Drought is now an average year and we need a new way of thinking revolution

The farming community spirit is a bit like a diamond where different facets can shine in different circumstances,” Penelope Wensley

Yesterday I received my NFF Advocate newsletter

It began like this

It’s been a tough start to the year for the farm sector, with much of QLD, NSW, SA and NT still heavily within the grips of drought. The NFF has been working to drive outcomes for Australian farmers, and ensure agriculture is reprioritised on the national agenda during this critical time.

My recent post ‘Drought bringing the solutions to the table’ found here reflected on the need for Australians to see drought as an average year and for farmers to focus on bringing the solutions top the table.

‘Farming needs delivery of business strategies on ground right now that can help and this initiative aims at doing everything possible to deliver opportunities going forward. With no stock, no grass, no rain forecasted and no money in the bank it paints a very grim picture around the kitchen table at most farms around Australia.’  James Walker

Farmers need to be pragmatic we can’t hang our hats on waiting for the the government to step in especially in light of reports like this

Productivity Commission and other recent reporting to government are recommending rationalisation of drought assistance and reform of drought policy. The report recognises that the level of drought assistance has crept from a one in twenty five exceptional event to become more frequent in the presence of a long dry and changing climate. In this circumstance, the general observation emerges that too many farm businesses in too many regions have been receiving Exceptional Circumstances (EC) and other related assistance more frequently than the original definition and policy intent. The level of assistance is now deemed inappropriate and an unsustainable distortion of the farm business sector, particularly in the context of climate change.[17]

According to the report[18]:

Most farmers are sufficiently self-reliant to manage climate variability. In 2007-08, 23 per cent of Australia’s 143,000 farms received drought assistance, totalling over $ 1 billion, with some on income support continuously since 2002. In drought declared areas, most farmers manage without assistance. From 2002-03 to 2007-08, on average, about 70 per cent of dairy and broadacre farms in drought areas received no drought assistance.

Governments need to commit to a long term reform path that recognises that the primary responsibility for managing risks, including from climate variability and change, rests with farmers.

Extract found  here

Governments do care but they listen to voters and in the 21st century developed world people in the main just aren’t interested in other people’s problems

“You have got to not just influence myself and my colleagues, but you have to influence a whole country, it has to be something that, when you walk into a (Cabinet) room, with the 19 votes, you can get 10 of them. And that is what is politics about. – Barnaby Joyce

On top of this Art4Agriculture’s Archibull Prize entry surveys consistently shows us year after year  both teachers and students alike think more than 50% of the food we eat is imported. I am confident our teachers and students are excellent representation of the awareness of the Australian population with regards to where their food come from

Yes farming has done a poor job of showing Australians how much they rely on their farmers to feed them but that’s another story. We have all have choices, so farmers like everyone have to get on the front foot because nobody is forcing us to farm.

Chair of the inquiry, Dick Adams (Member for Lyons, Tasmania), on the importance of agricultural public policy to be more strategic in future with respect to assistance to farm businesses:

Putting our resources into black holes is not where the future is and not a good way to spend the public dollar. I think the Australian people would rather be assisting enterprises that have a business plan looking to the future; that will adapt to climate change and the issues that confront us in the next 20 to 30 years. We’ve also got to look at the opportunities at the enterprise level and look at where we’re going in a world sense. I think farmers will get left behind if they don’t adapt and look for opportunities.  Dick Adams 

This post is about farmers taking their destiny in their own hands and I want to hear from those farmers so I can share their story. Today my feature farmer is James Walker.

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James with two of his daughters

I am lucky enough to know James. Young Farming Champion Bron Roberts and I enjoyed James company over dinner in Brisbane in December and what a dynamic, exciting and far sighted young man he is.

James is a Nuffield Scholar and Western Queensland mixed enterprise wool grower grazing 15,000 sheep at Longreach. You will find a great story on James and his farming operation here

James has even mixed it with royalty a number of times with he and his wife Manny among a group of four young families representing the next generation of graziers invited to meet the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall during the Longreach leg of their Australian visit in November 2012.

James Walker and family meet Prince Charles

Yes and doesn’t Queensland remember 2012 well – the year of the floods. Sadly again Queensland farmers like many in NSW and Victoria are living through another nightmare weather event caused this time by not enough water, with Queensland having the hottest year on record in 2013

James Walker and his family far doing it very tough but he is not standing still. James and his wife Manny are using social media and the Agrihive  website they have set up to help tackle the big challenges around farming including drought.

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The Agrihive team commitment says it all

If you have a concern problem or opportunity in Agriculture, Agrihive does not sleep until we are on the other side of the concern, problem or opportunity.

Agrihive will move mountains to achieve business, lifestyle and agricultural goals.

Our team is committed, exposed heavily to Agriculture and will provide results.

James has fire in his belly and he is in it for the long haul. James is also a person who DOES care about other people and I can assure you when you read his story you will be just as impressed with this young man as everyone who meets him

This is the Agrihive story in James words…..

Many efforts have been made to fundraise and subsidise the farmers that are facing annihilation. The results of these efforts are limited and lack long term strategy for a weak and fading industry that is exposed to tactical policy changes that lack foresight and courage from our leaders.

Farming needs delivery of business strategies on ground right now that can help and this initiative aims at doing everything possible to deliver opportunities going forward. With no stock, no grass, no rain forecasted and no money in the bank it paints a very grim picture around the kitchen table at most farms around Australia.

We need a revolution in Agriculture, we need to enable farmers to navigate and recover from this complex situation. We need high levels of information that is not rhetoric and long winded, we need result focussed information right now to help us. We do need to accumulate suggestions for long term policy but we need to create opportunities now before another farmer quits our system. That is why we have created Agrihive.

Agrihive is a site that requires you to join, provide real ideas, concepts and results for right now, which will be delivered to the farmers. It honours the resilience of the farming community in desperate unchartered times. As famers we want to take control of the situation.

