An ongoing commitment to the land and securing the sustainability of Australian agriculture has led E.E. Muir & Sons to be named the Asia Pacific Regional Winner of the 2018 Corteva Environmental Respect Awards. This article was originally published in AUSVEG magazine Vegetables Australia, who spoke to Managing Director Ian Muir about the prestigious accolade and what it means for the business.
After more than 92 years of operation and four generations of family leadership, E.E. Muir & Sons knows better than most the significance of sustainability – not only from a business perspective, but also in terms of protecting the surrounding environment. This is particularly important given the company’s role as a major distributor of fertilisers, crop protection products, seed and other farm supplies to the Australian agriculture industry.
Established by Edward Eric Muir in Melbourne’s Victoria Market in 1927, E.E. Muir & Sons is a family-owned company that has since expanded its footprint from a humble market stall to 42 retail branches located in the key, predominately irrigated, growing regions of Australia.
“We service high value cropping enterprises and our model is to offer service in the field and add value to our customers,” E.E. Muir & Sons Managing Director Ian Muir said.
The importance of environmental stewardship is instilled throughout the company’s 300-strong workforce. This commitment came to light recently when E.E. Muir & Sons Regional Manager Danny Thornton, in conjunction with Nick Weckert from Corteva. nominated the business for the 2018 Corteva Environmental Respect Awards, the global agriculture industry’s premier stewardship program, which recognises outstanding work in preserving the environment through safe, responsible business practices.
Now in its 28th year and previously run under the banner of DuPont before its merge with Dow Agroscience, the Environmental Respect Awards honour fertiliser/agricultural chemical retailers and seed agents across the globe who are operating their businesses in an environmentally sound manner to benefit their customers, employees and the community.
“We were surprised and delighted when we were notified that we won not only the Australian award but the Asia Pacific Regional Winner award. It was quite the feather in our cap for something we did, not for recognition but for the betterment of the industry,” Ian said.
“I would like to congratulate Corteva for encouraging agricultural retailers across the world, like ourselves, in aspiring to meet the criteria for consideration of this award.”
A focus on sustainable farming
E.E. Muir & Sons’ involvement in the awards and subsequent success was based around industry workshops held across Australia with Matt Strmiska, a private consultant and specialist in spray application techniques from the United States. Matt held a range of spray application workshops and demonstrations in the both the Sunraysia and Bundaberg regions of Australia, with support from Corteva, to help growers become more efficient and environmentally aware of the products they were using.
The workshops assisted growers in areas including on-target application of crop protection products to prevent overuse, waste, run-off and off-target damage. It also highlighted the efficient application of products to limit fuel and machinery use, leading to less soil compaction, and also providing resistance management with the overall objective of using minimal chemicals in the environment.
“Matt took the workshops well beyond what was a simple spray application message,” Ian explained.
“We have an attitude for sustainable agriculture, which doesn’t mean a non-chemical attitude; but the wise use of chemicals in agriculture, and part of that is effective, minimal use, and using alternative products where applicable. Many softer products need extra stewardship, and bringing someone like Matt into the country helps with that stewardship.”
*While the workshops were the key driver for the award nomination, E.E. Muir & Sons’ promotion of sustainable farming practices and environmental protection extends well beyond this. For instance, the company is also involved in the fertiliser industry’s attention to the Great Barrier Reef and minimising run-off through the use of alternative products.
“We also offer consultancy field monitoring to minimise the need to spray unnecessarily and we’re developing some new adjuvants which carry the chemical and penetrate the plant more effectively to reduce the amount of chemical needed in the environment. We’ve developed our own product development team to verify these products and programs,” Ian explained.
“More recently Will Gordon (formerly from Hort Innovation) joined us as our Business Development Manager and he is overseeing the implementation and assessment of a number of other environmental impact projects – be it robotics or data management – to help our customers. Again, this is a commitment to make our industry more sustainable. Our team is very proud to represent a company that has an environmentally sustainable attitude.”*
Spreading the message
Ian, who joined E.E. Muir & Sons in 1975, has seen the business gradually develop a stronger focus on environmental stewardship over the decades, having progressed from selling agricultural chemicals in large volumes in the 1970s to helping introduce mating disruption technology to sustainably manage codling moth in Australian orchards in the 1990s.
“Our attitude, from the 1990s particularly, is if there has been a safer option that we could develop, we’ve certainly put resources into it. We really support the newer products because in most cases they are more specific, with minute quantities of active ingredient going on per hectare versus the old days of quite a large chemical impact per hectare,” he said.
Ian noted that this shift towards a heightened sense of environmental sustainability runs parallel to increasing retailer and consumer demands for Australian producers to be more environmentally conscious in their farming practices.
“It’s a huge direction that we have to adopt. And it’s about time that we not only caught up but led the world in some of these areas.”
Part of achieving this feat, he added, is for growers and the wider industry to proactively share their stories – and it’s something that E.E. Muir & Sons will focus on well into the future.
“As an industry, we probably haven’t spoken well enough of the positive impact we’re trying to make, and at times to our own detriment. As an industry it is time to start talking about the positives, and the Corteva award has been a catalyst to push us forward and make those stories more commonly known.
“It’s not the only story around by any means, but maybe others in our industry need to start talking about their good practices as well, and if we can encourage others to do that and also strive to get an award themselves, that’s going to be good for our industry.”