About Farming Ahead of the Curve

This blog will share farming stories from our family farm Clover Hill Dairies. What you will discover however is that farming today is so much more that growing food and fibre. By opening the door to my role in our family business I am hoping you will gain greater insights into the passion and committment of the people and the places behind the land that produces our food and hands that grow it

Debunking the hogwash around Grass fed beef vs grain fed beef

I am writing this blog post to debunk a lot of the inaccuracies and misconceptions that appear on the internet about livestock production. *See my level and expertise to do this at the bottom of the post

Let’s put a few things up front

All food and fibre production has an environmental footprint. Domestic livestock (as opposed to pets) are bred for purpose and that purpose it to provide high quality healthy protein for human consumption with a low environmental impact.

It is absolute rubbish to say ruminant livestock are not ‘evolved to eat grains’ after all a grain is part of a plant. It’s like saying humans are not evolved to eat grains. What humans are not evolved to do is eat grass and this is what cows do very well.

The role of the farmer is to ensure his/her livestock has as low an impact on the planet as possible and to give their livestock the best whole of life experience they can

One of the ways farmers are able to reduce their livestock’s environmental footprint is to breed cattle that have genes that ensure they can turn what they eat into protein for human consumption as efficiently as they can. That means less grass per cow eaten per kg of meat produced. Beef cattle in this country produce 15% more beef per animal than they did 30 years ago. This means they have also reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 15% – Well done cattle (and farmers)

Cattle are ruminants and this digestive process allows them to break down the cellulose content of the grass, which then allows them to take grass through a process that turns it into meat (or milk)

To do this they have little bugs in their stomachs which break down the food. These bugs produce methane which is quite a significant greenhouse gas (25 x more powerful than Carbon Dioxide). The better quality the grass the less work the bugs have to do and the less methane they produce

So smart farmers grow high quality grass which is better for their cows and better for the environment. Feeding cows grain which is much easier for cows to digest than grass obviously means the bugs in the cows stomach do less work and hence produce less methane. All good stuff

Grain V GRass

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There is no denying grain feeding means in farmer lingo cows have a “hot” diet and this means too much grain can make the stomach a bit too hot for the bugs and they die. Not good for cows or bugs so both cattle ( and bugs) are introduced to grain feeding slowly to allow them to adapt just the same as when they are moved from poor quality grass to higher quality grass

Its also important to note cows on a grain fed diet aren’t exactly on a fully grain fed diet. Their ration is a mixture of feed stuffs that includes lots of high quality fibre like hay and silage to ensure the cow’s stomach environment is conducive for bug survival. The other thing to note is cows spend most of their lives eating grass. The grain feeding is just a finishing process

Because cows on a grain fed diet grow quicker they can be processed quicker and this is better for the environment from a whole of life methane output perspective. Lots more info at the bottom of the page**

But let’s not get too carried away about methane – both systems are environmentally sustainable in their own way, and the choice between the two types of beef (Grass and Grain) is purely based on taste personal preference

At AGvision this week thanks to Kylie Schuller an expert in this space I had the opportunity to get a clearer understanding and have a taste test. The eating quality characteristics of meat (texture, juiciness, flavour) are indeed entirely dependent on the feed that the cattle eat.

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Kylie Schuller from Andrews Meat giving students the low down on grass fed vs grain fed with Sally Strelitz  Marketing and Communications Officer University of New England

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Students at AGvision do the taste test – Grain Fed vs Grass Fed

The take home message from all of this is

A balanced diet containing red meat as a nutritious protein is good for you

My expertise

I have been in agriculture for close to sixty years. In the main ensureing cows can producie safe, afforbable and nutritious milk. I also spent 20 years on a mixed farm that grew crops and produced lamb and beef

I am not a scientist but have completed a ‘high level’ science and medical degree

Grain fed facts

Cattle are considered grain fed if they have been on a grain based ration for at least 60 days for a male and 70 days for a female. To be classified as grain fed, cattle must also be sourced from a feedlot that is accredited by the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme and audited by AUSMEAT.

Depending on the market requirements cattle are generally entered into a feedlot at around 12 months of age, and fed for a specified period of time. They fed a variety of grains (e.g. wheat, barley, and sorghum), roughages (hay, straw) and bi-products (brewers grain, cornflakes) in a ration that is formulated by a nutritionist to ensure the animals are receiving optimal amounts of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals for their stage of growth and development.

Grain feeding greatly increases the ability to produce a consistent product in terms of yield, quality and supply:

  • Marbling is greatly increased in grain fed cattle due to specialised nutrition
  • Grain feeding helps to even out inconsistencies in supply caused by Australia’s volatile environment.
  • Grain fed beef is often described as having a buttery flavour

Key Ideas surrounding Grain Fed beef:

  • Grain fed cattle produce 38% less CO2 per kg of beef than grass fed cattle
  • Grain fed cattle spend majority of their life in a paddock
  • The feedlot industry represents around 2% of the Australian cattle herd at any one point in time. 
  • Higher incidence of marbling, which means higher levels of good cholesterol.
  • Like the grass fed industry the Australian feedlot industry is predominantly owned and run by families. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) confirms that 98% of feedlots are Australian owned and that 91% of farms are owned by families. 

Grass Fed Beef:

Grass fed cattle live and survive solely on pastures for their entire lives. Grass contains a pigment called “carotene” which is absorbed into animal fat giving it a distinctive yellow hue. Due to the variation in grasses eaten, grass fed beef is often described as having a complex beef flavour.

The ability to produce high quality beef off of grass is entirely dependent on the environment. If grass is in limited supply or of low quality (due to extreme heat, lack of rainfall etc.) then beef production is of a lower quality. Therefore most superior grass fed beef comes from areas with a consistent high rainfall, and moderate temperature ranges.

