About Farming Ahead of the Curve

This blog will share farming stories from our family farmer Clover Hill Dairies. What you will discover however is that farming today is so much more that growing food and fibre. By opening the door to my role in our family business I am hoping you will gain greater insights into the passion and committment of the people and the places behind the land that produces our food and hands that grow it

Devondale milk ad “racist” according to advertising standards watchdog

Yesterday I asked Murray Goulburn to take the ad down. See post here 

Today they were forced to when

The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has upheld a complaint against a 15 second television commercial for Devondale milk, finding that the commercial vilified a man of Asian background and Asian business generally.

The question remains why did it take complaints from the general public and this ruling before MG took the ad down

If the popularity of my post Shaking my Head Murray Goulburn whose bright idea was this?  is any indication there was no shortage of farmer owners of the co-operative, other suppliers and concerned industry people raising concerns with MG as well. Time to refocus MG and get it right. This type of publicity does not reflect well on the Australian dairy industry. Yes many of our dairy companies are foreign owned.  Lets not forget Australian farming families produce the milk they process and on sell. These same foreign owned milk processors employ Australians and all of those people spend money in our communities.  Potentially fueling Xenophobia in jest has no place in the Australian dairy industry   

Below is a reprint of the story on AFN website See here

Devondale milk ad “racist” according to advertising standards watchdog

  • September 8, 2014

Devondale milk ad “racist” according to advertising standards watchdog

Devondale milk ad “racist” according to advertising standards watchdog

The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has upheld a complaint against a 15 second television commercial for Devondale milk, finding that the commercial vilified a man of Asian background and Asian business generally.

The television campaign depicts a group of people dressed in typical corporate attire, attempting to run a dairy farm. It is immediately apparent that these people have no farming skills, as they look totally out of place attempting to complete tasks around the farm. The farm is a typical Australian dairy farm. The ads are made up of a series of vignettes, depicting a range of individuals who would be much more at home in an office environment, trying to go about the daily tasks involved in running a dairy farm.

The commercial prompted complaints from television viewers who believed the advertisement was “very racist and demeaning to Asians”, and that the advertisement implied that Murray Goulburn, who owns the Devondale brand, “is better suited because it only employs male Australian farmers”.

Murray Goulburn said it took “very seriously” the issues raised in the complaints regarding discrimination and/or vilification based on race or gender. The Company said the storyline in the campaign “lightheartedly portrays corporate executives as being less qualified to run a dairy farm and produce milk than dairy farmers”, and that all the characters depicted in the campaign were “equally incompetent” at undertaking tasks around the farm.

“We have consciously included both genders and a diversity of appearance within the cast,” Murray Goulburn said in response to the complaints. “We feel that the range of ages, genders and appearances is indicative of a typical Australian corporate environment,” it said.

However, the ASB noted that the 15 second advertisement focused on an Asian man in a suit attempting to herd cows into a milking shed, while a voice over stated that “some businesses have no business making your milk”. The ASB noted that while a diverse range of characters from different groups appeared in a 60 second commercial that was part of the campaign, the 15 second version of the advertisement “did not capture the humour in the same way and was vilifying the man and Asian business”. The ASB Board agreed that the use of this particular character from the full length advertisement to make into one of the shorter versions amounted to a depiction which discriminates against a section of the community based on race and that it did breach Section 2.1 of the Code.

Finding that the advertisement did breach the Code, the Board upheld the complaints.

Murray Goulburn said the 15 second commercial was no longer on air as its rotation in the media schedule was complete, and that there were no plans to run this particular commercial in the future.

“We note the Board’s concerns outlined in the determination regarding this particular execution and acknowledge that these concerns do not apply to the campaign as a whole,” Murray Goulburn said.

Please take the ad down Mr Helou

Its Father’s Day again and as usual I am reflecting and beating myself up as I traditionally do on these family days. I always had great aspirations of being the best mother, wife, sister, niece and nowhere near ever met them. These days I am doing my very best to take comfort in the fact that you can’t give what you don’t have.

