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.

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

Forests are the lungs of our land


Channeling Franklin Roosevelt this morning

‘Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people. ” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

My heart sang this week when I had a chance to make a quick visit to my latest bush regeneration project and wow is the the bush regeneration team doing a great job.

With over 90% of the prime agricultural land in my region being  owned by lifestyle farmers who in the main don’t produce food on their farms its pivotal that they from strategic partnership with people with local knowledge to help them overcome the challenges they face. . One major challenge is our high rainfall ( av 2000 mm in my part of the world) encourages the rapid proliferation of nasty invasive weeds in our beautiful rain-forests and woodlands. The majority of our lifestyle farmers  are very keen to rid their farms of these weeds and get the best outcomes for their native vegetation but don’t have the knowledge,time or access to the necessary expertise

This where I come in. I source funding and connect the farmers with each other and the experts. This particular project is 30% funded by a Community Environment Grant ( sadly all this type of funding has now disappeared under the federal coalition government ) and 70% funded by the 3 lifestyle farmers who own the adjoining project sites

The three properties are independently owned and two are leased to dairy farmers for raising their young stock. I am managing the project which is a partnership between the owners,South East Local Land Services, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Landcare Illawarra and local bush regeneration contractors to restore native vegetation and link fragmented rainforest remnants

Site Map

The vegetation community at this site is Illawarra Dry Subtropical Rainforest (MU4) which is recognised as an endangered ecological community (EEC) under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. The vegetation is dominated by a canopy of Maidens Wattle (Acacia maidenii), Guoia (Guoia semiglauca) and Whalebone Tree (Streblus brunonianus) with a variety of native shrubs, vines and groundcovers in the understorey. The rainforest remnants have become degraded due to infestation of Lantana, Wild Tobacco and other weeds and this project aims to treat woody weeds to assist revegetation and regeneration.

This site has a high diversity of dry rainforest species occurring within the work boundaries.

The objectives are:

  • To protect and enhance the remnants of the vegetation community – Illawarra Dry Subtropical Rainforest
  • To reduce the area of natural areas impacted by Noxious, weeds of national significance (WoNs ) and environmental invasive weeds.
  • To improve connectivity between fragmented local remnant bushland through weed control activities and revegetation.
  • Assist regeneration by removing weeds and maintaining the site over a period of 18 months
  • Assist volunteers with planting of the primary weeded areas and maintenance

The following management issues have been identified

  • Evidence of deer rutting has been noted within zone 3
  • Lantana density at the western extent of the work site is very high and primary weed control has been slightly slower than expected due to this high density

One of the identified threatened species is Illawarra Socketwood (Daphnandra johnsonii) and five distinctly separate populations of the Socketwood occur within zones 2 and 3. Very excitingly the  Illawarra Socketwood at the time of writing is currently producing seed at these sites. Many populations of Illawarra Socketwood tend to produce seed that is not viable due to attack by galls and various other environmental factors. The population at these sites are producing viable seed which makes this population significant from a regeneration and preservation perspective. The staff from ‘Plant Bank’ at the Australian Botanic Garden have subsequently shown an interest in collecting seed from this site and storing it at plant bank. Germination tests will also be carried out to test the viability of the seed stock and no doubt plants will be ultimately grown from this seed to be planted out at the gardens.

The following table lists the weeds that have been treated at this site and the control methods used:

Common Name Botanic Name Treatment Method
Crofton Weed Ageratina adenophora Spray
Mist Flower Ageratina riparia Spray
Moth Vine Araujia sericifera Cut and Paint, Spray
Cobblers Pegs Bidens pilosa Spray
Fleabane Conyza albida Spray
Cape Ivy Delairea odorata Cut and Paint, Spray
Lantana Lantana camara Cut and Paint
White Passionfruit Passiflora subpeltata Cut and Paint, Spray
Cape Gooseberry Physalis peruviana Cut and Paint, Spray
Inkweed Phytolacca octandra Cut and Paint, Spray
Blackberry Rubus fruticosis Scrape and paint
Fireweed Senecio madagascarensis Spray
Cassia Senna septentrionalis Cut and Paint
Paddys Lucerne Sida rhombifolia Spray
Wild Tobacco Solanum mauritianum Cut and Paint

The work in progress in pictures


Many hands courtesy of Conservation Volunteers Australia make light work of clearing the lantana in Zone 4 – the front gully.


