Australia Malaysia Business Council - NSW Chapter

Food security is becoming increasingly important in today’s world with a growing population and diminishing resources. 

Countries like Australia and Malaysia have a lot to learn from each other. 

Enter AMBC member Agricultural Tours Riverina, a group of Australian experts who provide high quality agricultural study tours for governmental, industrial, education and other groups.  

Who is Agricultural Tours Riverina?

Agricultural Tours Riverina (ATR) is a group of experts in various fields of Australian agriculture who associate in order to provide high quality study tours for governmental, industrial, education and other groups.

ATR offers a small number of “off-the-shelf” tours of the Australian Rice Industry, Water Management and Irrigated Farming in the NSW Riverina.

However the vast bulk of its work involves designing bespoke tours in response to focussed enquiries from clients. ATR arranges site visits appropriate to a client’s interests and if asked arranges accommodation, catering and charter transport associated with a study tour.

We are never quite sure if we should identify most closely with the tourist or education or business services industries because our work extends across all three.  

Managing Director John Collins brings more than 35 years of rural research, teaching and administration to the task. Other associates are practising or recently retired rural professionals, academics and administrators located from Cairns (Queensland) to Geelong (Victoria).

Where do you see Agricultural Tours Riverina in the next five years?

Our business was registered in 2014, although all associates have much longer experience of designing and conducting agricultural tours.

The last five years have been spent networking among international educational, industry, government and tourism agents. These contacts have led to visits by groups from fifteen nations over five continents.

The next five years will be spent consolidating established networks and repairing some connections broken by COVID, and in establishing more solid connections especially with education and research institutions on all continents.

What are some of the opportunities for businesses (particularly in your industry) operating across the Australian and Malaysian markets?

Both Australian and Malaysian rural sectors have lots to learn from each other.

Agriculture in Malaysia has existed for a very long time. In Australia our systems for growing food and fibre have a much shorter history.

Malaysians are interested in Australian research and in our broadacre farming systems.

Australians, in a de-regulated market environment, are interested in small scale processing equipment and practices as many farmers move from producing commodities to producing small, high quality food and fibre products, and attempt to add value on their own farms.

Some groups from Malaysia we have dealt with include groups interested in various aspects of our rice industry, in coconut research, in systems for managing food chains for orchard products and in tropical and sub-tropical horticulture. 

What are some of the challenges faced by businesses (particularly in your industry) operating across the Australian and Malaysian markets?

Leaving aside the current impediments created by COVID I think one major challenge is the lack of travel agents specialising in rural study tours.

Travel agents often don’t understand the vast distances to be travelled.

We often get asked to show visitors rice farms and cotton farms “within 2 hours of downtown Sydney”. Even the order “to see the rice industry” can be a problem for us.

Are the visitors mostly interested in the agronomic, entomological, seed quality, research, supply chain or other aspects of the industry?

We’d like to receive much more focussed requests for visits.

We have never experienced difficulties finding halal caterers or places for prayers, even in the smallest and remotest rural communities.

Who is the most interesting person you have met during the course of your business and networking?

I think our most interesting customer was with us earlier this year, just before COVID lockdowns occurred. He was a recently retired EU bureaucrat who had been responsible for formulating biosecurity policy for European agriculture.

In retirement he had been engaged by large rural corporations to manage troubled corporate farms that had fallen into financial or other difficulties.

His request of us was to see a range of farm management styles over six days in Australia.

We showed him farms that were corporate, family owned and managed, partnerships, cooperatives and even crowd funded.

Favourite Malaysian cuisine?

My father, who had spent a lot of time in Malaya introduced me to nasi goreng early in my youth. Nothing too spicy, please!!

What is one key lesson you have learned about running a business?

I’ve run a series of businesses before this farm tour business.

Luckily I have enjoyed every one of them, because I know that being in business is very much a full time occupation. I can’t imagine the stress that must be endured when people are managing businesses they aren’t psychologically and emotionally committed to.

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