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

Social media denatured

This morning I had an email from some-one with a request for me send out some information to dairy farmers from their organisation via twitter

I was wondering if you could utilise your amazing twitter network.

It was important stuff but I was realistic in directing that person elsewhere because I knew no matter how “amazing’ my twitter network may or may not be we just don’t have too many dairy farmers active on twitter.

Is it important that dairy farmers be on Twitter? I will let them decide that for themselves. What I know is thanks to Twitter I am now aware Barry O’Farrell has resigned and he wont be celebrating his new career with a bottle of Grange

I am on Twitter thanks to wise advice from Flourish Communications’ Victoria Taylor who recently attended Ragan Communication’s Social Media for Corporate Communications and Public Relations Conference, in Florida earlier this month. See Victoria’s posts on her trip here

Social Media explained

What I do know is it is very important for me and the organisations like Art4Agriculture I work with to reach out to the people we want to reach by being on Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and LinkedIn and now Victoria tells me Pinterest (why do I seem to find that one a bit above my IQ level at the moment – Help Pinterest guru needed)

Apparently I ( and my associated Twitter, Facebook et al accounts) have a Klout factor of over 50 ( eyes glaze over – whatever ) and this is good because I (et al) am reaching our target audience

This has been well and truly reinforced this year as our entry surveys results for both schools participating in Archibull Prize and applicants for the Young Farming Champions program show they all heard good things about us predominately via social media/ word of mouth.

What’s extra awesome about this is we are attracting people who are excited about the things we are excited about and like us want to use multimedia and new media to share the stories we want to share.

Should dairy farmers be on Twitter to engage with other farmers? All I can say is there are some awesome farmers on Twitter and you can pick and choose who you engage with and how much you get out of it.

Big bonus is you can engage with the people who buy what you produce. If it works for  Coca Cola surely it can work for farmers and agriculture. Like it or not no matter what we think we have to be where our audience is in the 21st century.  Give it a try and once you have mastered Twitter please help me master Pinterest   

If you need further convincing check out this infographic found here

Social Media Infographic

Hats off to Joanna Baker a young lady who can deliver no matter what the challenges

This year’s speaker of the year under pressure must go to the inspirational Joanna Baker co-founder of Youth Food Movement Australia.

Joanna was the guest speaker at the NSW Farm Writers Association Agribuzz Event at the Sky Deck at the Main Arena at the Sydney Royal Easter last night

IMG_5577

The venue was spectacular

Skydeck

The cocktails and canapés were divine, networking opportunities to mingle with the leading and emerging minds of agriculture abounded

But things just ran a little too smoothly in the main arena at the show and instead of Joanna having 15 mins to share her story with the Agribuzz crowd between main arena events she had to do over top of all these events

First of it was the rodeo, then the campdraft, then barrel races, the arena commentary throughout all these events and all that climaxed with the bikes and lots of loud clapping.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As you can see from this series of photos I took Joanna speaks from the heart.

Excitingly she is not a lone voice.  She leads a team of young people (7,000 plus who aspire to be a collective voice for young Australians so that together they can have their say in the decisions that impact our food future.

Joanna and her team are 100% committed to helping build a new generation of young people who are aware of their power as conscious consumers by building understanding and value for the food we eat.

Joanna has a great story to tell, a great message to disseminate, she reached all of us in the audience last night (despite the challenges).

Lets all work together to promote public understanding of farming, and the interconnectedness of health and nutrition and the agricultural sector. After all our country’s health, wealth and happiness depends on it

Check out the website  See how you can get involved

 

 

Nature is cruel but we don’t have to be. We owe them respect

How amazing is this movie

Temple Grandin

I cried and cried

I touched the first cow that was being stunned. In a few seconds it was going to be just another piece of beef, but in that moment it was still an individual. It was calm… and then it was gone.

Of course they’re gonna get slaughtered. You think we’d have cattle if people didn’t eat ‘em everyday? They’d just be funny-lookin’ animals in zoos. But we raise them for us. That means we owe them some respect. Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be. I would’nt want to have my guts ripped out by a lion, I’d much rather die in a slaughterhouse if it was done right. Temple Grandin

Wow. Now to find the tissues

and a special salute to our very own trail blazer Catherine Marriott on Channel 10

Maz

 

I became aware of how precious life was. I thought about death and I felt close to God. I don’t want my thoughts to die with me. I want to have done something. Temple Grandin

Finally one for everyone who has ever sat in the passenger side of the farm vehicle and wished Temple Grandin worked on their farm ( those who have seen the movie will know what I mean)

Opening the gate

Hello Coles its tough being the villain in the story

Every great story has a hero and a villain

This story is all about the hero

Meet Cassandra MacDonald. A young lady who loves everything about the Australian dairy industry

Cassandra McDonald

A young lady who is determined to achieve her dream of being a large animal vet no matter how long it takes

A young lady with considerable artistic talent that she is using for the greater good

A young lady who took on one of the most powerful forces in the Australian supermarket sector and won

Today we salute Cassandra MacDonald

A young lady who stood up to Coles and won

Cassie said

I wanted to show people everyone can make a difference by sharing their story

I wanted the message to reach as many people as it can.

