John Ralph Essay Competition 2020:
Are competition measures delivering a fair go for farm businesses?

The Australian Farm Institute established the annual John Ralph Essay Competition in 2010 to honour John Ralph, who was the inaugural Chairman of the Australian Farm Institute. John made a major contribution to the Australian Farm Institute during his six years of chairmanship, and always insisted that comprehensive and objective research should be the basis for policy decisions, particularly for a sector such as agriculture, which has a wide diversity of different commodity groups and business arrangements. (More information about the history and previous winners of the competition is available here.)

The 2020 competition is now closed and entrants will be contacted in October regarding progress of the assessment process. Shortlisted entries will be published in the Summer 2020 Farm Policy Journal.

The topic for the 2020 John Ralph Essay Competition is:

Are competition measures delivering a fair go for farm businesses?

Five years ago, the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper was released as a roadmap for growth in the agricultural sector. Priority action area 1 in the paper was titled ‘A fairer go for farm businesses’ and focused on competition and profitability with funding for a boost to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to enable better engagement with the agricultural sector as well as programs which provided knowledge and materials on cooperatives, collective bargaining and innovative business models designed to help farmers with contract negotiations.

The year previously, Rod Sims, ACCC Chair, had highlighted in a speech at the Australian Farm Institute Roundtable how Australian agriculture could benefit from better competition policy and measures to make markets work better.

Competition policy is a vital component of any rules-based market economy and ensures that businesses, companies and agencies compete fairly with each other. Functional competitive markets should encourage enterprise and efficiency creating more choice for consumers while reducing prices and improving quality.

Many competition reforms have been applied specifically to agriculture, with changes to water markets one of the more visible and impactful reform measures enacted. While the competition brought about through water market reforms may have achieved the overall benefit for Australian agriculture the ACCC was seeking, there are also many farmers who would say that ‘the fairer go for farm businesses’ laid out in the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper has not eventuated.

The John Ralph Essay Competition 2020 asks the question:

‘Are competition measures delivering a fair go for farm businesses?’  

Respondents should clearly outline the impacts (positive or negative) of competition policy on Australian agriculture (in its entirety or for specific industries) and propose a path forward for the continuing operation of fair and functional markets for the sector.

The winner of the Open category of the John Ralph Essay Competition will receive a cash prize of $5000 and the winner of the Novice category will receive a cash prize of $1000.

Both winners will also receive a one year's membership of the Australian Farm Institute (valued at $330).

Entries will be judged using the following criteria:

  • Completeness: entries must address all the issues raised in the competition topic.
  • Originality: entries should go beyond just repeating 'common' beliefs, and carefully and objectively examine the question posed by the topic.
  • Comprehensiveness: entries should canvass the full extent of the issue, and carefully consider the positives and negatives arising from any proposed 'solution'.
  • Practicality: any proposals will need to find the right balance between being bold and practical – there should be a reasonable chance proposals could be adopted.
  • Clarity: entries should be written in clear, jargon-free language so that it is easily read and understood.

There are two categories for this competition:

  • The Open category is open to anyone, including students, farmers, agribusiness participants, policy-makers, consultants, researchers, etc.
  • The Novice category is open to persons 25 years of age or under, on Thursday 31st of December 2020.

The two winning entries will be selected by a panel of judges and these will be published (along with a number of other papers on the same topic) in the Summer 2020 edition of the Farm Policy Journal, to be released in December, 2020.

Entries must be between 1500 and 4000 words in length, and material beyond the 4000 limit (excluding reference list) will not be considered by judges. 

The essay is expected to present the author's point of view based on sound and well-argued reasoning.

A scientific style (method, quotes, references and reference list) is not compulsory, but important references should be cited. The essay should be written in a style suitable for an audience that has some familiarity with the topic, but does not have a great depth of technical knowledge about the issue.

Competition entries were due by 5pm on Monday, 14 September 2020. The competition is closed for 2020.

Professors and lecturers are encouraged to participate by encouraging their students to enter this competition.

The Australian Farm Institute has established this essay competition to create discussion and debate on current agriculture sector topics, and to encourage students and the wider community to engage in issues of strategic importance to the future of the sector.

Any professors or lecturers interested in having their students participate are invited to include the competition topic in their students' assessment tasks, and to enter some or all of the resulting essays in the competition.

Professors and lecturers who have two or more students enter the competition will be offered:

  • One year’s free subscription to the Farm Policy Journal
  • One hardcopy of an Institute research report of their choice.

Please note that any professors or lecturers who wish to set this topic as a class project need to contact the Institute to register on 02 9690 1388 or