New Steering Group member blends corporate sustainability experience and on-farm expertise

New Steering Group member blends corporate sustainability experience and on-farm expertise

May 13 2024

Maria Crawford FN.jpg

Maria Crawford, Coles

Maria Crawford, who brings a wealth of experience gained across three sectors integral to the red meat industry – research and extension, supermarket procurement and prime lamb and wool production, has been announced as the newest member of the Sheep Sustainability Framework (SSF) Steering Group.

Ms Crawford is Coles’ Livestock Sustainability and Innovation Manager and, with her husband and family, runs a fifth-generation sheep and wool property near Dunkeld, in Victoria’s Western District.

Prior to joining the major supermarket chain, Maria worked as a beef and sheep extension officer with Agriculture Victoria, after growing up on her family’s beef property in the state’s northeast.

Six years ago, she joined Coles to connect livestock producers with new technology, innovation and feedback, and as the focus on sustainability within the company increased, moved into her current role.

Ms Crawford said the increasing focus on sustainability and the livestock industry’s commitment to CN30 sparked a lot of questions from producer suppliers.

“They were asking 'What does Coles want from us?'” Ms Crawford said.

In April 2022, Coles launched its own branded carbon neutral beef, certified from paddock to shelf to the Australian Government’s Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard.

“It’s essentially a productivity program rather than a sustainability program, but we believe the two go hand-in-hand – sustainable farms can’t be sustainable unless they’re productive,” Ms Crawford said.

“Combining these two elements with profitability brings the whole farm system together.

“I’m really interested in building on that and identifying the low hanging fruit, the small one-percenters that can actually reduce emissions but stay productive.”

Consumers demanding more transparency

“Customers have always thought that our farmers were doing a good job, but now they demand proof, so we always need to provide that provenance story and evidence, and the Sheep Sustainability Framework is a way of doing that.

“At the same time, our direct relationship with the producers enables us to feed all of our consumer knowledge and information back to them.”

Biodiversity and measurement key challenges

Ms Crawford believes sustainability reporting on biodiversity and deforestation is a key emerging issue for the industry, while the ongoing commitment to animal welfare will always be a core principle.

“It’s about measurement,” Ms Crawford said.

“It’s making sure that we can achieve all that, and that we can actually demonstrate what we're doing.”

Ms Crawford said she was looking forward to her new role as retail representative on the SSF Sustainability Steering Group.

“We have a lot of customer insights, so taking that supply chain knowledge back to the Framework to say, ‘These are the issues that are coming up, these are front and centre’ and providing a forward insight into what's happening in the retail space domestically will be quite useful, I hope,” Ms Crawford said.

“I’m really looking forward to contributing to an industry that is progressive, profitable and productive and has high welfare standards and great market access.

“It’s an old cliché, but we have a son and daughter interested in agriculture, so I want to be able to provide a positive future for the next generation.”