I wanted to show that if you have an important story to tell people will listen

I hope consumers will stop and think about what exactly is happening.

I hope they think about the choices they make

Today the ACCC said via this story from Milk Wars; Coles admits to errors in Campaign

 That Coles spruiked a rosy picture of the dairy industry at the height of the $1 milk wars last year using data it could not substantiate

The supermarket giant has conceded it relied on figures that could not be proven when it claimed that shaving the price of a two-litre milk container from $2.41 to $2 early last year would increase farm-gate prices for producers and lift national dairy production.

Coles has agreed to correct the claims, admitting to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that its social media advertising blitz “would be likely to have” breached consumer law that prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct.

This story is about people standing up and being counted about what’s important to them and using the skills sets and the knowledge they have to get the best outcomes for everyone.

We should all salute those people who put the greater good first because sometimes “fair is equaland today the ACCC proved like Cassie we can all stand up and be counted and make a difference.

Its an absolute honour to know you Cassie and on behalf of farmers everywhere I salute you

 

A2 Milk snake oil merchants in the firing line

I am a bit a crusader and this week the snake oil phenomenon is on my radar.

Little bit of background

Every parent sweats the nine months their child is in the womb waiting for the moment the child is born and doctor says “we’ve got five fingers and five toes”

When that doesn’t happen parents tend to go into overdrive and investigate every piece of science and technology to provide the best possible life for their child. Sometimes their love takes them into the unproven science behind cure-alls.

When I was born I had five fingers and toes but about 6 months down the track it became clear that for me everything wasn’t clear, in fact my world was very blurry. On top of this there seemed to be some serious problems with my legs.

So my parents moved heaven and earth to get the best possible science and technology to fix their little girl and they (and me) in the main where rewarded for their efforts

But despite many, many operations, visits to doctors/specialists, eye patches etc. etc. their little girl would always wear glasses and that made them sad.

 

lynne-strong-flowergirlls_thumb

I think I was about 3 when this photo was taken. Pink dress, pink glasses, pink everything. No doubt about it if I had to wear glasses my mother always made sure I did it with style. Can you believe 50 years later those cats eye glasses are back in fashion.    

Wearing glasses in those days wasn’t trendy and every new (proven) thing that came along they made sure I was first in line to take every advantage. On hard contact lenses, soft contact lenses, throw away contact lenses a small fortune was spent but it wasn’t to be glasses became a fixture of my life for 5 plus decades.

But this has all changed. For the past 12 months my eyesight had been rapidly deteriorating, my eyes where really sore and I had permanent headaches. After spending 5 plus decades knowing what is was like to be blind by just taking my glasses off I was starting to get pretty frightened. Having spent my childhood in more hospitals that most people have been in their lifetime I tend to avoid hospitals and doctors like the plague. So I kept putting of the investigative procedures that would get to the bottom of my diminishing eyesight.

But sometimes when you bite the bullet it can lead to good news. I wasn’t going blind I had cataracts (though of course cataract can lead to blindness) Today modern technology means that people with cataracts can often get 20:20 vision. Though I am still finding it hard to believe my cataract operation has given me 20:20 vision in one eye and John and Robyn’s little girl doesn’t have to wear glasses anymore (beyond the “chemist glasses” – and yes I bought the cats eye frames – for reading)

Now when the specialist told me the result I cried with happiness and sadness. Sadness because Robyn died four years ago and she would never know. My mother and I never really got on but she would have been the first person I rang to tell this news because above all I knew she loved me very much and it would have made her the happiest person on the planet.

Now what does all this have to do with the snake oil phenomenon. Well my parents took the high road and followed science and science delivered for them.

This doesn’t always happen and in these cases parents often turn to the unproven and I for one am not going to judge them for that. Everybody who has had a child knows they become your life’s work.

But when I see websites like this The Food Intolerance Network that make claims that A2 milk is a cure-all for almost every evil under the sun, including apparently autism it makes me really cranky.

Now A2 milk is definitely trendy and sales are on the rise and if you happen to have cows with A2 DNA they definitely sell at a premium I can vouch for that.