We want to dust ourselves off and continue being the best producers of food in the World and contribute to the Australian Economy. We are not whinging we are just searching for answers and we are becoming desperate for them. which is best achieved through training, awareness and interaction.

As an example the first instalment of Agrihive is to provide a free 25 minute audio you can access by clicking here. The file contains interviews with three experts in the fields of marketing and feed and fodder analysis.

Farmers will learn what other leading producers have learnt;

  • How to buy fodder like a professional
  • The 3 key measurements for effective feeding
  • How to compare different fodder costs
  • 2014 Cattle market expectations from a marketing expert

Click here to access nowDrought, Fodder, Finance and Future

Agrihive has a suite of information and templates to take control of your business in the drought.

We are progressively covering the following topics and have a growing Agricultural business community.

Savings

There are many layers of cost reduction in Agriculture, Agrihive will uncover spending through key expert eyes and unlock some new discoveries for farmer savings.

Production

The ability to accumulate revenue generating assets is the key to recovery from drought. Agrihive reveals a systematized approach to business performance.

Possibilities

See the Possibilities

Please join now for updates at www.agrihive.com and contribute to real change.

Agrihive will create new opportunities and levels of thinking; revealing new options.

There have only been 500 free CDs recorded so please act now and feel free to pass this message on to your friends and contacts as they may get something good out of Agrihive as it is committed to a better future in Farming.

You can download your complimentary recording by clicking here

“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning” (Winston Churchill).

When I think of James and the conversations I have had with him I think of the quote

THERE are two types of people in this world – the doers and the don’ters.

Doers accept they can create the life they want and then come up with a plan to make it happen. James has got a goal, he has got a plan, he is adapting and look for opportunities.

He is doing what a lot more people need to be doing and that is getting of their backsides and making it happen.

I invite you to join Agrihive now for updates at www.agrihive.com and contribute to real change.

Beef Central have also covered this story here 

Lets not forget people are doing it tough and everybody needs a hand from time to time. This is a great organization doing just that and all Australians can lend a helping hand by supporting them. Visit their website here     

Archibull wins the Event of the Year at Trangie Australia Day Awards!!

Farming Ahead of the Curve:

Lifetime highlights abound

Originally posted on Art4Agriculture Chat:

What a 48 hours the Archibull Prize has had

It started with an overwhelming response from primary schools to the call out for Expressions of Interest for the 2014 Archibull Prize in the Junior Landcare Newsletter

I am beginning to think school teachers work dairy farmers hours The emails started at 4 in the morning and continued till 11pm last night and started again at 5.30am this morning. How exciting to see schools so eager to be involved 

Then this – does it get any better than this -  The Archibull Prize has won the Event of the Year at Trangie Australia Day Awards!!

“The success of the project has been an enormous promotion of Trangie across the whole of Australia. It has absolutely put Trangie on the map!”

Archibull wins Event of the Year

Excerpt from the Narromine News

But wait there is more the Junior Citizen of the Year was Pat Skinner

Pat is…

View original 164 more words

Picture Perfect

Recently the farm hosted Rural Press journalist Matt Cawood ( @matt_cawood) and I have discovered he is an awesome photographer ( he did have a pretty impressive camera with him)

You can read Matt’s story in The Land here

So I thought I would take this opportunity to share with the you some of beautiful photographs he took at the farm

Lynne and Paradise Chime 2

Firstly me with the absolutely adorable Mandelyn Paradise Chime. Chime was a twin who came out backwards and I raised her from the day she born  and she is just so friendly and she just loves having her ears scratched.

Louise

This is Louise bringing the cows home for the midday milking.

Chrissy in the Dairy

This is Chrissy in the pit milking the cows at midday milking. Note the very curious cows in the background 

Calves in front paddock

The calves in the front paddock. Wow how fantastic is that view

Picasso Cows arboretum

Picasso Corner which 5 local schools revegated in 2008

Desert Pea

The entrance to the dairy

and look at these two divine photos

Bluebird 

How special is this one

Bluebird 2

and last but not least our drum art which are hosting some of our endangered or vulnerable  species trees

Barrels

Matt is an very interesting story himself and there are some wonderful insights here “Australian agriculture reporter leaves isolation for London’s meeting of minds” which includes this quote that I like

“Agriculture is the most fundamental human activity. Without it, we don’t have cities, the Internet, cappuccino. And we are quickly realizing that how we conduct agriculture determines the health of the planet.”

All photos by Matt Cawood .Thank you so much Matt  for sending them to me

Strong Women

The Queensland Rural Regional and Remote Women’s Network (QRRRWN) this week announced the finalists in their inaugural ‘Strong Women Leadership Awards 2012’and and how excited are we that the list included Young Farming Champion Kylie Stretton.

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Kylie ( Blue shirt) with fellow YFC’s at the Ekka last week

This is Kylie’s story………

All my life I have been passionate about the rural industry but being quite shy, I wasn’t very sure how to go about promoting it. In the last twelve months I have become very involved in Advocating for Agriculture via social media. I was asked to be co-administrator of Save Live Export (a Facebook group created to bring awareness of “the other side of the story” and connect like-minded people), and also invited to be an administrator of Rural and Remote Australian Women (another Facebook group which acts as a virtual kitchen table to connect women who are otherwise isolated, either by location, family commitments etc.). I am the creator of another Facebook group called “Funny Farm” which acts as a meeting place for men and women across rural Australia, who are passionate about their industry, it’s a place to vent and brainstorm on how to protect and promote our lifestyle. I also run trivia nights in these Facebook groups for fun and laughter. My latest project has been a Facebook page and Twitter profile, Ask An Aussie Farmer – An idea grown by real Aussie farmers so that you have your food and fibre questions answered by those who produce it for you.

