But I must say, all is not lost. Fresh produce commission markets and market agencies face many formidable challenges and this is the time for leaders to step forward. We’re seeing some excellent leadership manifesting itself among certain senior market agents, not only within their businesses but within industry organisations as well. It’s these people who must take the sector forward and drag the unwilling ‘kicking and screaming’ into the future.
Market agents have shown their resilience over the years as they’ve taken on and overcome the challenges thrown at them, but the leadership challenge is one which, by and large, seems to have gone unattended. The sector has some very well managed agencies and they’re the ones going forward. Sadly, though, too many are still stuck in a rut, unable or unwilling to adapt to new circumstances.
This manifests itself in not upgrading staff and service levels, indifference to training, paying only lip service to transformation, arrogance and generally staying in a comfort zone which won’t remain ‘comfortable’ much longer. The history of market agents in this country goes back well over 150 years and through most of that time markets were the main choice for farmers. Direct sales to retailers and other options only came much later and are relatively new to fresh produce marketing.
Having a proud history is one thing, but ignoring the warning signs of change is another matter entirely. On this score both market agents and market management have an abysmal record. They failed to react when they should have and while they might not have stopped the train, they could at least have applied the brakes and ensured a better share of the pie for themselves.
Markets today have a share of about 27% of the total fresh produce ‘basket’, down from an estimated 90%, 50 years ago! That should be enough to spur the recalcitrant markets sector into action. But that hasn’t happened, largely due to a lack of good leadership. This requires men and women who can think beyond the confines of the market floor, who can see the bigger picture, who appreciate the inherent dangers of remaining static and who can step forward and say, “Follow me!”
Contact Mike Cordes at [email protected]. Please state ‘Market floor’ in the subject line of your email.