But the evidence is all anecdotal yet this website quotes this study

There is a medical report of allergies managed by camel milk, which also contains a2 beta casein protein. In this study, eight children with severe food (mainly milk) allergies recovered fully from their allergies by drinking camel milk.

Mmh Camel milk, eight study participants I rest my case

I don’t have a problem with A2 milk per se. If I need to buy milk and A2 just happens to have the longest dating and I need milk with long dating I will buy it but that is the only reason.

Milk is good for you. There is no scientific evidence to say A2 is better than any other milk and its certainly no worse than other milks and I have no problem with it having a place in the supermarket fridge. But as a cure-all it is in the quackery aisle.  

It’s time for the quacks and snake oil merchants to leave the room and lets all hope it doesn’t take 5 plus decades to find a genuine scientific positive outcome for autism because I have seen the pain first hand and it is just morally wrong to give people false hope

The art of story telling agriculture must get it right and the time is now

As per my previous post What is Fair Food? the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance has launched its new initiative to create a strong and independent voice for Australian farmers. Fair Food Farmers United will be a platform to connect, support and provide a united voice for farmers feeding Australia fairly.

According to their press release their aims are too

  • provide a balanced voice to represent farmers who are at the sharp end of the impacts of free trade,
  • raise awareness about the impacts of cheap imports on farmers
  • advocate for fair pricing for farmers selling to the domestic markets
  • connect Australian farmers for farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing
  • be a voice for farmer-friendly regulations and standards.

Read more on the AFSA website

The majority of people attracted to this initiative in the first instance are farmers who are cutting out the middle man and dealing directly with the public. This gives them a unique insight into consumer images and expectations of farmers and how important it is to meet or exceed those consumer expectations if you want to sell your product at a premium and get a FAIR return for your efforts. As I mentioned in my previous post FAIR means different things to different people. Now is the right time to get into the  FAIR FOOD space. As a segment on the Checkout ( See Value for Money – Tuna) last night showed there is a clear rise in the number of people choosing ethics over value and voting with their wallets at the supermarket checkout and farmers markets and the like.

Fair Food Farmer United know that if they want to get real traction now and achieve their aims they must get into the hearts and minds and wallets of consumers aka voters.

I have been a long term advocate of farmers having direct connection with consumers with a strong focus on finding ways to innovatively do this in a way farmers are comfortable with. One of the most successful initiatives is the highly innovative Art4Agriculture programs which include the Archibull Prize and the Young Farming Champions program

I will be the first to admit its pretty scary and a huge responsibility to advocate on behalf of industry and I was reminded the other day that even after 10 years of doing it I am still uncomfortable in this space.

I had a message on my phone from Radio National indicating Bush Telegraph wanted to do a story. So I rang back with butterflies in my stomach as per usual wondering what it was and how long it would take me to prepare to ensure I got the key messages spot on

I was overwhelmed with relief when they didn’t want me. Excitingly in the first instance the ABC reads the Art4AgricultureChat blog and secondly wanted to interview one of our young team of farming champions Danila Marini about her research.

clip_image001

Sheep are smart and so is Danila

Thirdly I was absolutely thrilled how excited she was and didn’t hesitate to say yes. This is a great example of engaging and nurturing the young to build their capacity to sell agriculture’s story with confidence and most importantly build their capacity to do it with charisma and resonate with our key audience.

There is no denying its a given a key issue for agriculture is the continual need to strive for sustainability – but what is sustainable? Having farm systems that ensure the environment and productive capacities can co-exist in the long-term is the standard take on the definition. Like it or not sustainable agriculture is also about creating value for our products in our consumer base, that ensures consistent and long-term demand.

Consumer choice is as big a threat to our industry as climate change/variability, international competitiveness or government policy.

We need to create partnerships right along our supply chain to develop relationships that enable farmers and consumers to make informed decisions about the trade-offs inherent in their choices and our production systems. Consumers have accepted $1 milk and cheap/imported food more generally, so it is up to agriculture to articulate and share why we don’t believe that is a choice that will deliver a sustainable future.

If consumers do not value farm output, then no amount of innovation, productivity gain or government support is going to deliver a sustainable industry into the future.

We need to reconnect with our consumers. Modern supply chains mean farmers have never been so isolated from their end-consumer.

Therefore we need to develop the capacity of our people, so they are knowledgeable and are comfortable in addressing all issues and stakeholders along the entire supply/value chain in order to re-build these relationships.

This will mean farmers and others working in agriculture taking a higher profile role in the lives of our consumers, current and future.