I have also been looking at ways to help bring awareness to children about agricultural industries. Teaching the next generation about food and fibre production is extremely important to me as today’s children are tomorrow’s decision makers. Last year I was offered as a “prize” to the winner and runner up of the Archibull Prize at the Ekka, and travelled to Brisbane to talk to primary school children about growing up and working on cattle stations.  I also do relief work at our local Kindergarten and with the blessing of the teacher, I often bring “show and tell” such as photos, raw cotton and YouTube clips to share with the children. I also encourage my own children to be “agvocators” which they are more than happy to do, sharing photos and stories with their teachers and classmates.

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My beautiful children – Photo Vicki Miller Photography

To me “Strong Women” are women who lead the way for others, who have strength, courage and compassion. Not only are they leaders, but supporters of others as well.

For the past 12mths I have spent many hours on a computer encouraging people to fight for their livelihoods, to share their stories, to provide a place to laugh, cry and vent without judgment. I try at all times to lead by example, to try things out such as Twitter and Blogging, sharing my success, problems and solutions, to encourage others to follow in my footsteps (and some I have encouraged have embraced this and surpassed my efforts). I try and treat everyone with equal respect regardless if they share my views on a topic and encourage others to do so.

I used to lack “self-worth” when it came to the broader community. I felt like I didn’t have a driving passion, or a direction I wanted to head in. I felt that I didn’t contribute to anything outside of my immediate box. I was quite shy, found it very hard to approach strangers and found it very hard to be a leader. I was quite happy being a follower. In the past 12mths I have found something I’m good at and in turn encourage others to be passionate about the work they do in Rural Australia. I can now (still internally cringing) ring strangers such as media or industry bodies to promote Ask An Aussie Farmer. I have now been in many newspaper articles and radio interviews (each one with less stammering than the last). I also had a great fear of flying which I overcame to fly to Brisbane to talk to the school children (my first proper flight at the age of 30).

I have a lot to learn and a long way to go. I have been given some fantastic opportunities such as going to Brisbane, being invited to MLA’s pilot Social Media workshop, to be spokesperson for Ask An Aussie Farmer, being nominated for QRRRWN’s Strong Women Leadership Award, and being a Young Farming Champion. Each opportunity presents me with a bigger network, more confidence, more information and more will power. If I can pass these things on to more people, that is building a stronger rural Australia.

I asked the following question on the Facebook Group “Funny Farm”
Help….. am writing my Strong Women application. Would you say that in my work in promoting pages such as Save Live Export, RRAW and this page, I have helped people who are otherwise in isolated situations build strong networks and support groups?

The following are some of the responses I received (very overwhelming and humbling to say the least):

Scott Warrington (truck driver, sheep/cattle producer, father NSW): Yes. Also you have enlightened many people, that otherwise wouldn’t have known of said pages. Definitely aided people’s ability to network, with others across Australia.

Raelene Hall (grazier, mother, author, Chief Editor of ICPA Pedals Magazine WA)

A definite yes from me Kylie. I felt the isolation of where I live keenly as no others our age around, too far from town to get involved in things there so these groups have made me feel a) more a part of the pastoral industry b)that there are people all over Australia who will support each other in tough times and c) that we can make a difference.

Jo Bloomfield (grazier, mother, rural advocate NT): When the program 4c (Four Corners: A Bloody Business) first aired I spent the following week writing letters and basically going into panic as I honestly thought I was watching our very livelihood go down the drain. NTCA sent an email around to everyone to become more proactive and take part in the discussions that were happening on pages like Save Live export. From the first time I logged onto that page I felt for the first time after the public backlash of hate that there was support, there was a way forward without destroying my family and our community . Most importantly there were others out there who I could help and have so greatly helped me. Kylie Stretton was a major part of that, a person who’s views I respect, appreciate. Who is not only passionate but compassionate, fair and considers many facets of the arguments. most importantly her humour. Thanks Kylie, you are a special person.

Michael Trant (sheep farmer, live export depot operator, rural advocator and co-founder of Ask An Aussie Farmer WA)

The live export ban to Indonesia last year was the single handed most destructive piece of Government action I can remember seeing. The effect the snap decision had on the men and women who work in and depend on that trade cannot be under estimated. Overnight, fresh from the shock of seeing their cattle subjected to horrendous treatment in a handful of abattoirs, the industry was halted completely in its tracks, leaving the thousands of farmers, farm workers, truck drivers, vets, feed suppliers, yard owners, yard labours and their families not knowing what the future may bring.

Living in remote Australia has many benefits, which could fill this and many more pages. It also has it’s disadvantages. Isolation is the big one. We can’t just up and wander down to the main street of the nearest capital city to march in protest. We can’t strike. And trying to organise people spread out over thousands of miles into a single voice has been described to me as trying to herd cats.

I am not in the cattle game, but I am very reliant on the sheep live export. I could only imagine what the people who had cattle in the yards ready to go, or mustering choppers in the air with trucks rolling in, were going through. But it was so far away from me. Save for a few talkback callers on the radio, I didn’t know what was happening and how they were coping.

Back then, I wasn’t a big Facebook user, it was mainly to stay in touch with old school mates. On a whim, a searched for Live Export, and in amongst all the Ban this, Stop that, Shame this, stood out a Save Live Export page. I asked to join, and shortly my request was accepted.

That was my first contact with Kylie Stretton, one of the groups founding members.

In the weeks and months that followed, I witnessed something truly remarkable. Farmers, farm workers, truck drivers, vets, feed suppliers, yard owners, yard labours and their families were connecting with each other in a way I had not seen before nor imagined. Stories were told, advice given, rage vented and grief consoled. Ideas discussed, plans formulated, politicians lobbied and media contacted. Debates were had, fierce fiery debates on the opposing Facebook pages. Some might ask why, what’s the point of arguing with someone over the internet? Because for the first time, we can, we can put our view across. And maybe, just maybe, someone might listen.

In the middle of all this, was Kylie. Her enthusiasm was contagious. A relevant news article would be published and within minutes she’d have it posted in the group for all to see. An outlandish, incorrect and just plain wrong comment would be made online and she would point us to it, where we would set upon correcting a few things. How useful this was is unknown, but it made people feel they were doing something. Anything. Miles from nowhere, this was our best way to become involved.

