Growing Australian Horticulture

Our horticulture industries are under increasing pressure – cost-price squeeze, imports, Mother Nature’s impacts, increasing complexity and regulation, urban encroachment and business succession to name a few. The organisations that service our industries are also under pressure to maintain relevance and assist their industries to thrive – a big job that should not be underestimated.

Over the last 28 years, I have worked closely with a wide range of Industry organisations spanning all facets of Australian Rural Industries and when I reflect on the common characteristics of the more successful groups (No – I’m not going to name “Names” but you know who you are!) there are some simple principles that underpin their success. Interestingly, the same principles are present in the most successful of my business clients. The key elements are summarised in the diagram, below.

There are 3 key components in my model: Strategy, Leadership and Development. A weakness (or a lack of any element) will severely limit Industry potential.

Strategy – this is all about having a clear coherent strategy for Industry growth that engages with all facets of the industry. It needs to be a “consumer-facing” strategy that understands that increasing profitable market share is a key requirement for industry success rather than an inward-facing focus. It’s also important that the plan begins to address longer term challenges as well as the impending short term issues.

The strategies must also be appropriately resourced to achieve the outcomes required by Industry. Obviously, funds need to be prioritised but failure to invest in an effective Strategy will result in an industry that is rudderless and reactive to the business environment.

KEY QUESTIONS: How effective is your Industry’s Strategic Plan? Is it focused on delivering tangible industry growth? Is the “consumer” at the forefront of your plan?

Leadership – having a committed Industry Leadership Team that is forward-focused and charged with implementation of the Industry Strategic Plan is the second critical element.

We often underestimate the impact of this small group of people who often serve their industry for long periods of time for little material reward. Effective leadership at both a management and Director level is very important if the industry is to grow and prosper.

The challenge for many horticultural groups is that with increasing business pressures, our good leaders have less and less time and resources to devote to industry leadership. As a result, there is a looming chasm as many of our experienced leaders retire and we struggle to find good replacements for them.

Without this leadership, it is very difficult for Industry to make some of the “hard decisions” and to effectively implement the Strategic Plan as industry will lack the “capability” to move forward.

KEY QUESTIONS: What investment is your Industry making in building leadership and encouraging the next generation of leaders to step up? Does your Peak Industry Body have a Leadership Development and Succession Plan – a Talent Bank? If not – Why not?

Development – In my experience, if we have a good strategy supported by quality leadership then unless we have an Industry that is capable of: adapting to and managing change, thinking strategically, planning effectively and with great problem-solving skills then we will flounder.

To be fair, many producers have great technical skills in growing product but lack the business skills to effectively develop and implement strategy, to engage in marketing, and to get the most from their Teams (however, it’s a normal distribution with a proportion of industry having superior skills in these areas, while there is a tail with low skills).

Without the requisite business skills, industry will lack the capacity to capitalise on the strategy and leadership initiatives. The business environment is getting more complex, more competitive and is moving at a much faster pace, therefore, our business owners and managers require not only great technical skills but the business and problem-solving skills that will enable them to adapt for the future.

KEY QUESTIONS: Is your Industry investing in the development of improved business, planning and problem solving skills to lift these abilities across the industry-base? Are you encouraging members to participate in business skills training – courses, seminars, webinars, etc.?

As I mentioned earlier, these same elements are essential at an individual business level. We need a compelling strategy for the future, strong leadership and an effective team with great production and business skills. Take the time to reflect on your business – how would you rate your business on each of these elements? What do you need to do to close the gap to where you need to be?

In summary, I believe that Australian Horticulture has a great future. We have a magnificent environment, a stable economy, a highly skilled workforce and wonderful products that are healthy and nutritious – all ingredients for a successful future.

I also know that unless we build the capacity and capability of our industries to adapt to the challenges of the future, then our future success is less certain. These are medium term strategies that require short term action to begin the process.

I’d be interested in your thoughts – how would you rate your Industry in these 3 areas: Strategy, leadership and Development? Make your comments below.

Russell Cummings

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