Paul presented to the Net Zero Carbon Agriculture Summit hosted by Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen. Paul presented some possible futures for agriculture in a net zero carbon world and then facilitated a workshop for 140 people on their views on what the driver and trends might mean and what we needed to start, stop, and continue doing to achieve the desired future

The key points were:

  • The influx of venture capital money into agriculture was leading to the creation of multiple platforms for farm management. Examples included Green Atlas and Swarm Farm Robotics which are collecting large amounts of data. In the case of Green Atlas that data is already providing value up and down the supply chain. In the case of Swarm Farm Robotics they are collecting data to make their systems work better but also to supply to an ecosystem of innovators that can create products to plug into their autonomous farming platforms – like an App store for farming but for hardware and software. While those systems make sense for farm management, at the same time we are also building information platforms that will supply information to the supply chain in far greater volumes. Creation of these systems will creative a positive feedback loop where greater information flows drive greater demand for information. Examples included information for the Net Zero Banking Alliance which are using and will use farm data to improve decision making on funding decisions. This also means we are building an agriculture system which is far more technologically dependent.
  • While the IPSOS and CSIRO reports (see links in the presentation) are showing general support for action on climate change by the Australia public we are not seeing any great trends in increasing concern and in general the Australian public want moderately paced climate change action that does not cost them a great deal. However, Paul presented to the conference the “What If” scenario of what happens if there is a step change in public attitudes do to a major climate change induced incident that suddenly shifts public opinion. The example he gave was the slowing of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC) which carries warm water from the Southern Hemisphere into the Northern Hemisphere and stabilises the European climate. A collapse of this current could plunge Europe into a mini-ice age and destroy their agricultural industries. If that happened the demand for action from the public for governments and businesses to take more rapid action is likely to be overwhelming. The question for agriculture is how fast they need to get ready for such a possibility.
  • More and more people are being influenced by progressive issues such as climate change responses, general environmental responsibility and animal welfare when it comes to looking for jobs. Agriculture will have to be very active in these areas to continue to attract the skilled labour required to support modern agricultural supply chains which will be far more technologically dependent.
  • The future of shopping for agricultural products is likely to be far more automated, both on the delivery side and the menu selection and ordering side. Paul gave the example of Hungryroot in the USA which uses customer questionnaires and customer data to deliver healthy food choices to American consumers using machine learning systems. It is a small step from those recommendations to including customer preferences for agricultural supply chains that have taken action on climate change. The future Paul envisaged was a consumer that could ask their shopping system to only supply them food products from agricultural supply chains that were rated 4/5 or above by three trusted ratings agencies that assessed agricultural supply chains independently, tied to the information platforms described above. Hungry root grew 40% to US$330 million in turnover last year while also making a profit of US$9 million which is unusual in a rapidly growing business in this sector. Paul also pointed out that the consumers that use these systems are going to be the more affluent customers for agricultural products.
  • Consumers and governments who make decisions on international trade will be looking at other examples where industries have made big leaps in the face of big challenges and asking why agriculture has not does the same if we do not take action. Examples included decarbonisation of the electricity generation systems and the electrification of transport.  Electrification of transport is accelerating far faster than people expected with massive over supply of battery production resulting in falling prices of electric vehicles and rapidly increasing electric car manufacturing capacity in China threatening to overwhelm European and North American car manufacturers.
  • All of these changes are interlinked. If we build information platform systems in agriculture that supply information on climate change actions, there is a step change in public attitudes to climate change, consumer systems are developed to easily allow affluent consumers to make buying decisions based on supply chains that take climate change action, and other industries make huge gains then there will be a competitive advantage for agricultural supply chains that are ahead of the game. Not all of these changes have to come true to make that a reality. Just information systems linked to affluent customers making buying decisions based on climate change action would create a major difference. However if you add a step change in public sentiment to that mix then market access and regulatory requirements would also be part of the equation.

Unsolicited feedback from one of the participants:

Paul! That was a crackingly good session you took us through. Tight, concise and hit the right buttons. Look forward to remaining in touch.

Dr Andrew Monk

Climate Change Minister Bowen also described the key principles on which climate change action in the ag sector would be based:

1. The plan is developed with the sector, not imposed on the sector. Top-down targets won’t be a thing.

2. Climate change will diminish food security, but the policies that support the plan will ensure that Australia’s food security improved by this process.

3. Agriculture won’t be seen as the national sink, or everyone’s ‘offset service’. No other sector of the economy will get a free pass or say, ‘agriculture will do the heavy lifting’. Agriculture will do its bit, but it won’t be the dumping ground for other sectors’ emissions.

Paul: H/T to Sarah Hyland from Grain Growers who posted this on LinkedIn as I was too busy prepping for my session to take notes

Paul: Overall, I was impressed by the intent, sense of collaboration and energy in the room, and I left with renewed hope that a collaborative process with industry and government is going to kick some goals. I have a strong belief that a strong policy and regulatory framework is needed to unleash the full potential of innovators and entrepreneurs to make this change. Due to the nature of the session, it was not possible to get feedback on the day from all participants and my focus was on making sure the session kept on track and so I only got limited opportunities to listen to the individual table conversations. However, there were DAFF facilitators and note takers on every table and all of that information will be collated and analysed as input into the agriculture and land plan. I look forward to it taking shape.

You can view the presentation at: Possible Ag Futures in a Net Zero Economy in 2050

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