Our life is designed to challenge us

I have taken a day out of the Archibull Prize judging tour and diverted to Canberra where Zoe Routh from Inner Compass has invited me to be her guest at her Leadership Roundtable and I am looking forward to it

Last night I put together my. Who I am, What I do and Why I do it intro. You know the 2 minute that shares with others what gets you out of bed every morning speech and it reinforced I do have a lot of great reasons to get out of bed in the morning.

I am a great fan of the work of Will Marre. I thought when his newsletter popped into my inbox early this morning so much of what he had to say was extraordinarily relevant to my life at this point in time and a very appropriate start to my day.

I would like to share to some of the bits that truly resonated for me

Our life is designed to challenge us. Our future rarely turns out as we envision. Nearly all our plans for our career, marriage, finances and health don’t materialize as we imagined. When we are surprised by crisis and disappointment it is time to question our desires, our values and our choices. If these moments cause us to pause and reflect and realign with our inner sense of purpose we will grow. If we don’t we will re-enter the cycle of disappointment and self-frustration. This is true for everyone. It is how life is designed.

While it is reasonable to forgive people who seek our forgiveness, forgiving those who hurt us without remorse is masochism. Escaping the anger of past and unresolved pain doesn’t require forgiveness…it requires transcendence. This means that we cease to want justice or to wallow as a victim. We literally transcend our pain by focusing on our own growth, our own power and the positive difference we are designed to make. When we stop investing our energy in our mental movie of past wrongs and disappointments we free our minds so our hearts can embrace today and generate optimism for tomorrow.

And my final thought for the day from Will

Don’t let the tribes we belong to dilute our conscience


Animal welfare and animal cruelty. There is a big difference

This tweet caught my eye yesterday.


Original photo source here 

As did the Sustainable Table movement again

This group are doing fantastic work in their drive to address one of the biggest problems on the planet – Food Waste but they are making me so cranky about the way they are depicting main stream agriculture.

So how does main stream agriculture get the real story out there. Who is our audience?. What are our messages? Why are some people so ready to err in favour of the propaganda proliferated by the picture on the left

Lets look at our audience. It certainly isn’t the hardliners on both sides ( and yes agriculture has them too). In laymans terms they are in the main a lost cause and a big waste of energy.

As the scientists say

Firstly they are motivated to believe what they do, and unless those motivations change, it is unlikely they will be swayed by rational argument.

Secondly their logic is self-sealing, designed to be impermeable to external reasoning. Source here 

Lets look at our messages. What are our messages?  Yes its definitely time we get those right

In the first instance it is time we make a strong delineation between animal welfare/wellbeing and animal cruelty. If the hardliner animal liberationists where truly serious about animal cruelty they would be targeting owners of companion pets who make up more than 60% of the people charged for animal cruelty. Note farmers make up less than 5%.

Why don’t they target companion pet owners you ask? . Yes that is definitely one question we should be asking. I think in this case this just reinforces my point that this group of people have their own agenda and reducing animal cruelty seems to be well down the list of their priorities with raising money at the top.

So getting back to Sustainable Table (see footnote) who I have mentioned in my blog before. See here

Its a beautiful website, obviously started by some very passionate people doing some great things.  This initiative also has some very credible people backing it as do a number of people who promote similar farming enterprises. I have no problem at all with people who want to farm using these philosophies but I want to use this post to debunk some of the very naive thinking that underpins this ethos and makes me really cranky by promoting it by deriding large scale farming practices

What a difference their approach is to the Fair Food Farmers United beautifully outlined by Tammi Jonas here. Tammi is an advocate of the ‘produce less for more’ model and walks the talk.

Don’t produce more for less, produce less for more.

By that I mean we must value the land, animals, and workers and ensure their health is paramount in every agricultural system and then ask eaters to pay a fair price for our efforts.

All of which is easier said from a farmer in a miniscule supply chain selling direct to eaters. The bigger challenge is for the majority who are under pressure from centralised market power and long supply chains…

What do you think? How can we address the serious structural imbalances between farmers, processors, distributors and supermarkets in Australia? How can we support all farmers to make a living growing food in the fairest ways possible?

I will be blunt. I believe the Sustainable Table approach to the way they depict main stream agriculture farming practices ( or what they believe are main stream agriculture farming practices) is dangerous and divisive and damaging to Brand Agriculture and needs addressing by mainstream agriculture.  Its time for polite, constructive and robust two way conversations. Its time to invite them to our table.

