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Unity, sense of purpose keys for new Cattle Australia board

Jon Condon, 13/12/2022

New CA chairman David Foote, flanked by his seven northern and southern zone directors at last night’s CA launch in Brisbane. From left, Adam Coffey (N), James Bowie (WA), Elke Cleverdon (S), George King (S), Bryce Camm (N) and Garry Edwards (S). Click on image for a larger view

 

THE broader beef industry got its first chance to get a bead on freshly-minted Cattle Australia chair, David Foote, and his board during the new grassfed cattle industry peak council’s official launch held in Brisbane last night.

While well known to many in the Queensland cattle industry through his executive management role with large integrated beef supply chain, Australian Country Choice, Mr Foote is perhaps less well known in southern parts of Australia.

He delivered his maiden speech to stakeholders at last night’s CA launch (and Cattle Council of Australia swansong) in Brisbane – an audience made up of Federal and State politicians, various peak council and state farm organisation representatives, outgoing CCA directors and personnel, and other industry stakeholders.

Mr Foote said while history was important in recognising the foundations that the state farm organisations lay back in 1979 to form Cattle Council of Australia, yesterday marked a new opportunity and era to represent the industry’s 40,000 cattle producers, managing 28 million cattle across 300 million hectares, generating $7 billion for the economy.

Beef Central asked Cattle Australia for key metrics from the CA board voting process that has unfolded this month. We were told that there were 3510 votes eligible to be cast in the ballot. Of those, the actual number of votes cast was 1169. See yesterday’s announcement about who was voted on to the new CA board.  Looking at the directors themselves, the board is clearly the youngest ever assembled to represent the interests of the Australian grassfed cattle industry.

“Cattle Australia’s mission remains to be the voice of cattle producers; to unite levy payers; be open and engaging with cattle producers and other industry stakeholders and advocate on all matters important to the cattle industry; lead and direct appropriate policy development; and to protect the integrity, profitability, competitiveness and future of the Australian cattle industry,” Mr Foote said.

The journey which started several years ago to create the new grassfed cattle organisation launched yesterday had been “truly challenging”, seeking and requiring agreement from a wide spectrum of vested interests.

“The newly elected directors individually bring a strong mix of skills and broad industry experience that will surely provide a great step forward for our industry,” Mr Foote told last night’s gathering.

Request for some breathing space

Following its first brief meeting yesterday afternoon, the new board was “already heavily engaged, to deliver on all that CA was envisaged to be for cattle producers across the land.”

CA chairman David Foote addresses last night’s launch at Brisbane’s Parliament House

“While we anticipate that we will have plenty of eyes on us, wishing to measure our every step, happily comment on any stumble, with a focus on comparing us with the past, we would ask that the new board be given some breathing space to get its house in order,” Mr Foote said.

Obvious first priorities for the new CA body when it gets down to business in the new year will be the appointment of an effective, capable inaugural chief executive officer, and the identification and election of two special skills-based directors to fill deficiencies on the board.

From there, the big initial challenge will be refining a sustainable finding model, and, as identified by Mr Foote, establishing close round table engagement with Federal and State authorities over emergency disease awareness and preparedness. Another early agenda item will be to gather stakeholder concerns and develop a list for consideration and priorities.

“We will happily communicate our progress on each of these key achievements,” he said.

“We recognise that the world will not stand still while we are building our new foundations, and the new board and staff of CA will continue their close engagement and hands-on relationships with other organisations and programs, such as MLA, NFF, Animal Health Australia, RMAC and others.”

Headwinds remained for the new organisation as it rolled forward into 2023, Mr Foote said.

These included softening domestic demand for beef, market access, softening livestock prices, community expectations over methane, CN30 in general, exotic animal diseases and animal wellbeing.

Solid industry background for new CA chair

Many stakeholders attending last night’s CA launch in Brisbane saw Mr Foote’s election as chairman as an obvious choice, given his broad and deep industry skills and experience in both the paddock and the board room.

He has held rural property management, executive and senior management positions for the past 45 years in beef cattle & sheep breeding, growing and lotfeeding, meat retailing, and the further processing and exporting of grain and fodder.

He is best known for his most recent 18-year tenure as chief executive of Queensland vertically integrated beef supply chain, Australian Country Choice, including extensive pastoral operations, lotfeeding, processing and export. ACC’s cattle property portfolio covers around 1.6 million hectares of country in Queensland and NSW encompassing operations from the Barkly Tableland to Central Queensland, Roma, and Moonie districts of Queensland, with a carrying capacity of 300,000 head, supporting the company’s three feedlots.

