Environmental, Social and Governance
Like many businesses in our industry, we are on a journey toward establishing a sustainability strategy. Social and environmental considerations are an implicit part of Ruralco. They are embedded in our purpose and strategy, reflected in our values and evident in our daily activities. Our goal is to make sustainability explicit in our businesses. Defining our sustainability strategy is a work in progress as we aim to embed it in our organisational DNA. We will look to expand our reporting in this area in the coming year.
Our environmental role is important to us. Aligning with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s core principles of sustainable food and agriculture, we work with our suppliers, customers and members to use resources more efficiently; conserve, protect and enhance natural resources; and protect and improve rural livelihoods.
We have incorporated Entec® technology into our Grow Force fertiliser, an example of how we are facilitating more sustainable farming practices. As the proprietary supplier of Grow Force, which has more than 60% of the fertiliser market in North Queensland, we have worked with our contract manufacturer to incorporate technology that helps protect against nitrogen loss, improving crop uptake. Entec® technology reduces nitrate flushes, enabling farmers to produce more consistent quality products. It does this by giving crops a more continuous supply of nitrogen, requiring potentially fewer applications so that workloads can be allocated more efficiently.
Retailers, CRT members and agronomists working under the Ruralco banner consult with farmers on the optimal application of this fertiliser. This efficient and sustainable nitrogen delivery technology can increase yield by an average of 9.9% when used correctly. Ruralco is now working with the CSIRO to monitor nitrogen levels in sugarcane crops and the Great Barrier Reef to develop an algorithm that will predict the ideal minimal and targeted application of inputs for growing sugarcane.
Efficient use of water is critical to the success of agriculture in Australia. Through our water businesses we provide water infrastructure and technology efficiencies in the irrigation industry and on farms. Our farm water and advisory expertise helps Australian farmers manage this valuable resource delivering practical solutions ranging from irrigation services and planning to products, supply and installation.
This year we expanded our online water trading platform to allow all irrigators, government bodies and stakeholders access to trade water products in all major trading zones across Australia. This access gives all stakeholders in the water trading industry a simple transparent platform. The integrity of the system increases the confidence of water users and their understanding of the value of water entitlements.
Ruralco works with AgSafe, a not-for-profit organisation, to provide environmentally safe handling, storage, transportation and disposal of agricultural and veterinary chemicals and containers. Every two years AgSafe assesses the sites where we store, handle and sell chemicals. AgSafe also provides training in safe, effective and legal use of chemicals.
Our group-wide approach to safely handle chemicals and containers demonstrates our approach to our environmental responsibilities. We are developing knowledge throughout our organisation, increasing focus and environmental awareness and improving reporting through our environmental management system.
Ruralco supports the AgSafe programs DrumMUSTER, which recycles chemical drums and ChemClear for the collection of unwanted agricultural chemicals. It also supports the Farm Waste Recovery program for fertiliser packaging.
Thriving local communities are a key focus of our business. With a strong culture of ‘lending a hand to those in need’ we provide practical and financial assistance at the local and national levels to a wide range of groups and organisations.
We believe rural communities should be able to make their own decisions about issues that affect them. Our support and engagement assists this process by helping create stable farming communities across Australia, which also benefits our business.
Throughout our Company and network we sponsor sporting clubs and events, support agricultural shows and fundraise for hospitals, medical facilities, schools and charities. We also provide scholarships, donate food, participate in local and industry associations, engage in community service, help move stock and rebuild fences in the wake of fires or floods and advise on agronomy issues.
We encourage our businesses and our CRT members to be supportive and responsible in all the communities in which they work.
Every year, Management votes on the CRT Community Member of the Year. This award recognises the extraordinary contribution of our CRT members in supporting Australian farmers and their communities.
Education is an important social issue in rural communities and our local businesses are actively involved in ensuring rural and agricultural education are not overlooked.
Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association
Our businesses support the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA). The ICPA is a voluntary, not-for-profit, apolitical parent body dedicated to ensuring that all rural and remote students have equal access to continuing and appropriate education. It seeks to have all elements of education (cultural experiences, social contacts and participation in sport and other enriching activities) available for all children no matter where they live. We provide support in several states, including raising funds to educate remote children via the Katherine School of the Air and sponsoring the ICPA’s annual conference in Western Australia.
Our Primaries CRT business in Western Australia provides an annual scholarship at the Muresk Institute. The scholarship gives financial support to a final year student studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management. This assistance not only alleviates financial pressure but helps our business connect with emerging talent among people seeking a career in agribusiness.
Hagley Farm School
In Tasmania, Roberts’ supports the Hagley Farm School and the Tasmanian Agricultural Education Network by providing funding for a vehicle. The Hagley Farm School is a K–10 school in northern Tasmania, with a farm that thousands of Tasmanian children visit every year. Hagley’s head teacher also supports other school farms and agricultural programs in the state and the vehicle makes visits between schools possible. Roberts also provides expertise in running the school farm and this year helped the school acquire a milking stand for its dairy demonstration shed.
Ruralco has had a corporate partnership with Lifeline Australia since November 2015. By increasing awareness of mental health issues, providing tools and training for people to assist in the community and through reducing the stigma of mental health, we aim to support health and wellbeing and stem the suicide rate in rural communities.
Recognising that isolation can make people in rural communities and regional areas vulnerable, we provide financial support for Lifeline crisis support services. This relationship also ensures that members of our network are equipped to deal with conversations about mental health and suicide. If a member or employee is concerned about someone’s mental health, they know how to respond and to refer them to Lifeline’s services. Our multifaceted approach has a tangible positive effect on rural communities.
During the financial year our company, employees and network donated more than $460,000 to Lifeline. This money came from a corporate donation, a personal contribution from the CEO and fundraising activities across our network.
Our geographically diverse footprint gives our businesses a unique opportunity to support Australian farmers and rural communities where drought, financial pressure and isolation can cause distress. Training helps our staff members listen to customers and recognise and respond to signs of distress.
Lifeline has provided Awareness and Crisis Intervention training to many Ruralco and CRT staff members over the last 12 months. It has also made the Mental Health Chat (Crisis Awareness) course available.