Footnote: I don’t view Sustainable Table as hardliners

Growing the Australian dairy industry is not all about farmgate price

ABC reporter Catherine McLoon has eloquently reported today on the Productivity Commission report into the Australian dairy industry found here

In a nutshell the Productivity Commission report says that without added incentives dairy farmers in Australia have no motivation to increase production.

“Productivity gains by farmers have underwritten profit in dairy manufacturing and sustained the industry in recent years.

“A lot of the context for this sort of inquiry has been an expectation that we will grow the industry as New Zealand has grown its industry,” Mr Harris said.

“If we are to do that, we will need to provide incentives to farmers to continue to take the sorts of productivity enhancing measures they have to date.

“That will probably involve improvements to the working relationship between manufacturers and farmers.” Says Commission chairman Peter Harris

It also says if processors want more milk and they do as the slide below shows they are going to have to get more creative and the commission believes quite rightly that paying an increased farmgate milk price is not necessarily the answer


Slide from David Lord’s CEO of Saputo’s presentation at PICCC 2014 Think Tank

In the first instance to the processors defense they can only pay what they get out of the marketplace. For those processors supplying the international market the export market is definitely a roller coaster. For example awesome returns last year now predicted to be horrendous in 2015/16 and that will flow back to the farmgate as the recent announcement by Fonterra NZ shows. See post from Milk Maid Marian here

‘Processors are paying the highest possible prices relative to the trading conditions. says David Lord CEO Saputo

On the domestic front we all know it’s a nightmare supplying a duopoly with the power that Colesworth have

At a farm level dairy farmers do tend to talk far too much about farmgate price instead of focusing on what’s left over when they take out all their costs. As we all know using the used car analogy it’s not what you get paid for your used car that counts it’s the price difference between the new car and the used car.

So how can the processors get creative and work with their farmers to ensure that they have enough money in the bank at the end of each month to make the investment in blood, sweat and tears worth it?

David Lord recently outlined the Saputo model going forward

According to Mr Lord

‘There are significant improvements to be made in efficiency gains over the way farm systems currently operate:

· Maximising individual farm performance and profitability;

· Effective extension programs that spread best practice and attract broad participation;

· Transitioning of farm assets into the hands of those who want to grow

The extent of the impact will be determined by decisions taken by farmers; debt / equity position, stage of life, optimistic / pessimistic outlook, quality of farm assets, appetite for change…

Also what struck me from this presentation is there is HUGE room for improvement in the way our dairy farmers are perceived by their processors


Slide from David Lord’s CEO of Saputo’s presentation at PICCC 2014 Think Tank

As you can see Mr Lord classifies his suppliers in this instance as

  • Model Farm
  • Reluctant Improver
  • Resistant to Change
  • Likely to Exit.

Mr Lord was asked by the audience how many of Saputo’s Australian suppliers fit into the ‘Model Farm’ category and if my memory serves me correctly his answer was 30%. No-one asked him his definition of ‘Model’ but I think the other classifications make that fairly clear.

It would very interesting to do a survey of all Saputo’s Australian suppliers and ask them which category they believed they fitted into

Mr Lord also made it clear that the processors needed to get very market savvy and focus on Australia’s areas of strength which are underpinned by our reputation for quality

clip_image006[6] Slide from David Lord’s CEO of Saputo’s presentation at PICCC 2014 Think Tank


Slide from David Lord’s CEO of Saputo’s presentation at PICCC 2014 Think Tank

So if all the other Australian processors perceive their farmers to be in the same categories as Saputo Australia and 70% are either reluctant Improvers, resistant to change or likely to exit how does the industry work with the reluctants and the resistants and support those likely to exit. Or better still how do we as farmers work with our processors to change those images and perceptions and descriptions of ‘reluctants and resistants” ?

I recently met with Dairy Australia’s new whizz kid in this space former private consultant Neil Lane and as it turns out Neil is putting together an extensive array of programs to help our Australian dairy farmers get fair returns for their efforts and very importantly have the capacity to ride the peaks and troughs.

I have invited Neil to provide an outline of his model with my readers.

According to Neil Dairy Australia’s new Farm Business Management program is still in development stage with a proposed roll out in early in 2015.