Prior to that he held senior management positions with Stanbroke Pastoral Co, where he developed the company’s live cattle export program, managed the integration of Bottle Tree feedlot grainfeeding into what had, up to that point, been a purely grassfed business, and developed the company’s flagship Diamantina beef brand.

He stepped back from day-to-day operations management at ACC in late 2020, taking a strategic advisory and board role.

Outside his work at ACC he has served as a Non-Government member Australia­Indonesia Red Meat & Cattle Partnership; sat as a member of the SmartSat CRC, Cattle Australia Policy Council, Australian Meat Industry Council’s China & Halal Trade Groups; Chaired Workplace Health & Safety Queensland’s Rural Industry Sector Standing Committee; is deputy chair Laguna Bay Pastoral investment committee, and a board member lnventia Genetic Technologies.

Away from work, Mr Foote has a small cattle property in southeast Queensland running Charbray breeders.

Industry challenge over fragmentation and disunity

Some argue that David Foote first flagged his interest in cattle industry affairs in a speech he delivered to the Rural Press Club Ekka breakfast back in 2017.

Click this link to view Beef Central’s full 2017 report.

In a sweeping call-to-action, Mr Foote challenged the Press Club audience that day over industry fragmentation and disunity.

He said some time earlier he had had a conversation with a former Federal Agriculture Minister who told him that on a matter where he was seeking ‘red meat industry consensus’, that normally gave him ‘at least nine months head-start’ before a decision could be reached – and possibly ‘a full term’ if it was a big one.

“That’s because we’re not a united voice. They (politicians) use it to their advantage,” Mr Foote said.

“Disunity is death in politics, but in the beef industry, we are still facing it ourselves. A fragmented message fails, every time.”

Mr Foote began his Rural Press Club address by celebrating ‘great industry visionaries’ like the late Zanda McDonald, who pioneered the development of trisulfan pain relief for dehorning cattle as an example of the sort of vision and leadership that he saw as lacking at the time in the Australian beef industry.

“We need the visionaries like Zanda,” he said. “We may have a few visionaries left, but we have a void in leadership. It seems to me if you look around, where are the industry leaders these days?”

“In the political realm, our leaders become gun-shy about driving change, because in the current climate, they have a ‘single-term’ mentality. They have become protective. Look at the last election: 25 percent turnover in sitting members,” he said.

“Even the fire-and-brimstone union leaders of 40 years ago, and the Canberra lobbyists – where are they now? Have they gone to sleep as well? Who can name even five prominent leaders sitting in Canberra today that you know are go-to people?

“Have we just all gone vanilla, wearing cardigans?” he asked.

“Has social media taken away the need, or our ability to have focal points and focussed leaders for our causes? Are the issues just too scattered now; are we being bombarded by social media?”

He stressed that his comments were not meant to disparage existing industry sectoral leaders, who worked hard on industry’s behalf.

“All I want to do is create a platform, an opportunity, and cultivate the desire to explore how to do it better, and how to bring the next generation along to give them the courage to do it better,” he said.

Too many ‘peaks’ illustrates fragmentation problem

Mr Foote used a ‘Dr Google’ example to illustrate the degree of fragmentation and confusion currently evident in the industry.

“A foreign investor looking to engage with an industry body in Australia could Google the word, ‘Agforce’, finding it is a ‘peak organisation’ representing Queensland producers. They could Google ‘Queensland Farmers Federation’ which ‘unites 16 Queensland peak bodies.’ Cattle Council of Australia is another ‘peak producer organisation’, representing Australia’s beef industry; the Red Meat Advisory Council is another ‘peak body’ representing meat and livestock.”

The same could be said for ‘peak’ bodies in live export, lotfeeding, and broader agriculture.

“It’s starting to look like a mountain range,” Mr Foote said. “Everything is a peak. How does that stakeholder determine the path for him, the body that will truly represent his interests? It is confusing.”

“And if it’s confusing for him, how confusing is it for the people being presented-to by those ‘peak’ organisations. Are they truly representative of the masses? Is everybody the boss? We haven’t got it right yet. The lines of demarcation are not that clear.”