I am putting it down to the fact that I can’t relax and I am reflecting on this today because it was almost 12 months ago that my father expressed concern to me about my inability to relax last time I went home to visit him (and there had been far too much time between drinks as his next door neighbour kindly reminded me and rightly so). See post here

He is so right (and he is not the first person to say it nor will he be the last) I can’t relax in the day time. I can’t relax at night time. I wake up in the middle of the night with big ideas that I have to write down. I wake up in the middle of the night for too often for bizarre reasons. How much more bizarre is this? I woke up last night worried about Gary Helou and have worried about him all day.

Gary Helou The Australian

I am worried the happy face is just a front – Photo source The Australian

I am worried about how he was handling being the man of the moment that everyone ‘loves to hate’. Take this latest video for example that has been playing on my mind since I saw it a few days ago

It was the MG modus operandi and culture that instigated my father’s comment last year. My father had taken me out to dinner on Saturday night. We went early as I had (or felt I had) to be home early for a conference call at 8.30pm to rally the troops to come out thumping our chests and shaming anybody who wasn’t beating the door to Joe Hockey’s office playing the Australian cooperative is the best and only model card and imploring him to keep those ‘nasty foreigners’ from buying Warrnambool ( I just love spelling that word thank you spell checker) Cheese and Butter


Image Source here

I remember being very excited when Mr Helou took over the reins at Murray Goulburn. I had heard great things about his time at Sunrice. I said some very positive things in my blog about the MG move into NSW. But I have been disappointed at MG’s tactics  It’s not smart to ridicule your competitors especially if you need them to fill contracts you can’t. I had some strong words (excuse the pun) to say about that very unwise add when it first came out and it has been a scaringly popular post


It’s now getting ugly. Its time to focus on the big issues MG and not take pot shots at your competitors. I am starting to feel very uncomfortable about this whole sorry saga. It can’t be fun being the person everyone ‘loves to hate’. Please take the add down. The Australian dairy industry doesn’t need or want to be floodlit in this manner .

Lets foster a healthy culture of working together to get the best outcomes for every-one in the cow to carton process.

Behave as if this is the day you will be remembered


This is a sassy piece of advice from the Dr isn’t it? Ultimately it all comes down to what you want to be remembered for.

We have no shortage of ‘Sass’ in our Young Farming Champions team who came together last weekend for the 2014 Young Champions’ Master Class. One of the sessions I really enjoyed sitting in on was “How to make your talk TEDworthy”

Gaye Steel Brand Loyalty IMG_6752

Gaye Steel and Greg Mills deliver the How to Make Your Talk TEDworthy session  

It got me thinking about my favourite TED talk and there are plenty of great ones out there. But the one stands out for me is Dr Brené Brown The Power of Vulnerability. I am not the only one it resonates with. This talk has been viewed over 16 million times on TED and 2.5 million times on YouTube. Now there is goal Young Farming Champions!!

Dr Brown is sassy and has some great advice for all those people out there like me who have this fanatical desire to turn “life is messy, love it’ into “life’s messy, clean it up, organize it and put it into a bento box.”

and my favourite Dr Brene Brown quote???


Now I am off to work on ‘life’s messy, love it, celebrate it”

Keeping Your Eye on the Prize

This is a story about Catherine Marriott – The Voice of Rural Australia and why I admire her so much and why she is a great role model for me.


Catherine is passionate about building the capacity of people of agriculture and that is a  passion we share so I have been watching her journey to success with great interest and lots of cheering in the background.

I first met Catherine when she phoned me suggesting we have a face to face meeting just after she won the 2012 West Australian RIRDC Rural Woman of the Year. This happened pretty quickly, firstly in Canberra, then Catherine visiting Clover Hill, then joining the Art4Agriculture team at the 2012 Cream of the Crop Awards and then a number of the Art4Ag team travelling to Broome for Catherine’s first Influential Women’s Workshop.