Eventually, our governing bodies woke up to the fact that this online Social Media thing might just be useful, and began encouraging farmers to tell their story online to the masses. We were way ahead of them. From the Save Live Export group we have people on Twitter, blogging, and in March the Facebook Page Ask An Aussie Farmer was launched, a page where anyone can ask any question about food and fibre production, to be answered by farmers. Again, Kylies dedication, enthusiasm and willingness to put herself out into the mainstream media as our spokesperson is inspiring.

Kylies work gave people the outlet they were looking for, a place to meet likeminded individuals. Her research has given us facts to counter often hyper exaggerated claims. Her dedication has given us inspiration to venture from our comfort zones and stand up for what we believe in. And her humour has brought a smile to many, including myself. I have never met, nor even talked with Kylie, our contact is purely through messages over the internet, however I consider her a close friend who I am lucky to have met.

She is committed to rural Australia and I could not think of a more deserving person for this recognition.

My aim over the next few years is to bring more awareness about the importance of agriculture to the general public. I’m hoping to get more publicity for Ask An Aussie Farmer and for teachers and parents to be aware of it and to use it as a tool for educating the children in their care. We’d also like to get a fun website up and running to help promote our cause. I’d also like to be able to visit more schools and talk to students face to face.

My other aim is to continue helping others with social media, to help them tell their stories and continue administrating the FB groups I have, building larger and stronger connections. I have a lot to learn, and I feel that being awarded the QRRRRWN “Strong Women Leadership” Award will present me with so many opportunities. I feel it will provide me with stronger networks and education, which in turn I can pass on to others building stronger communities and a stronger Rural Australia.

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We think Kylie embodies everything this award stands for Don’t you?

For more information on QRRRWN go to www.qrrrwn.org.au or phone 1300 795 571.

The Big Permeate Controversy – What a storm in a tea cup?

Let me explain why I and my fellow dairy farmers would like everyone to buy permeate free milk even though permeate is completely harmless

I wrote this post the day after some brands of milk went “Permeate Free” and low and behold it was so popular it actually trended on Google. The reason for this was consumers went shock horror when they saw the Permeate Free label on Australia’s most beloved milk brand and that advertisement on TV that made me so cranky. As it turns out most people had never heard of permeate and rushed home to Google it to find out what it was.

Dairy Farmers Milk now Permeate free

Nowadays food scares are a media magnate and consumers greatest fear as surveys show Australians care most about food and their health. Thanks to programs like a Current Affair who when they are chasing ratings routinely do a food scare segment and the “evil” permeate was becoming a favourite  Food scare stories are so popular what we have now in the supermarket is essentially foods in the “Controversy free isles” and foods in the “Controversy isles”

Now I assure there is nothing evil about permeate, its just a milk by product. See this previous post which explains what permeate is. But in their wisdom the major milk companies decided making milk permeate free and advertising it would increase market share for their brands. Well all it has done is put Permeate Free milk front and centre of the Controversial foods isle thanks to this very misguided labelling and advertising campaign by the milk company in question.

But there is an excellent reason why you should buy it.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE everyone buy permeate free milk as the milk processors need to buy 10-15% more milk from dairy farmers. This is because previously they added 10 to 15% permeate to milk to standardise it. Permeate free means they standardise it by essentially taking some of the cream off the top. Which means Permeate Free milk is just like it comes out of the cows with some homogenisation and pasteurisation .

Read what Dr Heather Bray has to say on this here

Hear me talking to Sarina Locke from ABC National here

There is a Sting in the Nettle

Last weekend it was a pleasure to host Angela Bradburn whi is the policy officer with Cotton Australia her husband Scott and father in law Grahame. Angela has a background in Natural Resource Management and Scott is keen cyclist always looking for a new mountain to climb and we certainly have one of those living on the side of Saddle Back Mountain

As it turned out Grahame who is a school teacher by profession has keen interest in Native Orchids and was very keen to see our rainforest

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Team Bradburn at Clover Hill

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Scott and his dad enjoyed the visit to Fountaindale Dam wall 

Fountaindale Dam

The spectacular Fountaindale Dam See video here

Now I have a serious aversion to the Giant Stinging Nettle tree which thrives in our rainforest IMG_3720

Lots of  Giant Stinging Trees are regenerating in our rainforest

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The reason for my aversion to the Giant Stinging Tree is I once once mistook a little one (see picture immediately above) for a small Tobacco Bush and grabbed with both hands to pull it out. Ouch does it have a sting to remember

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Baby Tobacco Bush

Giant Stinging Tree

Giant Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide exelsa) They get very big don’t they?

I now have a new respect for the Stinging Tree as Graham tells me they host Native Orchids and I just adore Native Orchids

Pink rock orchid

Another beautiful bush on our farm is the endangered Illawarra Zieria

Ziera Like this one

Zieria Habitat at Clover Hill

Confidence to Grow Photos for Facebook   (9)

Zieria Granulata in flower

The native Stinging Nettle also flourish at the farm.

stinging-nettle

An interesting combination of the beautiful and the beware don’t touch species

Alive and Cooking

Big day at the farm today with Clover Hill to be the back drop for chef James Reeson to do his cooking show on WIN 4 “Alive and Cooking”.

Filmed on location at some of the country’s top food and wine regions as well as in James’ kitchen, James prepares a feast of delicious dishes for the occasional cook and cooking expert.

The show takes you to the heart of cooking, on location across Australia, inland, on the coast and using the best wines, oils, and different foods developed by each region.

What a perfect way to celebrate quality, authenticity and local producers and produce. The perfect vehicle for connecting food production with food consumption. We food producers salute you James and Win4 

We also get very excited when we have the opportunity to showcase the Australian dairy industry to the community. We put a lot of work into ensuring that everything is spick and span and that means putting in a lot extra hours to ensure this happens.

