MLA is building a workforce for the future
Agrifutures' long-time Horizon Scholarship sponsor, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) is all about fostering the long-term prosperity of Australia’s red meat and livestock industry. So, what does that mean and where do the Horizon Scholars come into it?
We recently caught up with Josh Whelan, Program Manager, Innovation Capability at MLA to find out.
What does MLA do?
Simply put, MLA is the red meat Research and Development Corporation (RDC) who invest in research, development, and adoption, as well as marketing, market access and insights on behalf of the red meat industry.
"We invest in projects to support the productivity and profitability of Australia’s cattle, sheep and goat businesses." Said Josh Whelan
“What does this look like? Well, we have a portfolio of over 500 research projects, which are all featured on growAG. and valued at just under $500 million – to give you an idea of scope,” Josh explains.
“The other side of the business is the marketing, market access and insights, and we invest just over $100 million annually to grow the demand for Australian red meat both domestically and abroad,” Josh adds.
From cattle breeding in the top end, to an ambitious carbon neutral target, MLA’s projects cover a huge remit, offering equally huge opportunities for professionals keen to explore what the red meat industry has to offer.
MLA’s Northern Breeding Business (NB2) project is looking at tackling calf loss in northern breeding herds, profitability of northern beef businesses and the adoption of proven management practices and technology in Northern Australia.
“It’s all about enhancing the cattle breeding capacity of Northern Australia. We’ve set a target to deliver an estimated $20 million per year in net benefits by 2027 to 250 northern beef enterprises, which is really exciting,” Josh explains.
Speaking of ambitious targets, MLA also plans to be Carbon Neutral by 2030 (CN30).
“This target means that by 2030, Australian beef, lamb and goat production, including lot feeding and meat processing, will make no net release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
“We really do believe the Australian red meat industry can be at the forefront of carbon neutrality,” Josh says.
What role will Horizon Scholars play in this vision?
According to Josh, skilled and capable resources are going to be critical to the red meat industry delivering on their ambitious targets and building a more profitable and resilient industry.
“Our investment in capacity building programs engages quite a broad range of participants, including producers, young professionals and value chain partners. The objective of this is to accelerate innovation adoption, increase industry investment in innovation and to address the cultural change that comes with accelerating innovation.
“Ultimately, these investments are targeted at fostering a culture of innovation within the sector from grassroots up, to ensure we remain globally competitive,” Josh said.
MLA walks the walk when it comes to investment in the next generation of leaders, with an academic leadership and development program focused on funding graduates and postgraduates to work on industry identified problems, as well as developing the innovation capability required to deliver the priorities of the industry.
“The aim of this is to develop industry leadership capability and expose people to MLA programs, so they essentially become MLA ambassadors as they progress through their career,” Josh explains.
One such young leader MLA have invested in is Horizon Scholar, Emma Moss.
“Emma Moss is a passionate and highly capable young industry leader. She has an incredible passion for regenerative agriculture and the Northern beef industry, specifically around developing grazing systems and irrigation that can work effectively in the Kimberley in WA.
“We are so glad we got the chance to support her through the Horizon Scholarship Program,” says Josh.
It seems the feeling is mutual between Emma and MLA, with Emma’s experience of being sponsored by MLA a positive one.
“I am so grateful to MLA for supporting me for four years. Their sponsorship helped me to explore avenues in agriculture that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
“MLA play such a wide and diverse role in the Australian red meat industry. To have those doors opened and contacts available helped me to network in the industry I love on a level I wouldn’t have had access to on my own,” Emma shared with us.
What does it take to build a workforce for the future?
For Josh, it all comes down to the attraction and retention of a diverse, impactful and intelligent workforce.
“From an innovation perspective, as different technological approaches or supply chain structures become more mature, we need to be asking ‘what are the supporting skillsets?’ And they are very different to the operational skill sets the industry is traditionally known for.
“We are moving towards areas like robotic engineering and digitally connecting our supply chains and value chains. I think these technological advances will make the parameters of the workforce requirements very different to what we traditionally had, which is making the industry even more attractive,” Josh comments.
So, whose responsibility is it to attract these broader skillsets? It needs to be a collective approach across the whole ecosystem – from supply chains and service providers to research organisations and research providers.
“There are already quite tangible capability programs focused on developing these skills, but we should also be showcasing the career opportunities that are emerging due to the technological developments we have seen in the sector. And we all have a part to play in that.
“I think it is really interesting when you look at the dimensions of the industry – it’s a very attractive place for investment and it’s also very attractive for new product development and consumer sentiment about food production. But for some reason it is almost held back by this one interpretation – a bias we default to when we think of what agriculture is, when in reality there’s so much more going on.”
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