Bega Cheese executive chairman Barry Irvin was the guest speaker at the annual 2017 trans-Tasman Rabobank Leadership Awards, Melbourne.
Mr Irvin said leadership came from wanting to make a difference, in an individual’s life and the lives of others.
“You tend to do that by serving others - you tend to do that by working hard, with others around you, to improve the lot of maybe your community or maybe just your family,” Mr Irvin said.
“That’s where my drive for leadership comes from.
“It’s something that comes from within and is given to you by others.”
He said in a world of change, the constants would be would be values, history and how businesses responded to their community and environment.
“There’s a struggle out there – a debate on openness and protection, embracing change and fighting change,” Mr Irvin said.
“Each time somebody wants to encourage fear, rather than encourage openness and embrace change, we take a step in the wrong direction.”
Customers would know more about businesses than companies ever wished them to know, would understand their history and their production methods.
“The head of one of Australia’s biggest dairy processing companies has told a Melbourne dinner leadership comes from a sense of serving others. – it is not a world where it is okay for you to be successful, at someone else’s expense.
“It is a world where we must deal with challenge and be open.”
He told guests he was fond of the quote by Mark Twain, who said:
“Predictions are difficult, especially if they are about the future.”
Those in agriculture needed to look beyond the obvious, as New York and London city planners had failed to do, in 1894.
Planners had grown alarmed about the amount of horse manure on London’s streets, as it had grown to a city of seven million people.
“Like any urbanised community, they needed food and transport.
“The way they got that was with horses, 11,000 carriages, towed by around 20,000 horses.
“The great manure crisis was upon them – by 1898 they were predicting that London, in the next fifty years, would be nine feet under manure.”
New York was worse, with predictions it would be three stories under manure, in the next 50 years.
The best planners discussed the crisis, without coming to a consensus.
“But about a decade before, Karl Benz had patented the motor wagon, and the best minds had not noticed that.
“At the same time NY was putting asphalt on the streets.
“The problem was solved but it wasn’t solved by those assembled to think about the challenge, they were not looking broadly enough and widely enough.
Mr Irvin said he was often asked what dairy would look like, in the future.
“I reply and say, tell me about my future customer, and I’ll tell you about the future of dairy.
“My customer in a decade’s time is going to be so different to my customer today; indeed my supplier is going to be different.
Agtech investment would also mean the next generation dairy farmer would be very different to those working in the sector now.
In America, the level of investment in Agtech had grown from $460million in 2010 to $5 billion in 2015.
“My son, a sixth generation farmer, has just come back to take over our agricultural projects; he has two degrees, in marketing and information systems,” Mr Irvin said.
“He said ‘I will be managing assets and I will be managing enormous amounts of data.”
Mr Irvin said an example was Monsanto’s purchase of the Climate Company, which gave it access to 250million climate data points across America.
“It accumulates all that data, it’s got one billion soil samples, and it can give you trillions of scenarios.
“It can tell you exactly what you should plant on what day you should plant it - and if you are a little bit worried; they can sell you an insurance policy.”
Farmers might also subscribe to a system, similar to Uber, rather than owning machinery.
“We will probably subscribe ourselves to a seed company, which will use al the data available and the machinery will just arrive with the appropriate mix of seed and begin sowing.”