The planks will

1. Imbed farm business management and analysis principles across the industry so that we have consistent and correct use of terminology and metrics in farm business analysis

2. Offer capability building programs that will include a series of capability programs covering Farm Business Management skills required across the spectrum of Novice (thinking about applying of an ABN) through to Expert where a successful farmer looking to better utilise their skills and their balance sheet. This type of capability building would also be targeted across all sectors of the industry including but not exclusive to service providers, milk processors and researchers.

3. Provide better tools to help farmers manage their farm business. The first initiative planned will be an energy driven milk feed and milk budget that links to a cash flow budget.

4. Roll out DairyBase which is a queryable database that will house physical and financial performance farm data sets and allow for more detailed farm business analysis across the spectrum from individual farm level to industry analysis. This will help farmers to ask the questions they need to ask about their business and provide a tool which will allow them to benchmark their own business year by year against their own previous performance.

I look forward to sharing what is happening in this space to support our dairy farmers from both an industry and processor supported level with you over the next 12 months.

I look forward to the day when the CEO’s of our dairy companies talk with pride about all their farmers.

Lets not forget farmers have ownership of what’s in their control and it’s time we acknowledged we too have a pivotal role in determining our profitability and the way we are perceived. Profitable farmers are empowered and able to invest in innovation, technology, employ and give back to the landscape and the cows that underpin their business success. Market savvy farmers also realise how they are perceived plays an important roll in their leveraging capacity

Once we have a majority cohort of financially literate, confident and proud Australian dairy farmers (and only then) will we have a strong foundation for the Australian dairy industry to grow and grab the opportunities as they arise.

We are all in this together. Let’s embrace it

Some great food for thought can also be found at David Edgerton’s blog found here

Another great grass roots initiative to help build farmer capacity to ride the peaks and trough from from James Walker can be found here Agrihive  

we are all in this together

Feeding the world is a very complex problem. Are we really up for the challenge?

I had a very inspiring week which began with the PICCC Think Tank on sustainable intensification.

Double Food Production

warning signs


Sustainable Intensification (SI) is of great interest to me because it is potentially an ideal scenario for high rainfall, highly fertile soil farms in high amenity value land pockets like this one.

The presentations which you can find here provided fascinating insights into what farmers who wanted to travel the path of SI could aspire too.

I was lucky enough at lunch to sit next to the man who first coined the SI phrase Professor Tim Reeves whose presentation you can find here

Professor Reeves uses the Oxford University definition of SI

“The goal of sustainable intensification is to increase food production from existing farmland while minimising pressure on the environment. It is a response to the challenges of increasing demand for food from a growing global population, in a world where land, water, energy and other inputs are in short supply, overexploited and used unsustainably. Any efforts to ‘intensify’ food production must be matched by a concerted focus on making it ‘sustainable.’ Failing to do so will undermine our capacity to continue producing food in the future.

As Nick Rose from Fair Food Farmers United reminded me this week the complex problems of feeding the world will not all be solved by producing more food. Good article here 

I caught up with Cathy Phelps from Dairy Australia for coffee the following day. Cathy is Dairy Australia’s Natural Resource Management Program Manager and she has possibly  seen every farming system and as diverse array of farmers  ( including those of David Lord’s See slide 9 here )  that exists. Cathy shared this great quote from Sir John Beddington, UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser with me

‘we should not promote ideologies, like ‘organic’ farming and instead focus on evidence based information to identify sustainable farming practices

“… instead of continuing the ideologically charged ‘organic versus conventional’ debate, we should systematically evaluate the costs and benefits of different management options. In the end, to achieve sustainable food security we will probably need many different techniques—including organic, conventional, and possible ‘hybrid’ systems—to produce more food at affordable prices, ensure livelihoods for farmers, and reduce the environmental costs of agriculture

Again I ask the farming community can we stop focusing on whose system is best and celebrate all the great farmers out there and work with the rest of the world to reduce the horrendous and heartbreaking problem of food waste.

Food Waste

Pictures are from Professor Reeves presentation See here   

There was also a lot of discussion about building capacity in farmers and the difficulties of even starting to have discussion with us about this.

Building Farmer Capacity  

Slide Source here 

It is very often said by many people too many of us over estimate how good our  farming practices are and our financial literacy is.  I will blog about that shortly if I am game 

Definition of Fair Food open for discussion?