It was clear from day 1 that Catherine had a big picture vision and she was determined to meet as many people as she could to help her build a roadmap framework to success. I also had the pleasure of meeting her gorgeous and very wise mother and sister and being confident that Catherine had a great family support network who would be providing that all important emotional support when the energy vampires came calling and dare I say it that agriculture seems to have its fair share of them.

I tend to admire people who have mastered qualities I am yet to and the one that stands out for me with Catherine is I believe she has mastered the ability to FOCUS. She is keeping her eye on the prize and I am confident she has it well within her reach.

I on the other hand get reminded all too often I seem to be on a mission to prove who ever said that you cant successfully multitask is wrong.

Please don’t join me in this quest. Trust me they are NOT wrong. Take yesterday as a shining example. These days I tend to take the train whenever I can. It gives me a chance to reduce my footprint and take in the world around me.  Whilst the train service from Kiama to Sydney CBD is extraordinarily time and cost effective it can be nightmare for commuters especially in peak periods. We are lucky in our region to have a very dedicated MP who is more interested in getting outcomes for his constituents than climbing the political ladder so I shot him an email a few months ago raising with him some of the train travel issues I had seen. I have now seen how frustrating it can be for an MP trying to make change and I don’t envy his job.

Back to yesterday I got to Central 30 mins early to catch the train home and as always the train was full with the resultant unpleasantness that goes with people being crammed together with suitcases and walking sticks and grumpy old men who think its just fine to reef a young traveller in the stomach with his elbow just because he felt he was standing too close.

So I decided to take action and started tweeting. Within 5 mins my MP was texting me to contact him when I got home. The end result is together we (with whoever we can muster) have hatched a plan to start a revolution to change the NSW train system to ensure it provides safe and comfortable travel for all.

Now is this part of my carefully mapped out strategic plan to achieve my big picture vision for building capacity in the agriculture sector?. Hell No. Did that stop me saying yes to Gareth. Hell No.

I used to beat myself up about this and now I just laugh as my dear friends keep reinforcing we can all only be the best version of ourselves we can be . Equally this is why it is so critical that people like me surround themselves with people who complement their skills.  This came home to roost recently when the Art4Agriculture team needed to brief a new program and event manager (so sad Kirsty you are leaving us). To help make this process as smooth as possible and look after our wonderful new event and program manager (welcome Alex) the committee have created the tongue in cheek  the “How to Survive Working with Lynne Strong” manual.

Agriculture DOES needs a whole cohort of wonderful young people like Catherine to be the change that agriculture must have. Watching Catherine ‘along her journey to become an expert corporate speaker, covering leadership, mentoring, adversity, empowerment, communication and change management’ I am constantly reminded just how critical it is for my generation to invest in these emerging leaders and ensure they have ready access to a directory of lifestyle and business coaching professionals who can help them regain perspective, and maintain stamina and mental health.  Now that’s a prize worth joining together to fight for wouldn’t you? So the question becomes – How can we best work together to make this happen?

Want to read more about the inspiring work that Catherine is doing not only in this country visit Empowering Women in Agriculture here

PERTH, Australia 24 August 2014:  Influential Women has started the second part of the Agricultural Exchange Project between East Java and Western Australia. The indonesian women will visit our Australian farms to share knowledge and cultures.  (Photo by Sabine Albers)

My thought for the day

Be with people who value you.
“Your social group is like a mirror, reflecting your value back to you.”

Time to start asking the right questions Agriculture

This weekend Young Farming Champion Hannah Barber and I ventured to Melbourne to the Australian Women In Agriculture National Conference.

