Head of Industry Engagement Susie O’Neill joined a lively panel of agri-food professionals at Agribusiness Australia’s ‘Beyond the Farmgate’ event series to explore the topic of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) across the agriculture value chain.
Hosted by NAB Agribusiness, the panel also included leaders from Fonterra, Yumbah Aquaculture, and Wyuna Partners. Panel chair James Whiteside, CEO of Wingara Ag, led a discussion highlighting how agriculture businesses are seeing ESG as fundamental, though not without challenges. The panel agreed that the responsibility of leveraging Australia’s great ‘natural capital’ means ESG practices must be strong to earn the social licence to operate.
Mark Conway, CFO of Fonterra, stated that “every employee is a sustainability officer”, underscoring the importance of buy-in across the business to ensure ESG practices were embedded in all business practices. Fonterra, a dairy co-op, has recently announced a partnership with Royal DSM, a health, nutrition and bioscience company, to develop a start-up exploring using precision fermentation to create dairy proteins.
Susie emphasied that, while ESG is being recognised as important across the agri-value chain, leveraging value for ESG initiatives is easier to articulate at the corporate level than at the farm gate where prices for products remain commoditised. She highlighted that this is where emerging industries like plant based meat offer great value, in enabling value-adding at the farm gate for the legumes and grains growers producing the inputs for these foods.
She also noted that with consumers making purchasing decisions based primarily on taste and price, it was important for manufacturers and other stakeholders to bring them along on the journey to understand the ESG impacts of the foods they buy. This, she said, can help build interest in foods with a lighter environmental impact like plant based meat, precision fermentation dairy and cultivated meat.
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