Thursday 4 August

Retention – Growing agriculture careers and becoming the employers of choice

Keynote speaker

Assoc Prof Ben Lyons
Rural Economies Centre of Excellence (RECoE)

Associate Professor Ben Lyons is the founding Director of the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence (RECoE), a Department of Agriculture and Fisheries-funded research collaboration between the University of Queensland, the University of Southern Queensland, James Cook University and Central Queensland University. He leads a diverse team of experienced researchers investigating Queensland’s rural and regional communities. In its fourth year of operation RECoE has delivered over 25 applied research projects looking at rural community challenges and opportunities from digital connectivity, work force and skills through to regional innovation and environmental offsets. Previously Ben has worked in China and Asia for two decades in agribusiness, media and education management before returning as the CEO of Toowoomba Surat Basin Enterprise in 2015. Fluent in mandarin, Ben has a doctorate in economics specialising in export value chains from The University of Queensland.

Tackling workforce issues from a regional development perspective.
This keynote presentation will approach the question of recruitment and retention of a national agricultural work force from the perspective of regional development and will expand the issue beyond just the agricultural sector. Mainly because our applied research would indicate that is impossible to separate the issue of recruiting and retaining an agricultural workforce within one sole sector focus and that the governance structure of regional development and how we respond to myriad issues is one continuous process of discontinuity – i.e. government programs at all levels suffer from the lack of a cumulative social capital approach, are short term, lack focus, execution and monitoring; and only serve to deplete the limited resources and capabilities of regional stakeholders over time. How can we look at solutions to the Workforce problem or indeed any regional issue without looking at the underlying aspects many regional communities face when it comes to not just attracting and retaining staff to their region but many of the issues around regional economic development that persist as “wicked problems”?   We will cover aspects of the national agricultural workforce strategy but go beyond the specific requirements laid out in the recently completed taskforce exercise to examine execution and systemic issues that regions many of which have agriculture as their economic mainstay. We propose a simpler and clearer model of regional development and engagement developed in a recent Future Drought Fund programme – Regional Drought Resilience Planning (RDRP).

Panel discussion

Trudi Bartlett
Darling Downs Local Jobs Program

Trudi Bartlett is the Local Jobs Program Employment Facilitator for the Darling Downs Region. The Local Jobs Program is funded by the Commonwealth Government through the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) and is delivered in the Darling Downs Employment Region by Regional Development for Regional Development Australia Darling Downs and South West (RDA DDSW). Prior to being the Employment Facilitator, Trudi was the RDA DDSW’s Director of Regional Development. Trudi is from Kingaroy Queensland and currently lives in Toowoomba. Her roles have included being the Economic Development Officer for Western Downs Regional Council and the CEO for Dalby Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Prior to these roles, Trudi was the CEO of Transforming Small Business. A company she started to service and support small business in rural areas. Trudi utilised her previous knowledge gained from being National Training Manager of Goldmark jewellers and her 12 years of experience as an area manager for large retail companies to help small businesses make more money in less time with less stress. Trudi has a passion for supporting business and industry in regional, rural and remote areas and seeing job seekers successfully achieve their career goals.

Wendy Agar
Engaged Outcomes

Wendy is an experienced leader, collaborator, and strategist.  She has spent over 20 years serving in leadership roles in multi sectorial organisations in rural and regional Queensland.   Roles including primary school principal, partner in a grazing enterprise, bank manager, and CEO of ‘for purpose’ businesses have resulted in a broad range of skills and experiences, and a deep understanding of how people and organisations work.  Recognised as a 2019 QLD Telstra Business Women’s Awards finalist, she is passionate about bringing a practical lens to supporting other leaders and organisations to create impactful outcomes, and her role as CEO at Engaged Outcomes allows her to do this.

Megan Daniels
Central Highlands Regional Council

Megan Daniels is a second term local government councillor with Central Highlands Regional Council, a board director with Central Highlands Development Corporation and owner of a regenerative beef grazing enterprise. She has over 20 years post tertiary professional experience in business, agriculture and the environment. Megan was raised on an isolated cattle property before pursing further study and then working and living overseas and across the state. Megan is grateful to be able to live in regional Queensland and serve her community as an elected member. As a local government councillor, Megan balances the need for community sustainability with that of operational sustainability, to ensure regional communities thrive and have the services and facilities to meet the needs of the community base. In recent years, Megan has held board directorship roles with social enterprises and not-for-profits that focus on delivering economic development along with social and human services programs to regional communities. Megan holds a Bachelor of Business – Agribusiness and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ (AICD) company directors’ course.

