Bleat Box: Meet Ed Dunn
Ed Dunn has significant experience in farm management, corporate agriculture and agricultural investment across multiple sectors. In 2007, he founded the Sustainable Agriculture Fund, an early leader in the development of agriculture as an asset class for Australian domestic super funds. As Chief Operating Officer of the Fund, Ed had oversight of significant assets that included grain, cotton, beef and dairy farms in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
As Director and CEO of MH Premium Farms Group for the past six years, he is responsible for a portfolio of 17 properties over 70,000 hectares in eastern Australia, comprising prime lambs, wool, beef, broadacre cereals and oilseeds, irrigated cotton and sugar.
A qualified vet with postgraduate qualifications in finance and investment, Ed Dunn has appreciated hearing and learning from fellow SSF Steering Group members about how to implement sustainability throughout the sheep and wool supply chain.
“I’ve spent most of my career at the coalface on-farm or working in investment in production agriculture, so the perspectives of the Group have opened my eyes to how different parts of the chain view and implement sustainability, and they’re quite forthright about what they’d like to see people doing on farm,” Mr Dunn said.
“I think the Framework is a good template to identify areas of focus, but where the rubber hits the road for producers is finding an indicator, benchmark or measurement that provides accurate data and is palatable from a cost perspective.”
Mr Dunn said some elements of the Framework were easier to manage than others, and the key lies in researching and developing scientifically proven tools and technology to use on-farm.
“As producers we can identify some areas we need to focus on but there’s a bit of confusion about specific actions to take,” he said.
“Biodiversity is a difficult one to measure because it’s so site-specific, and then there’s labour and community – how do we do that?”
“At MH Premium Farms we’re managing resources on behalf of other people, so evidence-based, tangible information is important. Measures that are proven with scientific rigour around them are also part of the challenge on-farm. We still need to be investing in research projects to give people confidence to adopt things that’ll have the outcomes we’re looking for.
“It’s not the job of the Framework to provide those things but it is the Framework’s job to get the message out about what’s important to the supply chain, whether it’s in the middle, consumer or farm level, and influence bodies that can invest in the right areas, so that producers make changes that are significant and impactful and know the reason why they’re doing it.”
Mr Dunn has seen significant changes in agriculture in the 16 years since he co-founded the Sustainable Agriculture Fund, raising $145 million from six Australian institutional funds to invest in grain, cotton, beef and dairy farms.
“When I started raising money and investing on behalf of super funds, that industry was novel and new back then, but now we’re seeing a lot of investor monies in the space and it is every day, mainstream practice,” he said.
“Investors were always interested in sustainability and ESG, but I think these days it has more teeth and focus. Greenwashing has been an issue and we’re now seeing people doing tangible things and letting the results do the talking.”
And he says it’s not only the corporate investors who can help to encourage innovation in measuring sustainability.
“Some of the best innovators in this area are family operators,” he said.
“They’re agile and can make quick decisions, so we need those leaders to provide innovation. Corporates help to drive innovation, but family farmers have been leaders in this for a long time.
“From a sustainability point of view, we’re acutely aware of what our footprint is and are committed to managing assets so they’re here for the long-term, and that means looking after our people and providing them with a safe, successful workplace.
“I think the concern at a producer level is fear of the unknown – what’s coming down the pipeline and how it’ll impact businesses. I would encourage people at a farm level to be part of the conversation, so that we get an outcome rather than being dictated to.”