Niki Ford, CEO of Australian Organic Ltd
MARCH & APRIL 2020
Like no other crisis we have experienced in our time, COVID-19 has forever changed our lives and will no doubt go down in history as a pivotal moment that defined our future. While many consumers embarked on a series of panic buying sprees, supply chains became restricted, aero logistics shutdown; and federal and state borders closed. Through all of this, Australian producers have kept supplying produce to meet the growing demand. While all consumables were in high demand, certified organic consumption increased higher than 50% according to retailers and wholesalers during its peak and has settled back to higher than expected sales rates.
International reports have suggested that increased organic demand during previous health scares lasted well after the crisis passed. During the BSE crisis in 2000, organic meat sales outstripped supply; SARS saw organic consumption surge across many Asian countries; and the melamine scandal in 2008 bolstered demand for organic baby food across China.
While the future many provide uncertainty as what the new normal will look like, we can be assured that organic produce will be highly valued, in demand and become more mainstream.
You would all agree it has been an enormous few months for the industry and yet we have only just begun on what is going to be a dynamic year for organics. I have had the privilege of talking to many of you over the past weeks and I am hoping to connect with many more over the next month or two. I wanted to end my update by thanking Bud licensees for their ongoing support. AOL is only successful because of the support and trust you have in our organisation to deliver domestic regulation and build a strong future.
Chief Executive Officer
Australian Organic Ltd
TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER
Like all businesses over the past few months, the AOL office staff have adapted to the changing environment daily. With the sudden changes to events, we refocused our attention to delivering on-time communications, providing commentary to Government when requested and launched a dedicated COVID-19 webpage to keep members and industry updated during this challenging time.
Advisory committees continued to meet to discuss key issues during the past few months, all members generously providing their time during this busy period.
The Grain committee formalised its structure with a clear view for future meetings and will be convening a broader industry meeting in May.
The Allowed Inputs committee met and requested AOL collate a listing of vital raw materials and services they use to minimise disruption to the farming inputs supply chain. A survey of certified Allowed Input was conducted by AOL and a list collated for submission to government, via our NFF counterparts.
The Horticulture committee met with Kelvin Free chairing his first meeting, with a focus on the strategic direction and contribution the Advisory Committee will make on behalf of the Industry and the horticulture sectors. The committee is currently finalising the steps to initially pursue two potential research projects, one in sustainable packaging and one in robotics.
The Vigneron committee is in constant communication as a group, most recently agreeing to focus on innovative industry opportunities to grow the awareness and understanding of Organic wine to a broader consumer audience.
THE STRATEGIC ROADMAP
While COVID-19 is disrupting daily activity, we haven’t lost sight of our number one priority: Domestic Regulation, and continue to carry out extensive groundwork and lobby on this initiative.
During March, at the height of COVID-19, AOL was able to speak directly with Minister Littleproud and brief him on Domestic Regulation. Minister Littleproud agreed that the consistent approach to export and domestic standards made sense and expressed his full support. AOL has been working with his advisors to provide insight into possible pathways and advise on potential implementation processes.
During this time, we have also been in contact with Minister Birmingham’s office and Federal representatives such as Senator Davey to ensure all key stakeholders are engaged and briefed on the progress to date.
In other welcome news, AOL was awarded a significant ATMAC grant to support ongoing work on trade and export issues for organic producers. The grant funding will assist further development of the successful industry forums over the coming 18 months to assist operators understand and gain access to key international markets.
AOL participated and contributed weekly to the NFF DAWE COVID-19 telecoms that were hosted and attended by NFF members and Federal officials including Minister Littleproud, DAWE Secretariat Andrew Metcalfe and Senior Agriculture Industry Engagement Officer Mark Tucker. We were successful in having certification and auditing services added the list of essential Agricultural workers that was delivered by the NFF to Government. This list was in turn passed to all state and territory authorities to provide a framework for essential workers to more easily cross borders during the restrictions. As the crisis has begun to stabilise, the NFF DAWE meetings will now take place fortnightly until they are no longer necessary.
Ongoing discussion with ACCC, Choice, other industry bodies, RDCs and major retailers during the past few months has led to these organisations expressing their support in the principal pathway to a consistent approach to organic regulation in Australia. Even stronger is the support for the National Standard to be the single standard for export and domestic markets.
SECURING A SEAT AT THE TABLE
Our invitation to the COVID-19 Roundtables hosted by Minister Littleproud demonstrates an acknowledgement of the role our Australian Organic industry will play in the future of agriculture. These roundtables provided in-time updates from the Minister as well as the opportunity for attendees to voice the most significant issues facing their industry. For those who missed it please see notes and updates below:
I am proud of the agility demonstrated by AOL over the past weeks, especially the professionalism that has been demonstrated by the team – simply getting on with the job of supporting members and delivering outcomes for our industry – during this difficult time.
All the while behind the scenes, work continues with the AOL, Bud Club and Australian Organic Schools websites. A new look and feel for all three websites will be launched in June, the result of significant work contributed to by the whole team.
AOL’s partnership with ABC Organic Gardener magazine continues to grow with a new article published highlighting the challenges faced when choosing organic products in Australia and the importance of always looking for the ‘Bud’.
A host of podcast opportunities have been a welcome interaction during social distancing, with AOL featuring in All the Dirt, Real World Gardener, Nourished Life as well as launching our very own podcast – The Australian Organic Collective.
It was also a special honour to be interviewed by Halina Baczkowski for an ABC Landline segment that will air later in May.