John Ralph Essay Competition 2017

The topic for the 2017 John Ralph Essay Competition is:

Structural changes in the Australian agriculture sector over the past two decades have thwarted the objectives of competition reforms.

The implementation of the Hilmer competition reforms over the period from 1994 to 2004 resulted in fundamental reform for many Australian agricultural commodity markets. Prior to the reform program, many agricultural commodity markets in Australia were regulated by either Australian or State Government legislation, overseen by statutory marketing bodies. All of these statutory marketing arrangements have now been dismantled, with the exception of rice marketing in NSW.

The objective of the reforms implemented over this period was to increase the level of competition in these sectors, in order to foster innovation, farm productivity growth, processor efficiency and ultimately community wellbeing.

Coincidental with these reforms, there have been significant structural changes in agricultural markets. In virtually every sector, there has been market consolidation, and a reduction in the number of companies competing to purchase farm products or to supply farm inputs. These changes have occurred in the grains, red meat, dairy, horticulture and intensive livestock markets, and Australia’s retail food sector has also experienced significant consolidation. On the farm input side, farm machinery suppliers, agrichemical companies and farm service agencies have undergone consolidation, and many of these sectors are now dominated by a relatively small number of large-scale organisations.

For many farmers, it appears that the benefits of competition reforms have been captured by non-farm participants in commodity supply chains, leaving farm businesses more exposed to risk, operating on ever-decreasing margins, and subject to the whims of major multinational corporations, over which they have little influence.

Participants in the 2017 John Ralph Essay Competition are required to prepare an essay on the above subject. Essays must be no more than 4000 words in length, and can argue for or against the above proposition. In either case, the essay must contain factual information in support of the argument being advanced, and must be properly referenced. Where appropriate, the essays should also discuss proposed policy changes that the authors believe should be implemented to address the issues raised.