Fiona Best
Birchip Cropping Group (BCG)

Fiona Best has been the CEO of the nationally recognised Birchip Cropping Group since November 2019. In her position as CEO, Fiona works to bring relevant agricultural research and extension opportunities to farming communities by attracting investments to improve the prosperity of broadacre farming locally, regionally and nationally.

Fiona is excited to lead BCG because of the large part the organisation plays in the community and its role supporting farmers to be viable and prosperous. She is proud of BCG’s achievements and contributions over the last 28 years and has a strong desire to contribute positively to the ongoing journey and evolution of the group.

In addition to BCG, Fiona is a leader in the community and sits on the Mallee Victorian Regional Partnership committee.

After growing up on her mixed enterprise family farm, cropping and producing sheep, Fiona studied a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours) and Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne. Fiona also has over 9 years working in the education sector teaching agriculture.

Keynote speakers

Mandy Johnson
Best-selling business author

Mandy Johnson is a best-selling business author who speaks, teaches and advises on the innovative ‘people’ strategies that transform individual and organizational results. With ‘in-the-trenches’ experience as a founder and ex-director of Flight Centre UK, she has also worked with a diverse range of companies including Virgin Australia, Teys Beef, Agtrade, the Australian Stockbroker’s Association, Dairy Australia, Ray White Commercial, the Queensland State Library, Michael Hill Jewellery, and Stahmann Webster to name just a few. One of only a handful of Australians to present at the Asia/Pacific Talent Conference in Taipei, Mandy has been interviewed for her innovative business ideas on media such as Sky Business News, The Australian Financial Review, ABC Radio’s Conversation Hour and Jon Faine program and Qantas In-Flight Radio. Mandy also facilitates the Australian Owner/Manager Program, is an executive educator at several universities and mentors start-up entrepreneurs. For more info see:

5 Steps to Building a Remarkable Workplace
With massive labour/skills shortages, technology advances and generational change, our workplaces are morphing faster than our business practices can keep up. Finding and keeping good people is the new ‘must-have’ skill as no matter the organization or the industry, we’re now all in the ‘people’ business. In this thought-provoking presentation, Mandy Johnson explores innovative ways to navigate effectively in this rapidly-changing world, and outlines practical tools and techniques to engage the best people and build a high-performance workplace that they never want to leave. From the hidden motivators that people want (that aren’t just salary), to simple practical retention initiatives that you can implement immediately, Mandy revisits the way organisations partner with their people and uses compelling evidence to debunk myths and inspire participants to make immediate change.

Panel discussion

Prof Ruth Nettle
University of Melbourne

Ruth leads the Rural Innovation Research Group at the University of Melbourne:

Her research has focused on changes in the social organization of farming systems, farm system resilience, farm employment relations and the attraction and retention of employees, rural workforce planning and action and agricultural extension policy and design.

In 2019-2020 Ruth was the Deputy Chair of the National Agricultural Labour Advisory committee (NALAC) and a co-author of the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy (NAWS) for the Federal government, developed from over 300 consultations and over 80 submissions from across Australia.

Melanie Chambers
Mulgowie Farming Company

Melanie Chambers is the CEO of one of Australia’s largest vegetable producers, Mulgowie Farming Company. The Mulgowie team grow, pack and market fresh vegetables grown from several farming locations across the eastern seaboard of Australia.

Melanie has over 25 years of progressive experience across several primary industries. With an impressive background in leadership across the whole value chain from operations through to sales and marketing, and a proven track record for driving revenue and profit growth. Melanie has extensive business strategy development, people leadership and consumer marketing experience.

Melanie has recently returned to Australia after spending 7 years working for one of New Zealand’s top vertically integrated food and beverage companies. Melanie initially led the Foods operations, having full management of the total value chain from growing and harvesting on land and water through to processing. The last 5 years have been in a group role where she has also led the global sales and marketing teams, developing value added consumer brands which spans across beverages, seafood, horticulture and FMCG products that are exported to over 44 countries around the world.

Melanie has a passion to build on Mulgowie’s family farming heritage and to work with the outstanding Mulgowie team. She is a strong believer that people are vital to the success of any company and is passionate about creating a culture of trust and contribution to breed success.

GM Wasantha Mudannayake
Teys Australia Rockhampton

Wasantha Mudannayake, General Manager of Teys Australia Rockhampton, has been an active member within the Australian Beef Industry for over 30 years.  Wasantha is the General Manager of the Teys Rockhampton Facility which  employs over 900 staff from 25 different nationalities – this makes Teys Rockhampton the largest privately owned employer in Rockhampton. From its humble beginnings back in 2004 at the commencement of Teys ownership, Wasantha has grown the Rockhampton facility in not only size but culture – the facility initially employed around 140 staff, with minimal workplace diversity. The Teys Rockhampton facility currently exports 85% of its product to over 40 countries around the world. In addition to Wasantha’s career defining work at Teys, he has been in numerous advisory councils in local, state, and federal level, and has received numerous awards for his dedicated contribution to the beef industry, local community, and multiculturalism in the workplace.