Setting up

Setting up

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Ready to go

Nick assures me he will be clean shaven and well dressed for the scenes in the dairy. I roll my eyes. “Leave it to the last minute Nick” that my gorgeous son Nick a complete contrast to me 

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Even the poddies are ready to be part of the action. How cute are they

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And its all still happening in the background at the farm. Loads of grain arrive and unload. Michael is in trouble for making to much noise with mixer wagon and Louise is up in the calf shed making sure her babies put their best foot forward

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Meanwhile back at the filming we have moved the action to make desert get the best light. This episode has been called off 5 times due to rain and they have bought the rain with them again today

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Who was the lucky girl who got the main course. Then it rained and the dairy shoot had to be put off again. The hard workers shake their heads but at least we have the cleanest dairy in Australia

Catch some of the action here and I will be sure to let you know when the program airs 

The first cut is the deepest

A toast to health, wealth and happiness

Art4agriculture is a proud supporting partner of the National Centre for Farmer Health photography competition and I am speaking at their conference in September

The Centre provides national leadership to improve the health, safety and well-being of farm men and women, farm workers, their families and communities across Australia.

The NCFH has been operating since November 2008 and the Centre focus revolves around the ethos “that a healthy Australian farm is a healthy farm family”

Worryingly the the Victorian Government has just cut the Centre’s budget by $1M which will seriously impact on its ability to continue to function.

Passionate advocate for rural communities and rural mental health services Alison Fairleigh has started a petition asking the community to join her “in sending a message to the Victorian government that our farmers are important to the future of this nation and we will not let them be undervalued in this way”

“Last week I was left flabbergasted by news that the Victorian state government had cut funding to the National Centre for Farmer Health which will have implications for farming communities across the whole of Australia. Farmers make an extraordinary contribution to the Victorian economy, as they do to our nation’s economy.  It defies reason that a government would entre into a false economy by cutting back in important areas such as health, mental health and welfare, which will only cost them more in the long term. We as a nation can ill afford to lose any more of our farmers!” said Alison

According to the federal Member for Wannon, Dan Tehan, it is unlikely a cut to continued funding for the National Centre for Farmer Health was a political move and was more likely about tough economic times than politics. He is appealing for a Federal Government lifeline for the centre.

Greens leader Christine Milne says “The greatest challenge for rural and regional Australia is to lift productivity without access to more land and without access to more water. That means massive investment in research and development.”

“They (regional Australia) also need an investment in mental health services, because there are huge consequences for individuals and communities in rural and regional Australia, who have very limited access to mental health services, and they are entitled to their fair share.”

Senator Milne said more investment in nation-building was needed to move Australia “away from the resource based economy it is dependent on and towards a creative, brain based, service and information based economy”.

I am not a great fan of the Greens but Christine is spot on here and it saddens me this country cant seem to get the right balance between health and wealth.

In the case of our farmers we readily admit non-one is forcing us to farm. The majority of us go into it with our eyes wide open to the fact that farming in this country has a volatility index of at least 300%. That’s 3 times that of big supermarkets.  We chose to farm knowing there is no government support and we are at the mercy of both the weather and international events.

Farm Cash incomes

Last ten years have been a bit scary and dairy farmers are not alone

One farmer recently described the last 10 years for farmers in Australia as akin to putting everything you own on black at the roulette table and red came up.

Dairy farmers who supply the domestic milk market are selling their product into a hostile environment.

  1. At processor level and retail level – milk companies like Lion who don’t have a profitable market for their milk are cutting farmer quotas not because consumers aren’t buying fresh milk but because the milk price wars are destroying the milk supply chain
  2. At consumer level. – Modern consumers have little knowledge of modern farming practices and are often unnecessarily concerned about intensification of the industry, environmental stewardship and animal welfare

The declining terms of trade are impacting on farmers ability to manage risk and our ability to secure capital.  This is evidence by the bank sectoring tightening lending for dairy farmers particularly in NSW and QLD. This does not bode well for the future of fresh milk in this country.

Far too many of our farmers are being pushed to the limit physically and this seriously impacts on our ability to cope emotionally

Lets not forget our farms and farmers produce so much more than food that we as a community often take for granted. They produce experiences and values that are often overlooked like our farming culture and heritage and generations of handing down of skills and knowledge,

I agree with Dick Smith when he says

I believe that we have reached the time
when our political leaders should show leadership and say there is always a time when
“enough is enough” and we need to stabilise and  grow the quality of life, not  just the
“quantity” of life.

This petition is the perfect opportunity to send a message to all our governments (State and Federal) that if you don’t have health, wealth becomes meaningless.

You can have your say by signing the petition here

Our farmers our future

The consumer is always right but at what cost

Australian farmers everywhere are currently operating in a highly volatile environment with little or no flexibility at the mercy of policy and decision makers who make decisions with little or no consultation

On top of this we are all essentially being asked by our supermarket oligopoly  to subsidise food at rock bottom prices so they can put cash in their tills and money in their shareholders pockets. I have spoken to many of our proud and loud leading farmers recently right across the country and I am getting the same message “It’s a burden that is putting lives on the line”

There are also pressures from consumers who are demanding food produced on farms with high standards of environmental stewardship and animal wellbeing. Good farmers have no problem with this as they share exactly the same values.

However this push to “slow down” as highlighted by this upcoming debate on Tuesday 15 May 2012, at the National Wine Centre, Cnr Botanic and Hackney Rds, Adelaide being held in conjunction with the Collaborate Innovate 2012 conference continues to highlight the community’s disconnect with the realities of commercial farming in the 21st century

The debate is titled “Innovation in agriculture has led to ‘fast’ food. It’s time to ‘slow’ down”

The blurb reads

Innovation has always been part of Australian agriculture from the ‘stump-jump’ plough and Federation wheat, through to minimum tillage, precision agriculture and molecular plant breeding.

Although our innovative agricultural sector feeds approximately 60 million people annually, Australia is now a mostly urban society, increasingly disconnected from food production.

