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What happens when passion meets practicality in innovative agriculture

Mark Allison is the Managing Director and CEO of Elders, with a career in agribusiness spanning 43-years. Here Mark observes the ‘Five P’s’ for successful innovation and why we need more than just passion to bring agriculture closer to its productivity and sustainability goals.

In the year since the last evokeAG. there have been many significant, hotly debated issues affecting our country’s future. It seems that society is more binary than it’s ever been in its public discourse.

RELATED: Putting humanity at the centre of agtech goals 

This is certainly the case in agricultural circles as well.

I find that too often the debates that affect farmers – trade, climate, innovation – are used as political ammunition rather than being grounded in finding practical and real solutions for the national good. This is where I see passion not being balanced with practicality.

Passion is something our farmers and the Australian people have in buckets, but passion alone doesn’t necessarily equate to the right answer, or success.

The ‘Five P’s’ guiding business, people, and communities

Passion is just one of the P’s and what I see as the ‘Five P’s’ for successful innovation. No doubt the first P – passion – is essential. However, we must start with a clear problem to be solved, and a clear reason to change and innovate.

The second P is patterns.

I’ve spent many years in the industry, originally as a research agronomist, before moving on to running several agribusinesses across multiple areas of various industries. Across them all, it’s been critical to locate patterns in data and behaviour and analyse them to understand trends and use these insights to make evidence driven decisions.

The third P in the five P’s is planning. Without a guiding strategy, we cannot go to where we intend.

At Elders we have an eight-point plan, which is our guiding light to achieving our strategic objectives, ensuring we have the resources and infrastructure in place to execute each component of the plan. The eight-point plan is on its fourth iteration. That’s 12 years of having a clear goal that we’re chasing, and then running the whole organisation aligned to that goal.

The fourth P is people. I spoke in 2023 about keeping the human impact of technology front of mind, and I stand by that.

The right people are key to innovation, both in its conceptual and implementation phases, as well as in understanding the personal and community consequences of the innovation or technology. This is so important for regional rural Australia, where towns and communities can be broken very easily because of the sparse nature of our country.

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The final P is practicality. And one that I think will resonate with the farmers everywhere.

Before we all began using digital farm management systems, we used a little notebook and our shirt pocket (hopefully a pink shirt pocket) because it was the most practical solution at the time. It’s still a mainstay for farmers.

But gradually we’re seeing ag tech automate this element of running farm businesses, thankfully, to allow producers to focus their time and energy on other higher priorities.

Innovation supported by an enduring framework

At Elders, we’ve been applying the ‘Five P’ framework to our innovation ventures for some time.

Clear Grain Exchange (CGX) is an online grain trading platform that helps buyers and sellers to transact grain and achieve the optimal price per tonne. Elders became a shareholder in November 2017. And in recent years, the company has more than doubled its market share of volume traded of the total Australian winter crop.

What began as a small business passionate about facilitating better trading platform, and better price outcomes for Australian grain growers soon grew, and its informal consideration of the ‘Five P’s’ helped CGX to address its practical limitations and foster innovation.

It’s a great success story, and it will continue to be a great success story. CGX is just one example of how active Elders is in the innovation space.

In 2023 Elders established Thomas Elder Sustainable Agriculture (TESA), an innovation arm that supports this adoption in an era of innovation, innovative, and sustainable farming practices.

A grant is also now open to the public dedicated purely to fostering innovation in rural and regional Australia through our community giving projects. The first ever round for applications for this project will open on March 12, 2024.

Bringing passion, potential, and productivity for almost two centuries

We know we have a key role to play in ensuring that the right ag tech products are adopted throughout Australia and throughout farming communities.

2024 is the 185th year for Elders. And through all of them, we have been innately connected with regional and rural Australia and agriculture, and very proudly grown and innovated with the whole industry.

RELATED: Elders and AgriFutures Australia announce three-year evokeAG. Platinum Partnership 

We all possess a hefty dose of passion for this industry, the many opportunities and the great potential that we see in front of us.

We are all determined to bring agriculture closer to its productivity and sustainability ambitions – and to achieve our own exceptional edge.

Elders was the Platinum Partner for AgriFutures evokeAG. 2024 on 20-21 February in Perth, Western Australia and have committed to supporting the event through to 2026. CEO and Managing Director Mark Allison took to the stage on Day 1, delivering his opening remarks ahead of an action-packed, two-day program.

Applications are now open for the Elders Community Giving Project and close in May 2024. The Project offers grants of up to $20,000 for grassroots initiatives that will promote sustainable, focused, and long-term change in communities. Register your interest here.

Sign up here to hear more from the thought leaders and change makers about the role of agrifood tech innovation in shaping a sustainable future and receive updates on evokeAG. 2025 in Brisbane, Queensland on 18-19 February.

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