“We have a great number of industry stakeholders out there who do not participate in industry organisations,” Mr Foote said. “It may be that they simply don’t know what they do, or what they represent.”

“When those peak groups approach government to lobby over an industry issue, do they have the critical mass? Do they carry any weight with the person behind the mahogany desk?

“If they lack that critical mass, is it the organisation’s fault, or is it just symptomatic of industry apathy? Maybe things just aren’t bad enough that we want to contribute,” he said.

Mr Foote said he hoped, that at each board meeting, those ‘peak bodies’ reflected on the ‘game changers’ they had been able to extract for their member stakeholders – not what they ‘could’ do.

“Who do our law-makers want to seek advice and knowledge from, before they make a policy decision, or at worst, a new law?” he asked.

MLA kicked to death

The MLA – probably the most kicked-to-death organisation in the beef sector – had 50,000 members, and it attracted more negative comment from its members than any other. Yet less than 5pc of those members exercised their full voting entitlement.

“That’s actually a rise from 2.86pc three years ago, but still only 5pc of industry stakeholders actually feel motivated enough to have a say on the biggest show in town, representing the marketing and R&D part of our business. So who are we to blame?”

Mr Foote said it was not just the production sector where lack of representation problems existed. In the processing sector, the two largest processors in Australia had chosen not to be members of the Australian Meat Industry Council.

“How do processors, as a sector, walk into parliament house, when the face on the other side of the mahogany desk knows that AMIC is not representing the views of the two biggest players?” he asked.

Competing proteins had single voice

Mr Foote drew some comparisons between beef industry representation in Canberra and state capitals, and that from competing proteins.

“Chicken and pork are both making big inroads into beef consumption. If you are a pig farmer or a chicken producer, there is only one representative body for each, which encompasses the entire supply chain. “When they go to talk to the bloke behind the mahogany desk, he knows they represent the views of all.”

‘Group’, rather than ‘self’

“We have to start to recognise the importance and power of ‘group’, over ‘self’,” Mr Foote said.

“We still fight between grassfed and grainfed, as though they are two different animals. Every animal I know of in a feedlot comes from a grass system – but we want to be so protective that we possibly lose the broader vision of the industry we are in.”

  • Click this link to hear Kerry Lonergan’s Weekly Grill podcast interview with David Foote, recorded earlier this year.

 

Tributes flow for 43 years of CCA achievement

Last night’s event also served as a tribute to the departing Cattle Council of Australia’s contribution and achievements over the past 43 years.

Outgoing president Lloyd Hick told the audience in the simplest of terms, “We got the job done.”

“After more than ten years of deliberations, we have delivered a modern, democratic, representative cattle industry peak body, that is fit for purpose,” he said.

“Cattle Australia will take our industry forward to ensure the interests of all cattle producers are protected, now and into the future,” he said. “This hasn’t been an easy process, and there have been many hurdles along the way, but this industry has come to a sensible middle ground.”

Former CCA president Keith Adams, who led the organisation from 2000-2003, proposed a toast to the achievements of CCA overt the past 43 years.

“CCA provided some crucial leadership in times of some great challenges to the beef industry,” he said.

“There were various residue issues that threatened to close down the industry, unless dealt with correctly. The implementation of the National Livestock Identification Scheme was another of the really big projects driven by CCA.”

“The organisation at various times has shown tremendous leadership, under very trying circumstances,” he said. “CCA played a key role in establishing Free Trade Agreements with the US and others – agreements that we are all reaping the benefits of right now. There is much to be proud of.”

 

See yesterday’s reports:

Sun sets on Cattle Council of Australia

Leaders reflect on 43 years of Cattle Council of Australia achievements

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Irene Wynne, 19/12/2022

    I did not receive voting papers.
    I registered my husband and myself separately.
    He was able to vote but not moi 🙁
    Perhaps that situation is reflected in the voting figures.
    Regards
    Irene Wynne

  2. David Connolly, 14/12/2022

    Very pleased to see such a young energetic yet well experienced Board as the inaugural Cattle Australia Board. Congratulations to all Cattle Council has achieved until this date and a massive well done to the outgoing CCA Board for achieving this transition. Now it will come down to the character of individual cattlemen to see if they are fair dinkum about getting behind their industry. Good luck Mr Foote and your Board, god speed!!

  3. Lucinda Corrigan, 14/12/2022

    Warm congratulations to David Foote for his passion and committment to lead the helm of Cattle Australia.

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