I recently presented at the Australian Landcare Conference and must admit I walked away quite sad. The conference itself was awesome ( and so wish I hadn’t missed this presentation) but I was so frustrated by the mixed messages that at times came both from the stage and the audience. There was the woman in the audience who was very lucky I wasn’t standing directly behind or beside her when she stood up and said the only ethical farmers are those using organic farming principles. Anyone who reads my blog knows this is rubbish for a number of reasons but in this case once again I reiterate its not the system that determines “ethical’ farming practices its the management of the system.Lets get it right madam its the people not the concept. See Footnote for my definition of “ethical”

People who market their produce by degrading others make me so cranky. Its so wrong and so desperate and its damaging the reputation of agriculture.  If your product cant stand on its own feet and have its own compelling value proposition why customers should purchase it over another then you are wasting your time.

The other thing that caught my attention was the growth of the “produce less be paid more” farming philosophy. I have no problem with this philosophy at all and there is a definite market for genuine differentiation from a small but growing group of people who are willing to pay for food produced according to their values.

But lets put the facts on the table and the proof is not there that it is a more sustainable model than the ‘produce more with less’ known in agricultural circles as sustainable intensification ethos that the majority of Australian commercial farmers follow. The proponents of the ‘produce less and and be paid more’ model suggest Australia and other first world countries should produce only enough food to feed their own countries and assist third world countries to be self sufficient.

This is very noble indeed and I too have no problem with the values behind this. But is it realistic?. If you look at the fact there are very few countries who are happy to trade and our little country sits about 4th on the world list that’s a bit scary. Our grains generally go to third world countries and our livestock products supply the growing demand for protein by the upper and middle classes in Asian countries. Bringing developing countries up to a level where they can feed themselves is a very complex problem. Interesting article here. Only small farmers and agroecology can feed the the world.

It is well recognised this will not happen until women in these countries are educated and who is going to pull that one off when women are too often the contribution of women is so undervalued in many of these countries.

It is also well recognised in countries like ours we have had cheap food for so long we think its a birth right. We have to ask ourselves the question. Will we not only be prepared to pay more for food and also pay more taxes to support people in other countries to become self-sufficient?????

On top of this every year the amount of arable land worldwide decreases by 1%. There is a worldwide water crisis. As the per capita use increases due to changes in lifestyle and as population increases, the proportion of water for human use is increasing. Together with the mismanagement of water resources world wide this means that the water to produce food for human consumption, industrial processes and all the other uses is  very scarce. world_water

Source Water Woes See here

BTW Did you know Australia is the largest consumer of freshwater globally?. See what we (CSIRO) are doing to address this here. Hopefully this research hasn’t been affected by the massive government budget cuts to the CSIRO

This week I am off to the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre Think Tank on Sustainable Intensification where I will hear from world experts on this model. Whilst our business followed the sustainable intensification model I would be quite happy to join the group of people farming to ‘produce less to be paid more’ but I wouldn’t be spruiking that its more environmentally or animal friendly until the science tell me it is. I have invited the Fair Food Farmers United to share what drives them, their vision and their mission and I am thrilled they have agreed. I look forward to sharing that blog with you as well as what I learn next week.

Update Tammi Jonas free range pig and cattle farmer has now written a follow up blog that shares what drives her found here . Tammi is an advocate of the ‘produce less for more’ model and walks the talk. I love the way she has summed up her blog. If you have some thoughts on the question she poses please go to her blog and share them

Don’t produce more for less, produce less for more.

By that I mean we must value the land, animals, and workers and ensure their health is paramount in every agricultural system and then ask eaters to pay a fair price for our efforts.

All of which is easier said from a farmer in a miniscule supply chain selling direct to eaters. The bigger challenge is for the majority who are under pressure from centralised market power and long supply chains…

What do you think? How can we address the serious structural imbalances between farmers, processors, distributors and supermarkets in Australia? How can we support all farmers to make a living growing food in the fairest ways possible?


My last thought on this today “How genuinely committed is the world to getting Saving the Planet right and are we all prepared to walk the talk?

Tomorrow I will blog on the big NGO’s who support the sustainable intensification model.  Many farmers will be surprised and may do a big rethink on who they partner with. Maybe not – one of agriculture’s problems is we don’t get out enough. We do a lot of talking and not enough listening. After all if we don’t listen how can we expect to be heard

Footnote Please note I am not anti any type of food production system as long as it fits my “ethical” values – i.e. food produced in a way that respects animals, people and the planet and provides a fair return for the farmers.

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.

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.