Doug Haas – his leadership style – his clear direction, ability to cut to the chase, unshakable dedication and intolerance of poor attitudes – has contributed greatly to Australian Organic’s success. 

AUSTRALIAN Organic (formerly Biological Farmers of Australia, BFA) was less than 10 years old in the mid-1990s and organics was a cottage industry, giving new chair Doug Haas a chance to improve a sector he loved.

Farming is close to Doug’s roots – in his youth he helped manage his family’s organically operated cattle property in Goomeri, Queensland. In his early 40s he finished managing his building and engineering business and, seeing a market opportunity, took up organic farming, achieving BFA certification in the early 1990s.

A former chair of the Young Nationals in Queensland, and director and chair of a local farmers’ cooperative, Doug became a director of BFA in 1996 and chair in 1997. He established supply chains for the industry and built relationships with wholesalers, helping them through the organic certification process, resulting in major wholesalers becoming certified under the Bud logo, reducing the number of unsubstantiated ‘chemical free’ and ‘naturally grown’ claims.

Doug believes organisations should listen to their grass roots. To improve communications he supported the employment of a media and communications officer (Australian Organic now has a PR staff of six) and was the driver of the group’s annual national roadshow events. Australian Organic now produces 10 print publications, 30 e-newsletters and 25 media releases and hosts or attends over a dozen events each year.

In 1999 Doug played an important role in stabilising the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) organic program. Manager of the Organics Export Certification Program, Dr Andy Carroll, says, “Luckily for us, along came Doug Haas. Doug was his typical self, straight-talking, helpful, practical, sensible and totally honest. “We worked together to develop efficient and practical solutions, passed the European Union audit and the new program was a success – one of the highlights of my public service career.”

The establishment of subsidiary company Australian Certified Organic (ACO) in 2002 separated Australian Organic’s certification business from its industry development business. This major turning point provided an easily recognisable name and mark on products and further defined the group’s future.

In 2009 Doug was involved in steering Biological Farmers of Australia from a cooperative to a public company limited by guarantee to better suit the group’s needs.

Company secretary, Graeme Stratford, says, “I observed tremendous hard work and dedication. I doubt that BFA members are aware of the time and effort he committed to Biological Farmers of Australia then and now. “His determination, honesty, leadership, frank discussions, robust questioning and commercial nous were major factors in the successful conversion of BFA.”

Perhaps Doug’s greatest achievement has been his long-term focus on building relationships with groups such as the Organic Vignerons Association of Australia (OVAA) and Organic Growers of Australia Ltd (OGA), whose members voted to come under the Australian Organic umbrella in 1998 and 2006 respectively. This increased the number of certified operators by around 500.

Former head of OVAA David Bruer says, “He was friendly, courteous and kind to a group that partly due to changing industry conditions was heading for a train crash. Nothing was too much trouble for Doug.”

Doug’s leadership style – his clear direction, ability to cut to the chase, unshakable dedication and intolerance of poor attitudes – has contributed greatly to Australian Organic’s success.

Australian Organic accountant Ben Whitehouse says, “While I am sure Doug would deflect this comment by pointing out that it is his staff that delivers the success, it is my experience that the firm hand in leadership ensures the comforts of achievement in operation.”

Fifteen years is a long time to chair an organisation, but the challenges could compare with a lifetime’s when you consider what the organic industry and Australian Organic have faced over that period. It was announced at the group’s Annual General Meeting that Doug Haas is no longer a director. He will remain involved in the organic industry and continue to be a friend and mentor to many.

Rapid and stable growth in the last five years now sees Australian Organic with its greatest strength in financial resources, its own premises and over 30 per cent branding recognition amongst all Australian consumers.

Doug’s attitude at the head has filtered down through the entire organisation and has been a major contributing factor to Australian Organic’s success. On behalf of the organic industry, congratulations Doug on 15 years of a job well done.

– Holly Vyner

Acres Australia Archives – Issue #100