Zone 4 secondary weed control follow up. Note the regeneration of native trees.


Great to be able to see the rainforest without the weeds.


Zone 3 The boundary fence line before we started the project


The same fence line 8 months later


Even the heifers are impressed with the work in Zone 1

Primary Control

Primary Control in Zone 1


Extensive tree planting in Zone 1

Truly amazing outcomes are happening in Zone 2 in the back gully which was heavily infested with Lantana


Zone 2 looking down the slope prior to the commencement of works


The same view after primary and secondary weed controlclip_image004

Zone 2 looking up the slope prior to the commencement of works


Post primary weed control


Zone 2 planting native species

Illawarra Socket Wood  (1)

The endangered Illawarra Socket Wood which is seeding in Zone 2

Great outcomes indeed for the farmers, the natural landscape and the beautiful Illawarra region. Lets hope the short sighted choices by the current federal government don’t find us in a situation where we lose forever the gains we have made. See previous post here. Again I say

Lets appreciate what we have before it becomes what we had

Why is the doing what we have always done mindset so difficult to change.

Today I would like to share with you this impressive article from Steve Spencer of Fresh Agenda.

The article looks at the challenge of changing attitudes towards action (or inaction) on climate change. According to the article findings from recently published PCCCS report  aren’t very complimentary to climate change scientists – pushing their arguments and beliefs in the form of charts, data and weighty studies but generally missing the mark and lacking traction. 

The PCCCS says the major barrier to influencing change is not about the quality of the scientific data or the compelling no-brainer facts, but that many people denying or resisting their arguments simply have a different world view, and often different political values.

This is not the first time this has been said and to their credit the smart people in the scientific community widely acknowledge they are part of the problem. But (and please correct me if I am wrong) we don’t seem to be getting much traction in moving away from the squiggly diagrams loaded science and moving towards a community based we are all in this together mindset and giving the community ownership of the mantra

What’s good for the planet is good for us. 

climate change cartoons_better world

This is the image that bought it all into perspective for me   

This is what Steve has to say

Engage for change

The recent release of a paper by a bunch of British academics into the challenge of changing attitudes towards action (or inaction) on climate change has some interesting and sobering suggestions for communities pushing change agendas in food and agriculture.

The report by the Policy Commission on Communicating Climate Science (PCCCS) was published in May this year by the University College, London.  The findings aren’t very complimentary to climate change scientists – pushing their arguments and beliefs in the form of charts, data and weighty studies but generally missing the mark and lacking traction. 

The PCCCS says this is because they are often ill prepared to engage with the emotionally, politically and ideologically-charged public debate on the issues, and the use of their science.  The major barrier to influencing change is not about the quality of the scientific data or the compelling no-brainer facts, but that many people denying or resisting their arguments simply have a different world view, and often different political values.

The PCCCS recommends the scientific community needs to take a totally fresh approach and equip themselves with a new suite of skills. It should band together through a professional body, get training in effective communication and seek better engagement with the community and policymakers.  It also says they should stop resorting to alarmist, world-destructive consequences of inaction.

This is not just about the climate. 

The suggestions are highly relevant in a wider context, where researchers try to “push” change through methods they believe are best.

The challenges ahead in sustaining the world in nutritious food will continue to run into many fights that challenge ideology. And they will continue to be tackled by armies of passionate people trying to sway with swathes of facts or sponsored evidence.

When trying to enlist the farmers into the adoption of business improvement programs, don’t drown them in data and glossy paper.  Finding out what will engage people. Unlocking an appetite for change should be the highest priority in landing an effective message, rather than investing in better ways to present facts and package more compelling data.  Investments in benchmarking for the sake of it run headlong into this risk area.

The same applies to arguments on the either side of debates about food production from the use of GMOs to organic methods, and even through to the evils of certain nutrients and ingredients in food processing.

People hold beliefs because of who they are, what their social value set defines in them – but not what they read or don’t read.

Steve also has some interesting thoughts on the recent PETA ‘expose’ into very isolated shearing practices in the wool industry. See Are we buying the PETA yarn?