Hannah was a member of a panel I facilitated called ‘Engaging Youth in Agriculture’

Also on the panel was Georgie Aley and Horizon Scholars Ashlee Hammond and Sarah Henderson

What we hoped the audience would take home from the session was

  • Exciting young people are choosing careers in the agriculture sector
  • Agriculture has wonderful cross industry leadership pathways for young people
  • Agriculture has a nationwide network for young people
  • Agriculture has exciting in school programs

What I was hoping ( and the session’s sponsor was hoping) is the audience would be confident that agriculture is attracting young people and we need to stop asking “How do we attract young people” and start asking “How do we retain the people we attract”

Hannah and I had a bit of time to fill in before our flight home so I took her to Crown Towers to show her how the “other half” live and the ultimate in producer to consumer goods.

Louis Vuitton

Hannah in Louis Vuitton

Hannah in Paspaley

Hannah in Paspaley  Pearls. The necklace that Hannah is wearing is worth $88,000

One question each of the panellists was asked was “Where do you see yourself in agriculture in 5 years time?”.

I would like to think that one day soon some-one like Hannah will say ‘In 5 years time I will have a career pathway in agriculture that provides me with the income to have a suite of Louis Vuitton luggage ( we weren’t game to ask what this little bundle was worth) and Paspaley Pearls in my jewellery box

Its time agriculture moved on to the next set of questions. We can attract young people but keeping them requires another set of tools and one of those is ensuring the sector is profitable. Farmers have just as much right as everyone else to make a fair return on investment. How can we work together to make this happen?

Its time food became about common sense

Perhaps I am hypersensitive but once again I am seething as my inbox continues to be flooded with invitations to events promoting food philosophies based on labels


This time I am being invited to an event celebrating “International Year of the family farming”. where I will sample food that is

“Good, Clean and Fair”

and apparently your food is only good, clean or fair if it fits under one of these labels

‘local, organic, indigenous or artisanal’ 

As an aside quite amusingly in this case the invitation had both indigenous & artisanal spelt incorrectly.

I am really starting to get concerned that seemingly very intelligent people cant see that being labelled  ‘local, organic, indigenous or artisanal’  doesn’t mean your farming practices are good for people or animals or the planet.

Just what to we have to do before common sense kicks back in

I take this opportunity to repeat what I said in a previous post here

Our farming systems can not be locked into a religious type paradigm of what we think is best .We must continue to adapt to our changing resource base, the seasons and climate, the economy and our markets. We also know that nature does not always get it right and some times we need to use technology to tip the balance back in favour of the farming system and the ever increasing people we need to feed.

We have rigid and well regulated systems and safety checks in place that make our food some of the safest in the world, irrespective of whether it has been derived by conventional or non-conventional methods. The majority of Australian farmers big and small, boutique or commodity will always aim to produce the best quality and safest food that is grown with the best interest of the environment and animals that it comes from.  Its time to stop trying to fit them into idealistic boxes and salute everyone of them.

The dangers of farmers choosing to live in a bubble

A lot of farmers I know who grow and produce for the commodity market (i.e. producing food or fibre that is functionally indistinguishable from that of your competitors) live in a self imposed bubble. They farm because they like it, they are good at it and they love the isolation from the rest of the world that it allows them .

Over the last few months I have had this increasingly emotional desire to wrap them all up in cotton wool and protect them even further from the world. There will of course be a lot of them who will say they can look after themselves thank you very much and so they can

I am beginning to think I get out too much or I think/care too much but my gut is telling me its not going to get any easier and more people need to get out of the bubble and have conversations with the people who buy the end products made from what they produce

Let me give you just one of multiples of questions I get asked. Just last week I had a conversation with some-one that I spent 3 days with at a workshop at the Melbourne Business School  who was very knowledgeable on a hell of a lot of things except the ins and outs of grain feeding cows. What he wanted to know was why we don’t say on the milk cartoon/bottle labels whether the cows have been grain fed or grass fed..I was bit ( a lot) shocked by this question. Well to start with it would be very difficult because as you can see from this slide we have a huge variation in cow feeding production systems in the Australian dairy industry

Feeding systems

  This chart describes the range of production systems operating across Australian dairy farms – & how farmers are increasingly becoming more flexible and opportunistic.