This will mean farmers proactively engaging with processors and supermarkets to develop mutually beneficial relationships ensuring value is delivered at all points along the supply/value chain – including farmers, processors, retailers and consumers.

The last thing we need is another advocacy group cluttering an already overcrowded space but I believe if Fair Food Farmers United get it right they are off to a great start with the key audience then they may just build the partnerships necessary to deliver an advocacy success story for agriculture

Women doing it backwards and in high heels

John Woden

Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day that holds quite a bit of significance for me. 10 years ago I was selected my local MP as the regional Woman of the Year which saw me then inducted into the NSW state Government Honour Role for my contribution to agriculture and rural and regional communities.

clip_image002

I remember at the time being totally flabbergasted that I had been nominated let alone selected

Being upfront as I tend to be I asked my MP why he chose me. He said he had chosen me not so much for what I had achieved at that point in time but what he believed I could do with this level of recognition.

How right he was. Up until this time no matter who I approached for funding, for support for agriculture, for policy changes etc. etc. I spent the first half of my meetings and funding proposals explaining who I was and convincing people I had the capacity to achieve what I wanted to achieve.

Before I won this award the key questions I was asked who I was and who was supporting my proposal? So I spent hours and hours requesting letters of support and building partnerships. All time well spent for future endeavours but it was very draining at the time and I kept questioning myself and why I was doing it. I got a lots of no’s and very few yes’ and more doors where shut than were opened.

So part of the last ten years with this very wise advice from my MP and my support networks has been spent building a CV that lets people know what you have done and opens the door and allows you to focus on core business and your compelling value proposition.

There will always be detractors who don’t see the big picture and declare this as self-promotion. This used to worry me, not anymore. I know longer spend hours beating myself up over what the minority think and say because I have witnessed personally how far young people in agriculture can go and what they can achieve for the greater good when they are recognised and celebrated for their efforts 

Equally when I see women in Australian agriculture nominated and celebrated (including seven Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions) via the Emerald Grains Women in Australian Agribusiness list, I am very proud all these exciting and dynamic women understand the importance of and relish the opportunity to inspire others to join them in their quest to see Australian agriculture admired and valued right across the globe

Today I salute all women across the world that will be recognised and celebrated for ‘their achievements, regardless of divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political’.

“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

“Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” John Woden

If you are looking for a fun read try Recline. Don’t Lean in Why

What is Fair Food and how do you put a price on it ?

I start this post by declaring I truly hope I have an open mind and wake up everyday ready to have my opinions challenged and a will to move where my values take me  

This week saw the launch of “Fair Food Farmers United” a platform to connect, support and provide a united voice for farmers feeding Australia fairly. Read the press release here

This of course opens the door for many conversations about what is ‘fair’.

I for one am very happy to have that conversation.

What is fair?

Many define it as treating everyone the same, but everyone including farmers are not the same. They have different motivations for their choices, different needs, different causes for their behaviours and different goals.

According to UK Prime Minister David Cameron ‘fairness’ is about  

“giving people what they deserve – and what people deserve depends on how they behave”.

For me ‘Fair’ is about ethics and values and ‘Equal’ is a term you can put numbers against  

Last weekend I attended the Northside Forum to hear Young Farming Champion Jasmine Nixon speak as part of a panel that also included Philip Wright from the St James Ethics Centre.

The panel mix was superb and each panellist resonated with the audience in their own unique way and I was heartened by the way audience listened and absorbed and celebrated all the speakers.   

We had a speaker who spoke with considerable expertise on the science of Genetic Modification, a 6th generation 25 year old beef farmer and a speaker who reminded us all that ethics is hard

Slide2 

In the end ultimately it was how each panellist answered the audience’s questions that determined the take home messages and each speaker gave their answers according to their values not the science ( though it always never hurts to be able to back up your values with some solid science)

For me ‘Fair’ for farmers means everyone in the value chain gets a fair return on investment.

So it all comes back to the individual and what each and everyone of us has invested to bring ethically produced, high quality affordable food and fibre from the farm to you

Ethics is hard and like it or not it is about accepting the cost 

Slide9

Does Agriculture have enough cheerleaders in its ranks

When I was looking for the image I used in yesterday’s blog about Talking Leadership  I came across this post Whose Voice is in Your Leadership Circle by Amber Teamann on a blog called Connected Principals and I enjoyed reading it and would like to share it with you

 

When making decisions, having discussions, or troubleshooting topics on your campus, how many people are involved? How many voices have input? I think it’s important to have several…in fact, I can give you some perspective on 4 voices that I think NEED to be involved in practically all of your campus decisions. A quadrant of leadership, if you will.

