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A Grains Leader’s Inclusive Approach to Sustained Change

16 July 2019

David Jochinke may be used to a high-pressure role as president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, but his first leadership role model was entirely grass-roots: his grandfather. Since taking part in Course 18 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program in 2011/12, David hasn’t lost sight of what inspired him to lead.

“You’ve got to roll your sleeves up for anything to happen,” was his grandfather’s mantra, and one David carried on as he learned farming on his family’s sheep and broad acre cropping property at Murra Warra, in Victoria’s Wimmera region.

“I guess that’s always been the ethos I’ve had. If you’re not influencing something, you’re the one who is being influenced,” David says.

But how someone becomes effective at influencing decision-making and bringing about change often depends on the people who put time into you, and the things that help you take the next step. For the grains leader, two pivotal opportunities in his personal and professional development came thanks to the direct support of his industry, through the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

“GRDC funded my Nuffield scholarship in 2007, and my ARLP place in 2011.”

While David credits his Nuffield studies overseas with giving him “a really broad understanding of global agriculture production and the complexities of how we produce food”, he says the ARLP “has definitely been about me as a person and how I operate, and how I interact.”

He reflects: “The two experiences are completely different and complimentary. I’ve been blessed to be able to do both.”

David’s leadership aspirations first solidified in 2001, when he attended a leadership forum convened for young farmers by then-federal agricultural minister, Warren Truss. At the time, David believed it might be his one and only trip to Canberra.

“That’s where I got to meet a lot of young and up-and-coming agricultural leaders from around the nation … I was a Wimmera boy who was very naïve to the way everything worked, and I ended up in the Capital talking to people that I never thought I would.”

David says questions like ‘if I’m not happy with something, how do I change it?’ and ‘what can I do to make a difference’ started him thinking about stepping up.

Around a decade later, David credits the ARLP with tempering his leadership style into a more patient variety.

“Going into the ARLP I was very much of the ‘just go out and do it’ action mindset. What the ARLP taught me is that process is there for a reason, and you need to empower people and take them with you,” he says.

“It’s great to be able to push something through, but the reality is, if you want real change and you want it to be sustained, you’ve got to take a layered approach.”

Swapping a style he acknowledges could be a little “erratic” in its enthusiasm, for one that’s “a lot more steady” has its frustrations, but David says it’s a necessity, especially since taking on the presidency at VFF in 2016.

The VFF consists of seven Commodity Groups – Dairy (United Dairyfarmers of Victoria), Livestock, Grains, Horticulture (incorporating Flowers Victoria), Chicken Meat, Eggs and Pigs – as well as four Committee groups – Water, Land Management, Farm Business and Rural Development and Farm Security.

“Whatever challenge you pick, to get to the essence of a person’s problem or concern does take a lot of time and a lot of empathy. For me, that’s been one of the real challenges when you’ve got a diverse portfolio like I have at VFF, and you encounter opposing views all the time.

“Ultimately, I am responsible for progressing the needs of the people who placed me in this position and whose interests and values I’m there to represent. Leadership should never be selfish, it should always be for the greater good.”

David says he keeps in touch with that “greater good” through an invaluable network of living resources.

“I walked away from both my GRDC opportunities with some really close friends, to the extent where I ring them for a chat and advice, because there’s always somebody out there who is more of a subject expert than myself, and I like to tap into this to gain clarity,” he says.

To repay the investment made in him by the grains industry, David says he has always made it a priority to share his passion for agriculture.

“Initially, I was leading in the local community context. I made an effort to visit every local farmer group and to have conversations with absolutely everyone I could, not just about what I’d learned, but what the wider world of agriculture looks like.”

His vision for a healthy and sound grains industry into the future hinges on continued investment in people, and in research and development.

“It’s through R&D that we position ourselves to rise to the challenges of a drying climate and another generation of pests and diseases we haven’t encountered yet,” he says.

“It’s also about making sure that our product has traceability and integrity all the way back to the farmer.”

As both a representative of the grains industry, and a grain producer himself, David is optimistic about the next generation of leaders.

“We have got some great leaders coming through. They just need some encouragement and acknowledgement that their voices are being heard.

“The opportunities from a program like the ARLP are immense. What anyone looking to get involved really needs to do is keep building your networks and ask as many questions as you can. If you give some deep thought as to what you want out of the industry, that should give you that clarity about where you want to steer the ship to.

Photo Credit: The Wimmera Mail-Times