Renée Anderson
Cotton grower

Renée is a mixed cropping irrigation farmer from Emerald growing a diverse range of crops including cotton, chickpeas, mungbeans and wheat on her 1200-acre operation which she runs with her family. With 26 years’ experience in the Australian cotton industry, Renée has worked in entomology & farming systems research, agronomy and environmental management systems. Renée has been working as the Cotton Australia Regional Manager for the last 12 years directly with growers providing policy information, advice, education and services designed to upskill and advocate for growers and the industry. Renée has a strong focus on environmental welfare and sustainability within agriculture, and how these evidence based practices impact farm management and consumer behaviour.  In 2019 Renée was awarded the Nuffield Australia farming scholarship, where she explored the farming best practice approaches and their impacts on social licence with experts, industry and farmers from across 15 countries including Europe, the USA and Canada. Renée has developed a strong on-line presence educating her followers about the agricultural industry and her firsthand personal experiences of life on the land in Australia.

Toolkit presentation

Dr Kate Gunn
Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow

Dr Kate Gunn grew up on a farm near Streaky Bay in South Australia and works as a Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow, in the Department of Rural Health at the University of South Australia. She leads a team of researchers who focus on working with rural people to find new, culturally appropriate ways of improving rural health and wellbeing, with a particular focus on farmers. In recent years Kate has led the development of the website, which is a free online resource designed with farmers, to help them adopt strategies to effectively manage multiple things beyond their control (like the weather!)

Resources section – Tips, Tools and Programs

Kieran Moffat

Kieren is a social and organisational psychologist by training and is the CEO and Co-founder of Voconiq, a data science and community engagement company created in 2019. Built on a platform of science Dr Moffat developed over a decade in CSIRO, Voconiq now works to bring the voices of communities inside the companies, industries and institutions that work alongside them on five continents across agriculture, mining and resources, infrastructure, and renewable energy industries. Dr Moffat has been at the forefront of academic research into and application of knowledge on social licence to operate issues for more than a decade. He has lead the three-year Community Trust in Rural Industries program of work with AgriFutures, and the Voconiq team have now extended these methods to agricultural workforce participation to inform discussion and action to ensure the sector can thrive in the future.

Building the future agriculture workforce in Australia
The Community Perceptions and Worker Experiences Project was initiated by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and coordinated through AgriFutures Australia. The aim of the project was to understand the key drivers of workforce participation in agricultural industries among future, former, and current workers across all parts of this broad set of industries. The work also sought the perspectives of the broader Australian community on what makes working in agriculture attractive or otherwise. Using large scale online surveys, Voconiq conducted this research in May and June 2022, accessing the views of more than 3000 community members and workers. Key findings from this research will be presented including the drivers of workforce entry and retention, how liveability factors, services and workplace culture influence worker experiences, and broader community attitudes toward careers in agricultural industries. Additional insights from project collaborators Wallis and Seftons will be included.

Sachin Ayachit

Sachin joined the Fair Farms Program as National Program Manager in December of 2021 with extensive knowledge and experience, and a background in the delivery of certification programs, accreditations, regulatory compliance, training, and implementation of quality systems for certification schemes in the agriculture sector. Since joining the program Sachin has hit the ground running and has behind some of the program’s most significant milestones to date including the program achieving more than 100 Certifications, the announcement of a National Conference to be held in October 2022 at Coffs Harbour, and the launch of the programs online Buyer and Auditor Portals. Sachin is currently working with more than 350 Fair Farms members and plans to continue to raise the national profile of the program while continuing to engage with growers and the more than 12,000 farm workers covered under the program

How to use the ethical sourcing certification program like Fair Farms to attract, retain and upskill workforce.
Australian farmers are currently facing a challenge never seen before – the challenge of trying to attract, retain and upskill the workforce. Workers are expecting good workplace systems, commitment to fair and ethical work practices, and safe working conditions with good WHS systems. The workplace and WHS regulations compliance is the next challenge that farmers also need to consider.

Ethical sourcing training and certification programs, like Fair Farms, not only offer effective solution to address the worker expectations but also assist with the workplace and WHS regulations compliance. In this session, Let’s explore how Australia’s only ethical sourcing program – Fair Farms – can help you attract, retain and upskill workforce.

