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Annual Reflections on the AIA in 2020

Tue 12, Jan 2021





While 2020 was a disruptive year for our Members, it was also a year in which we as a board and as an organisation have achieved a great deal.

From a professional development perspective, which is the core of our work, we delivered Ethics Masterclasses on four occasions, finding that the increased demand required us to create Introductory and Advanced streams. We had 84 eligible Members and non-Members take up the opportunity to become Chartered Agriculturalists (CAg) and 220 Members take up CPAg. Being a Chartered Member is industry leading and no other agricultural body is offering this recognition at such a high level of professional standards anywhere globally. Interest in our accreditation schemes continues to grow, with one of the drivers being international agricultural companies wanting to demonstrate to their stakeholders that they are operating at the highest levels of professionalism. Several new ethics case studies have been produced and delivered to the market by our Members, including new contributions in the Advanced Class. These now cover the topics of sustainable water use, biosecurity, financial sustainability, changes in land use, and advising on product sales and offering of agribusiness services. Thank you to those Members who have engaged in the delivery process and those who have attended and achieved their CPD points. Attendance will also be a requirement for applicants seeking to become Chartered in 2021.

Here are the other highlights from the year that was 2020:

  • We had two of our distinguished Fellow Members recognised for their achievements on Australia Day for their contribution to agriculture. These were Bob Hall FAIA AM from WA and David Leece FAIA AM from NSW. Read more here.
  • In February we released two new industry policies. One was on animal welfare and another on sustainable water use, both of which drew upon our recently revised Code of Ethics thanks to the efforts of our Accreditation, Chartered and Ethics Committees in recent years. The Chair also represented the industry in development of The Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan which provided a broad plan and practical ideas for governments, fire and land management agencies and communities to help mitigate and adapt to worsening fire conditions which will impact many landowners including farmers. Read more here. 
  • The Victorian Division continued to run monthly presentations on a variety of agricultural topics and the WA Division reported the findings of their vision-casting work on the future of WA Agriculture in 2035.  The Queensland Division attracted more than 70 people to a presentation by Professor Mark Snowden, a global leader in climate risks and agriculture. The South Australian (SA) Division was also rebooted thanks to the initiative and efforts of Craig Davis who is an active member based in the Division. A special thanks goes to the SA Members who have kept engaged with the AIA during the past 18 months. New South Wales and Tasmania continue to grow their ranks and deliver outcomes for their Members. As Chair, I highly recommend that Members reach out to their Division Executive Committee Members and put forward your suggestions for making a contribution, or ask how you can put your talents to use. While the most common reason for Members not getting involved is the lack of time, those that do engage find the pay back worthwhile. 
  • Our first online AGM was a success with 45 Members joining us from around the country. The Board met 8 times during 2020 and our Directors continued to progress committee work. New focus areas for the Board were introduced including a review of communications and marketing, making a start on the refresh of our national strategy, including planning for the relaunch of the mentoring scheme.
  • Deputy Chair and Company Secretary, Sarah Hunter, has been particularly active in leading the strategic review and ensuring that our policy set is complete and current. Scott McKinnon picked up the chairing of the Membership and Communications Committee and worked with the Board, and Hardman Communications to put together the new Alert format. Reader ‘opens’ and click ‘through’ has already increased over our old previous editions. Also, Dr. Elizabeth Read has taken on the role of Chair, Finance Audit and Risk Committee. 
  • We are adding to the diversity of voices and perspectives in our leadership ranks. The call for Board participation has been received well and we have been very successful in attracting new talent. The call is still open for aspiring as well as seasoned leaders to step forward to make your mark on the organisation. Our Committee Chairs are open to expressions of interest and your request will be considered as long as you are willing to roll up your sleeves and contribute to the strategy of the organisation. The need for training and development capability, and sponsorship expertise, are now critical at the Board level as we prepare to respond to the growing appetite for requests from professional to become accredited. Co-optees have been recruited to the Finance Audit and Risk, Advocacy and Policy and Nominations & HRD committees, and Membership and Communications Committees. This has given us a pipeline of leaders for Division Executive Committees as well as the Board, potentially for several years into the future. 
