Little Golden Book Farming

I recently heard Dr Jude Capper speak at the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium in Camden. She had a lot of thought provoking insights about consumer images and perceptions

“We have cars and airplanes. We have treatments for cancer and heart disease. Why is it that in every other business sector we celebrate increased efficiency and productivity thanks to new technology while when it comes to food more and more people want it done the old-fashioned way?” Dr Jude Capper

Lets have a think about this Little Golden Book notion of farming and this fascinating (not sure that is the right word ) push by consumers for farmers in 1st world countries to “slow down” and go back to the 1950’s way of farming

In 2000 our farm was a one man operation milking 80 cows producing 800,000 litres of milk. Today we milk 500 cows and supply 50,000 Australians with milk every day. We employ 10 people and we have reduced our environmental footprint by over 35 per cent per litre of milk produced. That’s cause for celebration wouldn’t you think?.

Lets take a look at the average Australian farmer. In 1950 he/she fed 20 people, in 1970 he/she fed 200 people. In 2012 he/she feeds 600 people.I would think that’s one hell of a lot to be proud of.

Lets take a look at the cost of food compared to income.

Slide8

Wow what else can you think of that has gone down in price in real terms? But is anybody celebrating our farmers because of this?. I don’t think so

It you are still not convinced lets really put it into perspective. Let me assure you not  everyone has this luxury. This is what Pakistanis spend on food

Slide1

Yes you read correctly 42% of their income. Note the number of people employed in agriculture at nearly half the country. In Australia less than 1%.of people are farmers. The hunger index is “alarming” Their food consumption in calories is 1/5 of ours and 25% of people are undernourished.  Don’t know about you but that’s pretty sobering for me.

Now lets have a look at few things Dr Capper had to say at the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium. Dr Capper by the way comes from the US where they spend 6% of their income on food

She put up this slide to highlight that our footprint is related to our productivity whether we are human or livestock or cars for that matter

Environmental Impact per unit of Production Slide 1

Yes at first glance vehicle 2 has the lowest footprint but as you can see in the next slide footprint its a function of how many people the vehicle carries.In other words how productive the vehicle is

Environmental Impact per unit of Production

Take home message from that one. You cant judge the system without all the facts

Bus vs Car

Back to the 50’s rural idyll.  Where has agriculture gone wrong I ask? We are seeing consumer alienation from agriculture and the food system expressed through concerns about

  • nutrition,
  • food safety,
  • affordability, Yes affordability – haven’t they seen that graph.
  • environmental sustainability and animal welfare

The armchair experts are telling consumers the answer is apparently to buy organic or grow your own. Dr Capper told the audience based on the current productivity of the world’s organic dairy industry we would need 25% more cows and 30% more land to produce the same amount of milk if all dairy farmers went organic. In the US alone that means they would need a further 3.5 million dairy cows.!!! Heaven forbid.

Where has agriculture in 1st world countries gone wrong.? Its obvious isn’t it! Agriculture has done a bloody awful job of telling it’s story. Instead of proud and loud messages we have let others tell our story and sadly I didn’t get the impression the dairy farmers in the auditorium by their questions to Dr Capper were going to rush out and share their wonderful news stories with the rest of the industrialised world.

Another story for another day. The Holstein vs the Jersey cow and how the dairy farmers in the room in my mind got the wrong take home message from Dr Capper’s talk that day

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

5 thoughts on “Little Golden Book Farming”

  1. thanks for the milk & thanks for this wonderful article, easy to understand & puts every thing in black & white. Thanks also for being proud & loud to get the message out there, well done, once again.

  2. This message is really important and challenging to deliver eloquently. I have explained ‘sustainable intensification’ a lot, often to people with high levels of scientific training who believe they are making responsible choices when they choose products with lower inputs. It is not their fault, of course. It’s up to us to communicate it better.

    1. Thanks Heather As one of Australia’s most dedicated science communicators you are indeed well qualified to comment in that space
      I am confident a good working relationship between Australia’s farmers and scientists and researchers can help put clarity and commonsense back into this debate

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