3 June 2005

Queensland’s most successful primary industries and rural groups rely on active ‘new blood’ members, who share leadership and haven’t necessarily spent generations on the same family farm.

These findings are from a joint report by The University of Queensland and the Department of Primary Industries on why some rural industries and their industry associations thrive while others languish.

It says the most innovative industries have members who are younger, well travelled, educated, share leadership, are not shy to innovate, use new technology and the less time they’ve spent in one industry, the better.

The report by Ian Plowman, a rural consultant, organisational psychologist and UQ Business School senior research fellow, examined six rural industry groups with between 50 and 1500 members.

Mr Plowman would not name the rural groups but he said they represented horticulture, animal husbandry and broad acre farming.

He interviewed 38 members and analysed more than 200 surveys to assess innovation, which he said was the measure of success.

He found it was desirable for members of innovative rural groups to be open, aspirational, optimistic and not fear rejection or be too conscientious.

Innovative rural groups focused on quality products not volumes, had clear goals, invested in science and research, shared information, varied marketing and got members participating.

One of the report’s 26 recommendations was for rotational leadership so that association bosses only served one term to foster more participation.

“It should be expected as a condition of membership that you will be involved, as business does not stop at the farm gate. It includes the association because your business is valueless if your industry is valueless,” Mr Plowman said.

He said rural groups should consider extending membership fees to their service suppliers such as transporters, packagers, consultancies, wholesalers and retailers.

Top heavy, bureaucratic groups were more likely to have dependent members and their professionalism varied considerably.

More innovative groups shared the running of associations and tended not to have as many “passive rockthrowers”, who were often incumbent leaders with narrow world views.

This latest report is a follow-up to a similar study Mr Plowman finished on why some small Queensland towns thrived and others struggle.

Both reports were funded by a $68,000 Australian Research Council grant and equal cash and kind support from the DPI.

Mr Plowman was helped by UQ Business School's Professor of Management Neal Ashkanasy and Dr John Gardner.

The full 146-page report, can be viewed at http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/business/16643.html#rec

Media: Mr Plowman (0417 705 489, 3239 6680, ian.plowman@dpi.qld.gov.au) or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (3365 2619)