  • Our Members and Directors continue to contribute to agriculture both at home in Australia, and abroad. Dr. Daniel Tan was invited to present a keynote address at the Foshan Innovation Forum in January 2020 at Foshan, China and his research was featured in New Scientist, as well as several international journals. He was also promoted to Professor at the University of Sydney.  Outside of the AIA, Sarah Hunter has been driving change in regional business resilience through corporate, not-for-profit and government initiatives. Our Chair has led projects in sustainable water, renewable energy and net zero emissions projects. He also joined the Agriminds Group and represented the AIA on the AW Howard Trust overseeing a multimillion dollar trust and grant scheme to promote and support pasture research.
  • We surveyed our Members and identified the range of communications areas we are doing well in and what we can improve. We took action on this and, given our need to reduce costs, we refocused our resources on doing fewer things better, including fortnightly delivery of the industry Alert.  We continue to keep an open mind about how we use our precious resources and welcome your feedback. We delivered a bumper issue of the journal, Agricultural Science, thanks to the tireless efforts of Shaun Coffey and the many contributors who delivered an excellent issue, covering the important area of development agriculture and small holder farming systems. We will turn our attention again to production of the journal later in 2021 and we will be seeking an Editor, and also Member contributions, as well as looking for ways to attract sponsorship for the delivery of a modern, well balanced, industry and science-based publication. Please step forward if you have a vision for how we can continue this excellent publication. 
  • We continued our quest from 2019 to identify a better user experience (UX) for Members and have settled on the platform called Membes. This is a long-term investment and will replace Currinda, bringing with it many benefits including self-sufficiency which will reduce overall administration costs.  We also started using Our Cat Herder to manage and store Board and committee documents, helping us to become more efficient in the way we do things.  Our website and page design work is underway and we look forward to going live early this year. We also made updates to the criteria for the Young Professionals in Agriculture and PhD bursary awards to make nominations easier. Our awards program continues to be a winner among Members with 24 separate awards available each year. The Awards Committee (chaired by Ed Delves) also pivoted to successfully organise the AEV Richardson Award (National Student Award) event via Zoom. The Chris Russell Medal of Excellence Award continued to acknowledge the high quality of research conducted by final year students in all NSW universities, celebrating excellence in agricultural science. We also sponsored the Science Division of the AgriEducate essay competition, in which one of our AIA Members, Lianna Sliwczynski, won 3rd Prize
  • In November, we ran our first national AgDay event. This was an opportunity for Members to reconnect during the tail end of the COVID-19 lockdown period of 2020.  Two Ethics Masterclasses were delivered and we ran a photo competition and a virtual networking event. The South Australian Division took up the offer we put to Members and Divisions to use it to bring their tribe together. We will continue to utilise online platforms, reprising our successful insurance information webinars in early 2021 so as to give our Members the latest advice ahead of the insurance renewal period. 
  • Finally, for our sustainability, a new financial policy and budget template were developed and approved by the Divisions and the Board to help the organisation better deliver on our financial requirements, and ultimately performance. This requires each event, whether National or Divisional, to deliver a targeted surplus as a default position.

This year, we will introduce a new series of webinars focused on the contribution of indigenous agriculturalists to Australian agriculture, along with other initiatives that we will announce next year. We will also be tapping into the expertise and experience of our Fellows and senior industry professionals and sharing their career lessons, insights and wisdom, so watch this space too. We will also be seeking expressions of interest from those Members who are thinking about the legacy that they wish to leave which could include an award for outstanding performance by any of our Members (e.g. the Chris Russell Award) through to supporting a rejuvenation of our hallmark publication, Agricultural Science, or any contribution where you would like to invest into the future of the AIA and its objectives, and critically, to support our emerging leaders.

Of course there are many, many more contributions if we included the achievements of all of our Fellows and Members in this letter. I hope these give you a flavour of progress this past year. From myself and the Board, we wish all of our Members a very safe and impactful 2021 and we look forward to reconnecting and working with you to have a successful year.

Turlough Guerin CAg
AIA Chair


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