Is it time for a ‘back to basics’ approach to reconnect Australians with food production? Has technology lead to industrial agriculture and cheap food that is not understood or valued by Australian consumers?

Or is continued innovation the only hope for Australian agriculture; to remain internationally competitive and feed an increasing global population?

This timely paper by Mick Keogh from the Australian Farm Institute which you can read in full hereI believe does a great job of putting this affluent society idealism of “Little Golden Book Farming” into perspective. There are some key insights from the article at the end of this post

The paper is titled “Will Locavores destroy the planet?” I am personally a great fan of the Locavore movement and am working with some amazing local thought leaders to actively promote it in my region. I am a fan because I agree with Dacian Ciolos when she says this. “The Locavore movement … empowers consumers to play an active part in the economic development of their local area” and that’s a great thing. It’s not the Locavore movement that will destroy the planet it’s a one size fits all mentality.

Our farming systems cannot be locked into a religious type paradigm of what we think is best. Our farmer must be free to continue to adapt to our changing resource base, the seasons and climate, the economy and our markets. 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 know we must always use technology and innovation smartly and consider the collateral effects of its use ensuring that our management and farming practices are at best practice. Our farmers must be able to innovate, achieve efficiency gains and intensify their businesses and consumers have to be prepared to pay realistic prices for the food they buy to enable our farmers to this.

This drive to  “slow down” and go back to the 1950’s way of farming mentality is summed up nicely by Mick.

“It is important to recognise that the safe, secure, inexpensive, globalised food system that exists in most developed nations is one of humanity’s greatest success stories, and the principle reason that for the citizens of these nations hunger and famines are an abstract concept, rather than harsh, everyday reality.”

There are no easy answers to the challenges our farmers face and our farmers have a pivotal role to play in being part of the change that agriculture must have. We are pushing through some new frontiers, and this will require a whole of industry vision and a collaborative approach.

I farm for many reasons but in the main its because I believe farmers are part of the noblest profession – the people who grow the food that feeds those we love and cherish.

Sunrise @ Clover Hill May 9th 2012

The view from my office this morning made the early start all the more rewarding

Extract

Will locavores destroy the planet?

Mick Keogh: Australian Farm Institute

‘Local food’ is an increasingly common concept used in food magazines and restaurant menus, and a local food movement seems to be quickly emerging in Australia, encouraging a greater focus on foods sourced from within a particular region. For farmers and food producers, some of whom are under siege from imported products due to the effects of the high Australian dollar and relatively high labour costs, a move by consumers to favour local foods is welcomed. A greater focus on local foods also provides an opportunity to develop new marketing channels, and to avoid food brands disappearing down the insatiable maw of the major retailers. It also provides an opportunity for smaller producers to develop brand identities and to revitalise regions based on food tourism. For a major agricultural exporter such as Australia, however, the international ‘local food’ movement also brings with it some new risks, and the potential for a retreat from the globalised agricultural markets relied on by much of Australian agriculture. In what would also be a surprise for many ‘foodies’, the local food movement has the potential to dramatically increase agriculture’s impact on the environment.

Environmental impacts

One often-claimed attribute of local food systems that is not supported by available research is the claim that local food systems are better for the environment. There have been a considerable number of robust comparisons carried out, and the result is often that the established globalised food supply system has considerable environmental advantages over competing local food systems.

A number of research studies have been carried out to compare the greenhouse emissions and energy use associated with livestock and dairy products from New Zealand that have been transported to the United Kingdom, and similar competing products sourced from the United Kingdom (Saunders & Barber 2008). Table 1 provides a summary of the results of that comparison.

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What the table highlights is that the energy and greenhouse emissions associated with the transport of the dairy products from New Zealand to the United Kingdom (UK) are a relatively minor component of the total energy and emission profile of the New Zealand dairy product. The table also highlights that the added energy use and emissions associated with the UK dairy system (where animals are housed for much of the year and require feed and heating) results in the energy and emission footprint of the UK dairy products being almost double that of the New Zealand products, even with the New Zealand transport disadvantage fully accounted for.

A UK consumer opting for the local UK dairy product would unwittingly be selecting a product that has double the energy and environmental footprint of the competing New Zealand product, despite the New Zealand product having been transported almost 18,000 kilometres!

In further comparisons also reported for other commodities, similar results were obtained (Saunders & Barber op.cit.). A comparison for lamb production, for example, revealed that the New Zealand lamb shipped to the UK had an emission ‘footprint’ of 688 kilograms of CO2-e per tonne of lamb compared to the UK product with an emission footprint of 2850 kilograms of CO2-e – more than four times as high.

Comparisons of onions and apples produced in New Zealand and shipped to the UK revealed that, in comparison with competing ‘local’ products, New Zealand apples had an energy and emissions footprint that was only approximately 68% of that of the UK apples (although the results were dependant on the season in which the comparison was made) and in the case of onions the UK product was better for the environment due to its lower emission and energy footprint, but the difference was less than 10%, and data for some parts of the UK onion supply chain was not available.

This highlights that a number of different factors have an impact on the outcomes of such comparisons. For example, the relative environmental merits of agricultural products sourced from different locations can vary depending on the season used for the comparison. Southern hemisphere fruit and vegetable products are relatively more environmentally friendly in northern hemisphere markets during the northern hemisphere winter, when the only competing northern hemisphere products are those that have been in storage for an extended period or that were produced in greenhouses – all the while requiring the use of additional electricity – which adds to the products’ environmental footprint.

Efficient food production

A further aspect of the local food movement that is seemingly at odds with many perceptions is the implications of a ‘local food’ model for the potential of global agriculture to provide sufficient food for a larger future population. While it seems counter-intuitive, a retreat from globalised ‘industrial’ food production on a broad scale would certainly make it more difficult to feed future global populations. There are several reasons for this, as past events such as the Irish Potato Famine highlight.