First voice, the Boss. The head honcho. The one who knows district policy, inside and out. The one who sets the vision, inspires the direction of the campus, and helps empower every body on the campus to be the best they can be, from students to staff. The Boss is the instructional leader who recognizes their own limitations and chooses to surround themselves with a team that balances strengths and weaknesses.

Next, the Sunshine. The Sunshine is the calm, positive, supportive voice who adds different perspectives in every situation. Think of the sunshine as the devils advocate in reverse. They truly see situations without ulterior motives and is always looking at the whole “person”. The Sunshine never has a bad thing to say about anyone, and is so genuinely good, it’s impossible for situations to get volatile or hateful in their presence. Every team needs a lil’Sunshine.

The Bitty Bird. The Bitty Bird is the voice of all the babies on your campus who need an advocate for their rights. They look at the LAWS and the STATUTES in place within the system (district, state, national policy) and ensure that they are followed. Without a Bitty Bird, you can walk too close to the line of whats “right” for kids, but isn’t done the right way. Legal polices are black and white, and Bitty Birds keep you out of the grey.

Lastly, you need a Cheerleader. The Cheerleader cheers for what you do…they recognize that everyone needs to be encouraged. Days are long and days are draining. The Cheerleader is there to pep you up and remind you WHY you’re in this business in the first place! They’re always up for something new, to change something up…you can’t do the same cheer over & over!  From a thank you to an “I noticed” statement, the Cheerleader is there for YOU.

Whilst agriculture does have a lot of people sitting in the stands talking about the team do we have enough people cheering them on? My experience tells me no

How do we change the culture?

Talking leadership

Tomorrow I am going to the doctor. What’s so unusual about that is that I am actually going

I am extremely disappointed (devastated might be a better word) that I am not free to attend the Australian Farm Institute’s launch of their research report tomorrow in Canberra

Opportunities to improve the effectiveness of Australian farmers advocacy groups – a comparative approach’

Are advocacy groups necessary? (the rationale for collective advocacy); Getting inspired: International and national case studies of advocacy groups; What do Australian farmers really think of agricultural advocacy groups?;

Workshop: Developing a preferred model for agricultural advocacy in Australia

So what’s all this got to do with going to the doctor? A lot actually

There has been a lot of talk about leadership (or lack of) in agriculture for as long as I can remember.

Whether leaders are born or made?

Is the advocacy model flawed?

The Smartest person in the room

Lots and lots of talk and I haven’t seen much change over the last 20 years. So when I was asked last year to be on the NSW Farmers Dairy Committee I was very reticent. I was reticent because I don’t necessarily believe leaders are born and I didn’t feel I had the required skills sets

I was eventually convinced that it wouldn’t involve any more time and that it might help fast track some of the initiatives that I was trying to achieve.

I also felt a bit guilty and that I had a responsibility to give it a go and maybe, just maybe with the right team around me (all those people who had the skill sets I didn’t) I could really help make a difference.

More time. You are joking. 24/7 just took on a whole new meaning.

Face to face meetings are twice a year. The first meeting is taken up with identifying the priorities of your industry, your committee members’ area of expertise and where each person can be most effective and then developing the action plan.

Then putting it all into action seriously becomes 365 days plus

This is because you find most of the priority issues have been around for a long time and if your committee is going to be the one to get action you have to do a lot of backgrounding to understand the politics, the barriers, the personalities (and trust me its normally the personalities) as to why your committee may just have what it takes to surmount what all the committees before you couldn’t

State level representation often means federal representation and that means you are dealing with people all over the country and Australia is a big place. So that of course means teleconferences. Endless teleconferences. Urgent teleconferences. Workshops, summits, industry briefings, industry breakfasts, briefing notes and yes cancelled doctor’s appointments.

So I have found in the majority of cases there are lot of well-meaning people who put their hands up to take on these roles who just like me are floundering around in the dark, frustrated they are putting in all this time getting no-where and putting the rest of their life on hold

Leaders may be born, so might doctors but they don’t give you a license to operate until you have knowledge and the skill sets and the mentors and the support networks in place so you can be the very best doctor you can be physically and emotionally

The world is complex, agriculture is complex and leadership requires many things and we have to do a lot more than talk about it

As always no matter how good the concept it’s the people who make it work

Lets not forget the world is run by those who turn up. How do we make sure the right people are in the room. The people with all the skills sets required to make an effective team

For me we don’t have near enough people talking about how we can best help and support our people who put their hands up.

I look forward to reading the Australian Farm Institute’s report. I look forward to talking to some of the people I know who are going

Mick Keogh and his team are definitely world class leaders in their space. Let’s hope we take on board the learnings and the insights and so we can get on with the doing