5 minutes with Julia Jones

We interviewed you in April 2018 – what has changed since then?
Julia JonesI’m now at NZX, New Zealand’s stock exchange where my team and I analyse global dairy and agri food behaviours, sustainability, infrastructure and equities. We produce industry reports like the recent Global Dairy Report, we forecast, model and look at case studies. A large part of my job involves travelling, gleaning insights and identifying trends and then sharing those in forums to hopefully support informed and balanced decision making.

I continue to talk about the same themes that we discussed two years ago. Probably the biggest change I’ve noticed in the last 18 months is the pace and volume of change. It’s so much faster now!

Would you call yourself a futurist?
No, I don’t look far enough into the future! I have worked with Ian Proudfoot (KPMG) and have a lot of time for Melissa Clark-Reynolds (Independent director at Beef + Lamb) – I consider them fantastic futurists. They have the wonderful capability to look beyond 20 years. I operate on a 5-10 year ahead basis; I’m curious and interested in the future and I like to shine a light on opportunity and neutralise fear-based motivators.

What is your one big message for farmers and growers right now?
There is a lot of uncertainty however there always has been – we have never known what tomorrow will bring and this makes us innovators. I believe in our industry’s capability to adapt for success, so have faith in yourselves. It’s important we shift the focus away from blame and looking backwards – we need to look forward and focus on solutions.

Many are seeking a single silver bullet to solve all these issues we face but the reality is: there is no one answer, no blueprint for how to do it. We need to be holistic in approach, protect our environment, our community and ensure we have resilient economics. We need to realise that each farm and its people are different and therefore each solution is going to be different too.

Your letter for the NZ Herald, ‘Dear food and fibre 2019, it’s 2030 here’ talks about investing. What should shareholders invest their time and/or money in this year?
To know if you have succeeded, first you need to identify what success looks like for New Zealand. This letter captured my thinking on how behavioural change in our sector will help us get fit for a better world.

Farmers are brilliant at understanding capital investment but forget to invest in themselves. I think they should consider investing in their own knowledge of emerging trends and capability of their teams – such as training, getting off-farm and learning about industries outside of agriculture. When you’re doing your business and farm planning, why not get some advisors in? Include people that can challenge your way of thinking. Whether it’s getting your Farmlands TFO, accountant, banker, field reps around the table – you don’t have to be a big corporate to do this.

What turns a good farm plan into a great one?
A great plan is one that gets actioned. When I worked for a bank we did a survey of farmers and the top three things they were focused on was: currency, interest rates and weather. What they were least focused on was  budgeting, planning and business forecasting. I know farmers have often relied on intuitive decisions and quick responses but there is real value in setting out what you want to achieve and how you will get there.

A good plan will tick all the boxes, but a great plan will create positive outcomes and be a living document that you review and monitor. You can’t afford to set and forget as things move too fast.

We can’t get stuck worrying about uncertainty – planning is about focusing on what you can control. Life isn’t linear so things will happen outside the plan however having the plan helps you get things back on track quicker. A great plan will factor in what is important to you, your business and your family and this will be different for everyone. It’s about ensuring your business and personal goals intersect and don’t contradict.

What's the Primary Sector Council's (PSC) vision for NZ Ag?
I have been part of the PSC since it was set up 18 months ago – bringing agribusiness leaders together to help the primary sector get more value from its work. On the 12th of  December we released the vision we have worked on entitled ‘Fit for a Better World’. It is a bold new vision for New Zealand’s agriculture, food and fibres sector and it involves strategy and recommendations. P

SC want all our country’s food and fibre businesses to succeed along with our communities, our economy and most importantly, our environment. It has been an incredible opportunity for me. We are an extremely diverse group who are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

Any tips on how best to deal with change?
Change is a survival technique for me; it’s a learned behaviour. Like any muscle, you need to practice using it. You don’t have to like change but once you understand your change response you can work out how to navigate it.

You change or get changed. If you proactively change you can regain some control. Have confidence in yourself to find your own answers. Identify what you can do tomorrow and go do it.

I do appreciate that without support some folks can miss the intersection and it can be hard to turn around. That’s where Farmlands and other industry organisations come in – by educating and helping business owners to deal with change.

What did you get out of the recent NZX Global Dairy Seminar in Singapore?
Globally, people still love how we produce and don’t understand why we aren’t more positive about our own industry. 

New Zealand thinks that freshwater and climate change is national government regulation but the reality is that all countries, even developing countries and the United States (led by private companies), are adapting at pace because consumers expect it.

Do you believe in the rural-urban divide?

I know that there is a lack of understanding out there. Farmers tell me they are telling their story all the time, that they couldn’t be talking more. But who are they telling it to? Is it the person just down the road who already thinks like them? We can’t expect people to understand us if we don’t take time to understand them.

There are a growing number of platforms that can support building understanding; one is Open Farms this year and there is also social media which, used well, can be a great platform. To build trust we don’t need to tell a story, we just need to tell the truth.

You spoke to our 2019 To the Core cohort – how was that?

I challenged the group with a scenario: what if they were a Director of a meat board and they had to respond to cellular meat coming into supermarkets? They were strategic and came up with some brilliant stuff. There were so many innovative ideas and people were so open to adapting – it was a fun session.

What does success look like for you?
When our industry sets up many generations ahead for success.

To find out more about Open Farms visit https://www.fitforabetterworld.org.nz/