Growing the future for NSW Farmers

Published: November 2018 | By: Michelle Endacott

Agriculture is worth $15 billion a year to NSW – and this pair has a mission to keep it rising with big plans for the future of farming.

SYDNEY is fast outgrowing Kingsford Smith Airport and, with demand for flights set to double over the next 20 years, plans are well under way for a second airport.

Western Sydney Airport is set to open in 2026 and clever research from NSW Farmers is responsible for a push to set up a fresh food precinct beside it.
Chief economist Ash Salardini was behind the bid to get this precinct off the ground, while the Association’s general manager – research and innovation David Eyre has been working to help farmers find new export markets and new ways to get their produce to the airport, and thus on to Asia and the world, in record time.

Sydney Airport
SKY'S THE LIMIT: Enhancing supply chain logistics and utilising air travel will be key in widening market access and demand for Australian produce. 
NSW Farmers lobbied for the airport fresh food precinct via a report presented to federal, state and local governments. The report found we could earn three or four times more for food if it could wing from paddock to overseas plate in as little as 36 hours.


NSW Farmers’ president James Jackson says an agri-precinct at the Western Sydney Airport would allow fresh leafy vegetables grown at Badgerys Creek, tomatoes from Orange and pre-prepared meals with fresh NSW produce, to be on Chinese consumers’ plates within two days.

“Given our international reputation for clean and green food, this will mean premium prices for our growers, processors and manufacturers and will create a further 10,000 jobs in Western Sydney,” James Jackson says.

This opportunity is not just for the state capital. Many regional towns in NSW have the potential to develop smart food precincts, and a proposal for Armidale Regional Council and its airport has begun.

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NSW Farmers is always pursuing new markets for farmers, getting them a better deal from government and working to keep costs down. To that end, Ash is heavily involved in cutting energy costs for producers, through researching the need for competitive and innovative retail markets, especially in regional NSW.

David is also behind NSW Farmers’ push to set up a Future Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), a group of more than 40 companies, research institutions and government bodies focused on developing commercial solutions for farmers.

Future Food Systems Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) graph
Credit: Future Food Systems, Cooperative Research Centre (CRC)


Both are passionate about their roles. Ash previously worked in key positions in banking and medical supplies, and had never really considered a career in agriculture. But he made the leap to a new industry and finds it incredibly rewarding.

“You can see that what you are doing on a day-to-day basis will make the daily lives of members better,” Ash says.

David says market structures that make farmers price-takers are being disrupted by provenance-based marketing, ecommerce and digital traceability.

“Consumers are demanding more transparency about source and this increases farmers’ market power,” he says. “Increased truth in labelling and direct ‘farm to plate’ marketing systems open up alternatives to conventional retail channels and can increase returns for farmers on their investment in best practice, safety and quality.

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“Farming is increasingly a high-tech, export-facing business,” he adds. “In this respect, the capability and ambition of young farmers is the sector’s most valuable asset.” 

Chief economist

“Farmers have little power in the markets in which they operate. The challenge is to redress this imbalance.”

Your biggest achievement?
Definitely convincing NSW and federal governments to develop an agri-precinct at the proposed Western Sydney Airport. The precinct will open up economic opportunities for NSW farmers, who will be able to export fresh, high-value produce to international markets in Asia and the Middle East. This is particularly important for our horticultural producers who are largely reliant on domestic markets, which means being at the behest of supermarket oligopolies. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge for farmers? 
Farmers are largely price-takers and have little power in the markets in which they operate. The challenge is to redress this power imbalance, whether through a more robust competition policy framework, voluntary or mandatory codes that restrict opportunistic behaviours of powerful organisations, or through corporate social responsibility provisions. I believe farmers have been let down by the lack of protections from competition policy frameworks, so NSW Farmers is finding alternate ways to ensure they are treated equitably and fairly.

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What is your background?

I am originally from Iran and came to Australia as a five-year-old. I grew up mainly in Sydney, but have lived all over Australia. I studied economics and law at university and worked in banking, medical devices and state government. When I looked into this job, I was excited about the broad set of opportunities and challenges facing farmers.

General manager – research and innovation


“We need to plan to reap the benefits of booming demand in Asia with shorter, faster supply chains.”

Your biggest achievement?
Pulling together the Future Food Systems CRC, involving 40 research, industry and government partners. This initiative aims to accelerate the creation of high-tech, sustainable, export-facing regional food hubs. It builds on the momentum of previous NSW Farmers’ projects my team has delivered across energy, climate, digital and market development.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for farmers?
Getting up the value chain! Our farmers produce world’s-best goods but most sell them at commodity prices. New supply chain and marketing technology can help them connect more directly with consumers and gain a larger share of end value. There is a leap in global demand for trusted fresh and value-added food goods which farmers can tap into. Innovative solutions exist for outdated energy, water, food manufacturing, communications and transport technology. To kickstart a new wave of regional growth, NSW Farmers is calling for major coordinated investment across industry, government, research and community. 

What is your background?
I grew up in rural residential Melbourne and have always felt connected to the land. My interest in ag innovation stems from my belief that Australia can be better at value adding, and science and technology offer the keys to economic growth. In addition to my role at NSW Farmers, I’m an adjunct associate professor in the engineering faculty at the University of New South Wales.

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