Between 1845 and 1852, the local potato crop which up to one-third of the Irish population relied entirely on for food experienced a series of catastrophic failures, due to potato blight disease. As a result, it is estimated that up to one million people died of starvation, and one million more were forced by hunger and poverty to emigrate from Ireland, reducing the nation’s population by almost 25% in a few short years. The Irish Potato Famine was by no means an isolated incident at that time. In fact famine is still a common occurrence in many developing nations – in particular in Africa, and major famines have also devastated the Ukraine, the USSR and China during the last century, and continue to plague North Korea, Zimbabwe and the Horn of Africa even today.

Famines, or catastrophic failures of food production systems, have a range of different causes, some of which are natural, and some of which are political. The Irish Potato Famine, for example, was caused by the repeated destruction of the Irish potato crop by a recurring disease, a result of poor agronomic practices and over-reliance on a single crop. It was also caused by a combination of land, tenancy and trade laws which resulted in Irish agriculture being dominated by small-scale tenant farmers with no security of tenure who all relied heavily on that single crop and who did not have access to, or could not afford alternative, non-local food supplies.

Those nations and populations that have avoided major famines over the past century are actually those nations that have embraced the globalised, industrialised, internationally-traded food system, and reduced their reliance on local food. For a wealthy, food-secure inhabitant of a developed nation like the USA or Australia, the concept of starvation or food insecurity is so remote that it does not even register. The abundance of food, the seemingly limitless variety of safe, high quality produce that is available irrespective of the weather or the season, and the endless choice of products from all parts of the world is something taken entirely for granted and which represents such a small portion of expenditure by the average consumer that it hardly registers.

It is also easy to overlook the fact that the benefits of specialisation (growing specific crops in areas where they are agronomically best suited and transporting them to distant markets), modern science and scale economies (made possible by mechanisation) mean that the world is now consistently able to produce a surplus of food, which can be safely and efficiently delivered to any location on earth in a relatively short period of time.

Some sense of the hidden benefits of food production specialisation arises from the recent estimate that for the USA to maintain current output levels for 40 major food crops and vegetables under a locavore-like production system (where no food is transported more than 100 miles) would ‘require an additional 60 million acres of cropland, 2.7 million tons more fertiliser, and 50 million pounds more chemicals’ (Sexton 2011). The result would be a profound increase in the carbon and energy footprint of the US food system, and the destruction of significant natural habitat due to land use change.

Policy implications

So-called local food systems bring many benefits, but as the preceding discussion has highlighted, they can also bring additional costs, and it is important that these are not overlooked. A global reversion away from current conventional agriculture to much more localised food systems could have important negative environmental consequences, and would also bring considerable additional limitations on the ability of the world to feed itself.

This suggests that while policies that support the development of local food systems may be attractive to policy-makers, these should only be adopted if they do not disadvantage existing conventional, globalised agricultural systems. For example, policies that seek to foster local food systems through trade barriers, unnecessary restrictions on the use of new technologies, or the use of inadequate environmental labelling systems are likely to do much more harm than good.

It is also important to recognise that a wholesale adoption of local food systems would have major negative environmental consequences, because the focus on distance travelled by food is misguided. Emissions or energy use associated with transport is often only a very minor component of the total environmental footprint of foods, and therefore reducing transport distances has little effect on the overall environmental impact of a food production system. There are much greater environmental benefits available from encouraging agricultural specialisation and trade, than there are from attempting to limit the distance food is transported.

In all the new-found enthusiasm for local food systems, it is important to recognise that the safe, secure, inexpensive, globalised food system that exists in most developed nations is one of humanity’s greatest success stories, and the principle reason that for the citizens of these nations hunger and famines are an abstract concept, rather than harsh, everyday reality.

Jon Dee, who is an environmentalist, and founder of the Australian advocacy organisation ‘Do Something!’ disagrees with Mick.

He believes the locavore movement is more than just promoting a sustainable environment and includes encouraging social and economic sustainability as well as a seasonal diet.

Do Something’s website here http://foodwise.com.au/

Hear Mick Keogh debate John Dee on Bush Telegraph here 

Sydney Royal Easter Show – a career maker

Today is the last day of the Sydney Royal Easter Show and this blog will highlight just how influential a Sydney Royal Easter Show experience can be on Next Gen agrifood sector entrants

Background

We all know young people are the key to success for the agriculture sector and those involved in the sector also know that agriculture has talented young Australians ready to take on the challenge of new and emerging job roles set to dominate the industry.

In my role as National Program Director for Art4agriculture our network is committed to identifying and engaging these exciting young people We are also grounded in the conviction that investing in our young people needs to be made a top priority and we take every opportunity to providing a vehicle to give these young people the profile they deserve

I was introduced to Sharna Holman via the Twitterverse when I noticed her tweeting about the School District Exhibit display. She was obviously a proud supporter of the winning school Muirfield High and she was including people of influence (like pollies) in her tweets.

Having judged the school district exhibits it appeared from Sharna’s tweets she may have extensive insights into the behind the scenes development of a school district exhibit I contacted her and found an amazing young woman with a great story to tell about many things but in particular the influence of the Sydney Royal Easter Show has had on her career pathway

So of course what did I do I asked her to share her story with you as today’s guest blogger

The Sharna Holman story…. 

Hi, my name is Sharna Holman, and I am currently in my first year of a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at the University of Sydney. I am your normal ‘city girl’ having had no real experience on a farm but from an early age I loved animals.

It wasn’t until starting high school when I chose to study agriculture as an elective that my passion for agriculture sparked.

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I attended Muirfield High School in Western Sydney The school has a 4 hectare farm which allowed us to have cattle, sheep, alpacas, pigs, chicken, bee hives, and of course the obligatory vegetable patches. I soon found I loved learning more about the links between farming and food, and all about agricultural production. I particularly enjoyed  Years 11 and 12, when our teacher Ms Heap took our class on excursions and camps to Camden and Bathurst, and we had a chance to go onto working farms.

