Sudoku farming

Today I am delighted to share this guest post by Gus Whyte with you.

By way of background Angus and Kelly with 8 yr old son Mitchell Whyte run a grazing property that is 12,500ha on the Anabranch River at Wentworth in far western NSW.  They have been rotationally grazing to repair the landscape since 2001 and have seen significant changes in that time

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I first “met” Gus on Twitter and was delighted to see him profiled by Fleur McDonald as part of her 52 farmer stories to celebrate Australian Year of the Farmer.

I just loved this quote from Gus

 “Our attitude to farming is simply to work with nature rather than against, so we no longer have weeds, we have “plants with stories” that we can learn from and our aim is to make our business simple and our ecosystem extremely complex, the more complex the better.”

 and I have been following Gus and his ethos via twitter closely since

The more I talk to farmers across Australia the more I am feeling the social environment we farm in today is totally foreign to most farmers and many are feeling overwhelmed. Today’s food system offers a wide range of choices that allow consumers to purchase food that meets their needs and is consistent with their values

Consumers have traditionally trusted farmers because they believe farmers share their values but the problem is some consumers are beginning to question if today’s agriculture still qualifies as farming. We are seeing consumer alienation from agriculture and the food system expressed through concerns about nutrition, food safety, affordability, environmental sustainability and animal welfare – to name but a few

What the “concerned consumer” fails to recognise is many of our farmers are torn too. Gus and his family farm on 12,500 ha compared to our family farming on 120ha. On that 120 ha we produce milk that sustains 50,000 Australians everyday. We are proud of that but no matter where we farm, how much land we have to do it on or how much we produce our farmers can only give back what the market place is prepared to pay.

Before you judge your farmers Australia (and the world) please reflect on this. “Never before have so few people fed the world. Never before has food been cheaper in this country. Never before have so many people been able to afford to be so blissfully unaware of this”

When you read what Gus has to say can you doubt in any way that Australia has many great farmers who truly care and share your values ?……

The Gus Whyte ethos….

One of the things that I enjoy is to sit down on the weekend with a nice cup of coffee and complete a Sudoku or two. For those that haven’t played there are 9 rows and 9 columns and each row and column should contain the numbers 1-9. Also there are 9 sections that again should contain the numbers 1-9. I liken this to the environment where everything is interdependent and the change of one number has implications right through the whole puzzle/landscape. Of course there are many more than just nine possible numbers when dealing with an ever changing environment, the challenge is to always come up with the same outcome. Farming can not be done with set “systems” as these don’t always take into account the people, land, animals, the changing seasons and the climate etc, instead we need to focus on achieving the right outcomes using what tools/knowledge we have on hand. That is why in some instances organic accreditation may not actually produce the healthiest foods.

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Also like the environment when we focus on one area and do a really good job there, sometimes the other sections may be totally wrong and there is no chance of reaching the desired outcome. When we think of farming we may think of the vocation that aims to  produce the best crop or best wool/meat etc. Aside from farmers there are those that say we should be only eating a plant based diet to improve the welfare of animals, well again this only looks at a small section we need both plant and animals to farm together. One without the other is an incomplete system that will fail.

Few people view farming as the best way to produce healthy food in a healthy environment, while respecting the people and community around them. Maybe we should be seeing farmers as healthy food producers or as environmental regenerators or even nutrient nurturers. While we as the broader community compartmentalize farming we don’t put their real role into perspective so we don’t look to encourage those that fulfil some or all of these roles. As Wendell Berry points out in his book “The unsettling of America” Culture & Agriculture, either we are exploiters or nurturers, there is no in between.

The end goal is for people, animals and the environment to be improving in health rather than the direction they are currently going. The question is “how can we feed and clothe a growing society while looking after the health of us and the environment?” If you say “we are what we eat”, currently you are chemicals, GMO’s & Phosphate fertilizers etc. (yes these are both in the plants and animal products!), while others may be happy with this there are some that aren’t. So how do we change what we currently do to become nurturers and all (people, animals and environment) end up healthier? All of the top businesses/farmers look at the implications of what they do and don’t compartmentalize so let’s extend that a bit.

So let’s start by agreeing on what we see as healthy.; Healthy to me is food that is grown by harnessing Mother Nature to add all the vitamins and minerals required, without the use of any chemicals or fertilizers or by being processed in any way. I’m sure that most would agree that that is very healthy, however how are we going to grow enough to feed all the people?

To put together farming methods that will produce enough food while enhancing the land and retaining wild species will not be simple so will need lots of support from all of us if we would like to be healthier. We can produce more food/fibre than we currently do by harnessing Mother Nature rather than going into battle with chemicals and GMO’s, again that has been proven to be right, we may need to change the concept of farming though. What might drive a change? You ask. Well there is plenty of information around saying that the current food systems we have in place are causing major health problems with depression endemic as well as cancer and many other problems that put enormous drain on our health systems. With drugs only working on the symptoms, surely we need to look deeper at the root cause of these issues. Maybe we will be forced to find out the hard way if we keep doing what we are doing until we reach “peak Phosphorus” in about 2030.

So farmers can be seen as “just exploiters of the environment mining the nutrients & jeopardizing the welfare of animals” or they can be part of the Sudoku puzzle with everything in order, the choice is ours.

You will notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about money as yet, well you can’t put a value on your health or the health and well being of the animals and environment so why would I start. Currently our community puts the mighty dollar above all of the above, we can feed an ever growing world with very healthy food if we start putting some of these issues above money. We can choose to select food on the looks and the “value for money”, or we can start to demand food that is produced more naturally in harmony with Mother Nature, the choice is ours.

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2 thoughts on “Sudoku farming

  1. Thankyou for these inspirational thoughts Gus. These issues have such wide reaching implications for our health and wellbeing, both physical and mental, our families, our communities our society and our land and environment. Your ideas provide us with hope for the future :)

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