The reason being is smart farmers take advantage of what’s best for their farm system and their cows at any given time. The more supplementary grain you feed the more milk you should get remembering this is only cost effective when all the moons align.

When I asked why he thought this was important he said grain was bad for cows and consumers should be able to make ethical choices. Indeed consumers should be able to make ethical choices. The trouble is more and more consumers are making very ill-informed ones. Yes too much grain is bad for cows just like too much sugar is bad for kids. But smart parents like smart farmers are very diet conscious and control the amount  of sugar they give to their kids. Grains (or supplementary feeding as farmers call it) is a great option for cows as its higher in sugar aka energy than pasture and if you can buy it cost effectively it provides the opportunity to produce more milk per cow and this helps to keep milk affordable as well as a highly nutritious staple for families in Australia.

As you can see from the graph 50% of dairy farms in Australia supplementary feed their cows grains to generate 52% of milk production. I can assure you that the 2% that feed their cows a diet of all grains really know what they are doing and their cows are healthy and firing on all cylinders. Its also very important to remember that cows are feed grains not suitable for human consumption and this option can mean life or death for cows in a drought and we have a lot of them in Australia..

I am very reliably given to understand that a lot more is now known about cow nutrition than human nutrition and its safe to say dairy cows in this country have a much healthier diet than a lot of humans. Do we need to remind ourselves that over 50% of people in this country are overweight  You will also be interested to know that the smart farmers employ nutritionists to advise and monitor cow diet.

.Last week I wrote a very popular post on Art4AgricultureChat because I was very concerned (furious) about some other misconceptions that keep cropping up everywhere I go. See here.


I am glad it  resonated because its more and more critical that people make informed food choices not only for them and their families but also for the planetI

We have got to stop  this ever growing propensity to demonise certain types of agricultural systems out of hand

The media and websites are full of stories about the perils of conventional, large-scale agriculture, pointing to simpler ways of producing food that appear to be more in harmony with nature.

Large vs. small, family farms vs. corporate, organic vs. mainstream, free range vs. housed, grass fed vs. grain fed.The reality is it’s not the system it is how it is managed that really counts.

When it comes to the best approach to natural resource management and animal well-being we need to focus on measurable results that, in turn, will generate innovation and solutions to some of our most pressing problems on this planet. Not the least of which is to provide affordable, nutritious, ethically produced food that allows a reasonable return on investment for farmers that will allow them to feed a future 9 billion people and maintain life on Earth as we know it.

It is not just the community that is putting pressure on farmers. Some farm businesses and major retailers have taken to denigrating other farm management systems as a marketing tool to promote their own.

Judicious use of scientifically validated technology is one of the great advantages developed food producing nations like Australia has over many other countries. We have rigid and well regulated systems and safety checks in place that make our food some of the safest in the world, irrespective of whether it has been derived by conventional or non-conventional methods. If we read the labels and play by the rules we can be confident that the technologies that we use on farm are safe and the food that we produce is superior and as safe as any in the world.

Our farming systems can not be locked into a religious type paradigm of what we think is best .We must continue to adapt to our changing resource base, the seasons and climate, the economy and our markets. We also know that nature does not always get it right and some times we need to use technology to tip the balance back in favour of the farming system and the ever increasing people we need to feed.

We must acknowledge this if we are going to keep feeding our world from an ever shrinking resource base with a market place that continually wants to pay less for food that costs more to produce we must always use technology and innovation smartly. Equally we must consider the collateral effects of its use ensuring that our management and farming practices are at best practice rather than just reaching for the key to the chemical shed or the drug cabinet.

The majority of Australian farmers big and small, boutique or commodity will always aim to produce the best quality and safest food that is grown with the best interest of the environment and animals that it comes from.  Its time to salute everyone of them.

Thank you to the wonderful Deb Brown for sending me this great image to sum up my blog

Deb Brown