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The school agricultural camp to Bathurst is an opportunity for year 12 agriculture  students to see some working farms and have hands on experiences of some examples of the issues we study at school such as erosion. We also went to the livestock saleyards, and saw how sheep and cattle get sold. We helped draft the sheep, and give vaccinations. On another sheep property we visited they were shearing the sheep, so we were able to see how that was done and how they handle the wool once it was shorn.

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As element of the HSC agriculture is a product case study, from the farm to the supermarket. Our class studied milk. As we had already seen the dairy at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, our teacher organised a tour of a goat dairy. The owner of the goat dairy was able to explain more about the niche market she was in, and sampled the products which was an experience in itself as many of us had never tasted goat milk products before. The camp is great as it is one thing to study something in a classroom; it is so much more powerful and increases knowledge retention rates by seeing and participating in a real life situation.

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When I was in Year 10, I was a volunteer at the Sydney Royal Easter Show which was an amazing experience on so many levels including providing insights into consumers knowledge ( or lack of) of paddock to plate production

I loved working at Australian Egg Corporation Ltd area in the Food Farm. This area has changed for 2012 show but when I volunteered here kids could come in and paint eggs.

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It was a lot of fun being a volunteer; I was able to see more of the show as I was in there for most of the days. I think that year I saw nearly every event. Also I found that volunteering at the Easter Show helped boost my confidence in talking to people because you speak to all sorts of people at the show.

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It was my Sydney Royal Easter Show experiences from volunteering and then competing as part of Muirfield High School Show Team and then the opportunity to steward at the show that sparked my interest in agriculture as a career and all the doors and opportunities that it opened up.

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I was part of the Muirfield High School Show Team that competed in the Schools’ District Exhibit Display Competition, which began in 2010. It was this competition that really helped me decide that agricultural career was the path I wanted to take.

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Everyone you talked to at the show had a story to tell, and they were all so different and interesting. The thing that resonated for me was that everyone loved what they did and they were living a life that made a real difference.

The big ideas for the Muirfield High School District Display Exhibit always come from something that is relevant to agriculture in the 21st century. We know our display gives us the opportunity to tell an important story and engage the audience and prompt discussions about the importance of farmers and farming.

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In 2011 we used the Agriculture Higher School Certificate Syllabus as our inspiration with the theme for the display ‘Australian Agricultural Research, Stepping up to the Challenge’. During 2011, it was predominately the Year 12 Agriculture Class working on the display, and as our elective for the HSC was ‘Farming in the 21st Century’ we decided all the research we did for the HSC would make the perfect “big idea” for a display featuring a large rotating DNA double helix. The aim was for people to walk away from our display reflecting on the science underpinning agriculture productivity and innovation and where it will go next.

This year’s display involved students from Year 8 to Year 12 and was themed ‘It all starts with us, Australian Farmers; One World, One Plate’ with the big idea coming from the Australian Year of the Farmer, The display provided a timely reminder that each and every one of us is linked by our need to feed and clothe ourselves

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Teamwork is the key and a diverse number of people and skills are needed to design and create a School District Exhibit display. Art students are needed to help with the painting and designing of the backboard and the arrangement of the display. While Design and Technology students are needed to assist with mechanics of moving elements in the display, of which Muirfield High School has a running tradition of recycling microwaves to make things rotate. A large amount of time is involved in creating the backing boards which are covered in seeds. It is also very important that the judges see only the best examples of Australian produce.

Muirfield High School is extremely lucky as they have an amazing support network coming from both the local community and the Western District Exhibit Display.

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It is common to see parents on the Sunday before the show starts parked out the front of the school with trailers attached to cars to help transport all the backboards and display gear to the show without even having to be asked. The teachers are also wonderful with many teachers giving advice on how things look, such as the art teachers sharing that bold and clear lines are best. Teachers also give up their time throughout the holidays to assist students in manning the display. The team at the Western District are fantastic! They are always keen to share advice and tips. Something that I learnt from them in the first year that the school participated in the competition was that you use hairspray to get the fruit to shine. Western District also supplies Muirfield with majority of the seeds and produce used in the display. It isn’t unusual to see Muirfield High School students walking up and down the Woolworths dome with pumpkins, apples, and bags of seeds in their hands.

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Muirfield and Western District have developed a close relationship over the past few years being involved in the School’s District Display Competition. Often students take breaks from working on their display to go down to Western and see if they need a hand with their display. Students also get invited down to have lunch and hang under the display with the team from Western as well. If you ask the Muirfield students who were part of putting together the display, most are keen to move up to the bigger league and help out Western District once they have finished school!

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The Sydney Royal Easter Show is where as a ‘city girl’ I can go and see the work of our farmers in their cattle or sheep, or the work that goes on to get the horses ready for their classes. But being involved in the show, and knowing the hard work that goes on months before the gates open has changed how I see the show. Farmers and exhibitors don’t just stop working once the show is over, the Sydney Royal Easter Show gives them an opportunity to be proud of the work they have done over the past year, and proud of everyone, in all parts of the agricultural industry.

After speaking to agricultural professors and students at the University of Sydney I knew a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture was for me and was excited by diverse areas of speciality and careers that it would open up for me.

At the moment my passion is biotechnology and genetics, but with all the different areas of specialisation you never know what direction you will follow.

What excites me is I know I part of new generation of young people in agriculture working on important issues that affect not only us in Australia but everyone around the world and I can’t wait to get out there and play my role.

I’m also a big believer in getting young people involved with agriculture at schools and at their local shows. Getting students involved at local shows and on school farms is a way of showing what agriculture really is; fun and exciting! The more students get involved with agriculture, the more myths can be dispelled and show that the agricultural careers are wide ranging and interesting, dealing with things that are important and relevant in our future.

Wow see what I mean – impressive isn’t she

BTW Muirfield High School also competed in 2011 Archibull Prize and their Archie (below) was on display in the Food Farm

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