Beyond the Top End

The theme for this year’s PPP’s 10th  conference was Beyond the Top End.

This was chosen because it was held in Darwin in Australia’s top end,  but the conference also aimed to:

 . . . explore just how we extend ourselves – in business and in our personal lives. We’ll take a look at how we push through the boundaries, hurdle over the barriers and go beyond where others have gone before. And we’ll ask (and hopefully answer) the question of ‘what does it take?’.

It did all that and more.

Chatham House rules applied which enabled everyone to speak freely but constrains what I can report. However, I can say it gave us the opportunity to hear from a variety of speakers who educated, entertained, informed and inspired us all.

We also visited the world’s newest meat plant and an outback station which gave those of us from other places an insight into the challenges which face those farming in the Northern Territory – crocodiles, dingoes, distance, dust,  drought, floods . . .

We had plenty of opportunity to network and learn from each other too.

An undoubted highlight of the conference was the presentation of the inaugural Zanda McDonald Award.

This honours its namesake, an Australian agri-business leader who died in an accident on his farm aged just 41.

Nominees were expected to demonstrate similar leadership and visionary characteristics to the late Zanda McDonald, including respect, passion, innovation, motivation, dedication, determination, curiosity, a strong work ethic and a desire to improve their industry.

The three finalists were:

* Emma Hegarty who grew up on a merino property in Queensland. She has worked in animal nutrition, and is a Beef Extension Officer with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. She also teaches agriculture at her local school, received a UNE Young Distinguished Alumni Award and was listed as one of the 100 most influential women in Australian Agri-business.

* Athol New who is the farm business manager for Purata at Dunsandel Dairies. He is responsible for 4000 cows on two farms with four sheds. He was a regional finalist for the ANZ Young farmer competition this year.

* Luke Wright who is manager of Orr Lake Elk in Quebec, specialising in genetics for antler production. He was manager of Landcorp Farming’s Stuart Farm, a 3000ha deer, sheep and beef property. He and his partner own a small deer farm near Te Anau.

All finalists gave polished presentations which showed how difficult a job the judges must have had to choose the winner.

It was Emma who won and was presented with a bronze award trophy, $1,000 cash, a place on the 2016 Rabobank Farm Managers’ program and an expenses-paid tailored mentoring package.

Rabobank also gave places on the Farm Managers’ programme to Athol and Luke.

You can listen to Shane McManaway, chief executive of Allflex Australasia, speaking to Jamie Mackay about the conference here and Ben Russell GM of Rabobank NZ also spoke of the conference in his interview with Jamie here .

The conference brought together 137 farmers and agri-business professionals from Australia and New Zealand.

We found we had shared concerns for the importance of animal welfare, food safety, recruitment and retention of staff, encouraging young people to consider agri-business careers, environmental protection and enhancement, bridging the rural-urban divide . . .

We also learned about different challenges Australian farmers face. One station in Queensland is in its third year of drought and has received only 65mls of rain this year. On top of that its plagued by wild dogs which kill stock and kangaroos which eat pasture.

This helped us appreciate the gentler conditions at home, even if it was a little harder to wake up to a frost this morning than it had been to wake up to 30 degrees in Darwin.

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