Interview with Chris Taylor, Executive General Manager, AMPC

AMPC provides research, development and extension (RD&E) services for Australian processors, that improve the sustainability, efficiency and profitability of the red meat and livestock sector.

Over the past 6 months, the team has been working to develop a fresh strategy for their activities and investments, resulting in a renewed vision and Strategic Plan that’s hot off the press. To drill down further, The Annual Operating Plan provides a one-year snapshot of the Strategic Plan, including specific initiatives and investments planned for 2020-21.

In the plan, AMPC has pledged to invest more than $200m, undertaking initiatives across five programs, all underpinned by the strategic priorities set out in Red Meat 2030. We caught up with Executive General Manager Chris Taylor to delve deeper.

RMAC: Innovation is a big part of your vision, how do you ensure an innovation culture for your members?

CT: Our vision is for AMPC to be the processing sector’s trusted partner in innovation, and to that end we have recently remodelled our operating structure to support an innovation culture both at the industry level and ‘on plant’.

Four Co-Innovation Managers join our existing Program Managers this year, and their role is to work with member plants to develop bespoke innovation strategies and act as a conduit between plants and our strategic programmes.

Through those bespoke innovation strategies, the Co-Innovation Managers will work with members to develop Plant Initiated Projects, or PIPs, which are a terrific mechanism for conducting R&D and delivering outputs directly to the member.

We see innovation as being a partnership, and so we are also co-investing with our members to provide their own innovation resources on plant. Those resources play an important role, owning the member’s innovation strategy and connecting with AMPC’s broader RD&E programmes. So far 27 Innovation Managers have been supported, which is a testament to the value our sector sees in innovation.

I am really optimistic that this refreshed approach to engagement and building an innovation culture on multiple levels will drive better value for our sector for both the short and long term.

RMAC: The 2020-2025 strategic plan is underpinned by the strategic priorities set out in Red Meat 2030 – how did you ensure alignment between the two?

CT: Several of our staff were involved in the Red Meat 2030 consultation process, which wrapped up just as we commenced developing our new strategy.

In developing our own plan, we used a ‘top-down and bottom-up’ approach, drawing on all available insights and frameworks. We engaged directly with our processor stakeholders to understand their current and future needs, with processors representing close to 70% of throughput engaged in our consultation process.

By way of example, ‘Our People’ is a key focus of Red Meat 2030 and is aligned to the work we have been doing in this space for several years around attraction, retention, development, and wellbeing. Processors are significant employers in rural and regional communities, and it’s great to have some alignment between the needs of our sector and the rest of the value chain.

RMAC: Red Meat Processors are positioned in the middle of the supply chain, how does this affect their ability to be sustainable and efficient?

CT: The processing sector must be competitive, profitable and sustainable in order to thrive. Australia’s meat processors bear significant exposure to fluctuating international markets, and as we discovered through our Cost to Operate report in 2018, also operate at a significantly higher cost compared to our international competitors.

As a result of those factors, processors must be efficient and sustainable by default, and that’s why our 2020-25 strategic plan has a significant focus on those aspects. Processing automation and digitisation of plants will go a long way to enhancing the efficiency of plants. Likewise, investments into energy, water and waste solutions will deliver both cost efficiencies and bolster our member’s sustainability credentials.

An excellent example of the challenges faced by processors as the central player in the value chain is that of animal hides. International demand of hides has all but collapsed in recent years and disposing of masses and masses of hides in a sustainable way is a costly exercise. The question we are asking through our R&D is ‘what are the options to ensure there is an efficient and sustainable solution to this issue?’.

Processors’ position in the middle of the supply chain is certainly challenging, and that’s why it is critical that we get it right – not just for processors, but for the sake of the entire value chain.

RMAC: Part of your Strategic Plan is to ensure that by 2030, Australian processors are recognised as global leaders in environmental stewardship, with a first step to improve data collection and reporting. How will this be actioned in the short-term?

CT: One of our key on-plant RD&E initiatives for this year is a series of environmental and energy monitoring projects which are commencing in early 2020-21. We will be assisting members to identify and install the right sensors… installing sensors and monitoring in plants to capture data, monitor trends, and make good commercial decisions.

This type of research will give our members a granular view of energy and water usage, down to individual pieces of equipment, which will not only inform maintenance and capital investment decisions, but will no doubt be a lead-in to new and innovating technologies and approached.  

This initiative is, to my mind, a quantum leap in getting the data the industry needs at both the plant and aggregated industry level to help us understand and improve the profitability and sustainability of the industry from the ground up. So we’re really excited to get this underway.

RMAC: Tell us more about your initiative to use technology to increase supply chain visibility in export markets. 

CT: When it comes to supply chain visibility, different technologies have a vast range of applications. For instance, we have already seen commercial players in some industries combine QR codes and other technologies to provide consumers with a view into the provenance of their products.

Our focus in this space is around how we can make trade more efficient, with less opportunities for miscommunication. We aim to arm the industry with the tools they need to be on the front foot, using innovative approaches to identify and catch issues before they become issues in the marketplace.

Our Bondi Labs project (see below) is a good example of giving greater confidence to our trading partners globally, providing useful insights in an efficient way.

RMAC: Let’s delve a bit deeper into the Bondi Labs project – you are involved in developing tech that enables auditing and verification practices to be carried out remotely using augmented reality – tell us more about this and other uses for the tech, beyond its current uses?

CT: We have two projects on the go at the moment, with the aim to enhance our international reputation for safe, sustainably-sourced red meat products.

We have engaged tech start-up Bondi Labs to undertake initiatives around remote auditing. The objective is develop and demonstrate that real-time, remote vision of processing plants can be used as an alternative to on-plant inspection, thereby increasing the efficiency of audits and reducing cost to industry.  

The second project explores going above and beyond the minimum standards of inspection that are required and taking it to the next level for our trading partners, using Augmented Reality. Customers in overseas markets would be able to undertake their own inspections remotely, reducing the need for costly and disruptive visits.

Of course this type of technology has a multitude of applications, from training, remote maintenance, and even providing realistic job previous for job candidates – imagine having a first-hand view of the job before even stepping foot inside a processing plant!

RMAC: You recently completed a project that studied the cost implications for meat processors of the emissions reduction targets set in Red Meat 2030, finding that it could leave the industry at risk of more disruptive requirements post 2030 – can you tell us more about what this means?

CT: It was surprising for me to find out that the processing sector makes up 2% of the red meat industry’s emissions, and when it comes to making investment decisions there is of course diminishing ROI in this space.

We have created a roadmap for processors to use in making decisions about what technologies to prioritise their investments in to maximise their returns and reduce pay-back periods.

Having good sustainability credentials is important in the marketplace – consumers are sensitive to this and the expectation is there, but processors have to be mindful of which solutions to target and in what order – some solutions aren’t cheap.

We want Processors to understand what the options are and the marginal ROI on different types of tech.

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