Edmund Burke
Holding Redlich

Edmund Burke is a workplace lawyer with extensive experience in employee misconduct investigations, professional misconduct defence, bullying claims, discrimination, workplace and sexual harassment, managing employee performance management, discipline and dismissal. Edmund also practises in workplace health and safety, having defended companies, individuals and local councils in proceedings against non-compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act and safety incidents resulting in injuries to employees. Edmund has presented at national and international conferences on employment law and defamation law. He has an eclectic career background having worked as a journalist and writer for national publications in Ireland, the UK and Australia. Before joining private practice Edmund worked as the Director of Communications for Queensland Premier Anna Bligh with managerial responsibility for over one hundred communications professionals, providing advice directly to the Premier and Ministers on a daily basis.

Casual, Permanent or Contractor – What it means, & why it matters!
A worker’s job classification can often be unclear, but did you know, getting it wrong can have a major impact on your business?

Did you know the High Court recently clarified the law regarding an employee’s legal status?

This session will explain the basics of employee classifications, and why it matters for employers.

We will also touch on the pros and cons of modern workforce trends, such as:

  • ‘gig economy’
  • working from home
  • flexible working arrangements, and
  • the potential impact on the agricultural sector.

Casey Brown
Agri Labour Australia

Casey Brown is the co-founder and Managing Director of Agri Labour Australia – Australia’s largest privately owned agriculture recruitment company. Agri Labour Australia has grown from a business he and his brother founded in 2010 from Goondiwindi, to a dynamic organisation employing over 70 staff, delivering workforce solutions to Australia’s leading agriculture clients. Agri Labour Australia now places over 7,000 people every year in positions spanning the paddock-to-plate supply chain. Agri Labour Australia’s industry leading approach has seen them win several awards including the QLD Telstra business awards, best Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative at the world’s largest recruitment industry awards program and was nominated as a finalist in the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Programs Awards. Casey also co-founded Agri Talent – a permanent recruitment company with innovative talent-sourcing methods, that has gone on to provide permanent hire and executive search services to some of Australia’s largest and most successful agribusinesses.

How to compete for and retain great staff
Casey will present an overview into the current changing labour market, providing practical insights into what employers can and should be aware of, including what matters most to employees in arguably the most competitive labour market this country has ever seen.

Paul Sloman
Cotton Australia

Currently based in Brisbane, Paul Sloman is a Policy Officer for Cotton Australia where one of his areas of management is Workforce and Training. Having worked for 8 years with Cotton Australia and being associated with the Australian cotton industry for close to 30 years, Paul has an in depth knowledge of the current workforce challenges and opportunities that face the industry both today and into the future. Paul represents Cotton Australia on the National Farmers Federation Workforce Committee and Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance (RJSA). Paul’s passionate about attracting urban Australians to regional cotton growing regions to take up work of cotton farms and to replicate the very successful AgSkilled program in QLD.

Workforce Attraction Pilot Program – CottonJobs Australia
Cotton Jobs Australia is a joint initiative between Cotton Australia and the State of Queensland acting through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. The aim of this pilot program is to attract university students, final year school leavers and other Queenslanders to jobs available on Queensland and Australian cotton farms. Having just completed the first year, we have identified key opportunities and managed unforeseen challenges that will ensure greater success when CottonJobs Australia is rerun over the 2022/2023 university holiday break

Dr Amy Cosby
CQUniversity Australia

Dr. Amy Cosby (B. Ag/LLB, PhD) is the Head of the Agricultural Education and Extension Cluster at CQUniversity Australia leading projects at national, state, and local level funded by government, industry and private business. Amy’s team of researchers and practitioners focus on identifying, testing, and evaluating interventions which attract and retain the current and next generation agricultural workforce, whilst increasing their digital literacy. Amy works with educators, students, researchers, and industry professionals to develop innovative programs to increase their skills and knowledge in agricultural concepts, tools and systems. Owning and operating a dairy farm business in Victoria ensures Amy understands how to ensure her research has real impact on the agricultural industry. Amy’s research objective is to attract and retain the next generation agricultural workforce to the industry from diverse backgrounds and showcase the diverse breath of opportunities across the agricultural sector to ensure a sustainable sector.

Growing and maintaining the talent pipeline: Action research evidence-based solutions
The Agricultural Education and Extension cluster within CQUniversity Australia’s Institute for Future Farming Systems are a leading group of researchers and practitioners who develop innovative programs to increase the skills and knowledge of the current and next generation agricultural workforce. Led by Dr Amy Cosby, this multidisciplinary team draws from agriculture science, education, career development and psychology to tackle a variety of industry workforce challenges. Taking a lifespan perspective to workforce, the program of research focuses on the agriculture talent pipeline from kindergarten through to working adults. Our ethos is that you cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. We recognise the need for a deep understanding of the problems faced and the different mechanisms that can make a difference to ensuring workforce attraction, development and retention is managed strategically and effectively for the agricultural industry. Our program of research will be outlined, highlights from our findings presented, and some key areas for further action discussed.