Key Ideas surrounding Grass Fed Beef:

  • Grass fed beef can be lower in overall fat content than Grain fed beef. 
  • High in Vitamin A and Vitamin E, due largely to the beta carotene in their diets. 
  • Grass fed cattle have high levels of vital antioxidants 
  • Healthier balance of Essential fatty acids – but this very much depends on the types of pastures they are fed (having done these on farm pasture trials myself I can certainly testify to that) 
  • Grass fed cattle help reduce land degradation, desertification and soil erosion and maintain more than 50% of Australia’s landscape

 Love these infographics which you can find here

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Please Australia stand up for what is right – Surely Adam Goodes typifies what is good in the world

Adam Goodes

I don’t know.  I just have a gut feeling this mentality typifies what is wrong with the world or at the very least wrong with some bizarre sub group of Australians

Adam Goodes is an Australian of the Year –  to me a man who actually stands for something

Should not expect our sport stars – our heroes – anybody in the public eye – anybody in fact to just ‘suck it up’ when somebody says something or does something vile?

We seem quite happy to forgive footballers who throw punches in bars when some idiot says something stupid but when a very special man takes a stand the right way he is persecuted.

Having watched football from the sidelines, seen some pretty nasty things happen even at schoolboy games and sat in too many hospital emergency rooms with family members I must admit football of any code has lost its appeal to me.

The last game I started to watch I walked away from before the kick-off – after the disgraceful crowd behaviour during the 1 minute silence for Ron Clarke 

I hadn’t watched the Adam Goodes indigenous celebration dance that apparently polarised the nation until today

Seriously Australia – we got upset about this

When I watch our young people booing in the stands for whatever reason it saddens me that parents think encouraging this type of culture is setting a good example.

To me Adam Goodes actions when he identified the young girl in the crowd  was a wakeup call fro parents  that this type of behavoir ishould not be tolerated That it hurts and its wrong

Please Australia stand up for what is right. I am with Jeremy Stanford on this one

This is where our country is at. White society is still so removed from our Indigenous brothers and sisters that when Lewis Jetta and Adam Goodes perform a war dance in a game of football we can only see division. We can’t embrace it like the Kiwis embrace the haka before a game of rugby. It becomes a threat because it’s not a version of what white players have traditionally done and therefore it’s unacceptable. It’s a statement.

When I saw Goodes perform his dance for the first time I was dazzled. Rather than just lining up at the start of the game and honouring the concept of an Indigenous round, this man had actually treated us to some culture.

It broke my heart that it caused controversy rather than deliver enchantment. It meant that we couldn’t truly turn the Indigenous round over to the indigenous players, we had to lend it to them on the condition that they behaved like white players. Sound familiar?

Tom Wills is widely attributed to be the father of our game. As a kid growing up in western Victoria he learnt Marngrook with the local Indigenous kids and even spoke their language. It’s inconceivable that some of the game we play now doesn’t derive from that childhood experience, but it’s denied in our official story of the game.

To me this is telling. As a culture, we still haven’t learnt to embrace the Indigenous one. It’s still separate. We’ll give on our terms, appreciate on our terms, but when it’s not on our terms, we turn on it.

I’d be happy to see every Indigenous player from now on perform the war dance every time they kick a goal.

Source 

First Dog on the Moon 2400

Cartoon Source

Some reflections from around the nation – We all know and admire the Haka why not one of our own 

Some sobering thoughts from Stan Grant here

For too long agriculture has been self absorbed – lets do it together

Last night incoming NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen met with Al Gore who pledged his support for NSW Farmers fight against the Shenhau Mine

Derek Schoen Al Gore

Derek’s meeting with Al Gore as Derek acknowledges above was a result of the buzz around the watershed passing of the motion put forward by NSW Young Farmer Council that resulted in overwhelming hand on heart support of the NSW Farmers members

Climate Change Motion NSW Young Farmers

See background here

I have high hopes that this leadership shown by NSW Young Farmer Council means a new beginning for agriculture in this country

For too long agriculture in this country has been self-absorbed and forgotten the benefit of building partnerships between ourselves and the world for mutual benefit

Not since Rick Farley and his support team initiated Landcare have we seen leadership of this quality. We failed to build on the partnership and inclusiveness  culture initiated by Landcare – Let’s not do it again.

What is different this time is the NSW Young Farmer Council have a strong support network who know how emotionally and physically draining it can be to start a movement. The NSW Farmers Young Council also know you can’t do it by yourself and the value of powerful partnerships. They also know that you can change the way people think but you can’t change the way they behave- they have to want to do that themselves

Loving it.  Bring it on Josh and team #youthinag

BTW Amusing and insightful TEDx talk by Sam Trethewey on this topic

and taking advice from the animal kingdom

its time for a lets do it together mindset

Asia is an open door – are we ready to enter

This post is a reprint of an opinion piece by Angus Taylor MP that appeared in The Land in June 2015

It’s very impressive and I am sure The Land won’t mind me reprinting it

Angus Taylor Source AFR

The solar power industry should be treated differently to wind in the review process of the Renewable Energy ­Target, says Liberal MP Angus Taylor, and has an important role to play in rural Australia.

OPINION: GOVERNMENTS hampered the mining industry with taxes, costs and slow approvals. Now the farming sector is set to take off, we must help, not hinder it.

Five years ago I took the tools and techniques I had used as a consultant since the early 2000s to forecast growth in global demand for minerals and energy, and applied it to agriculture. The insights were clear and remarkable. For decades I had heard about the sleeping giants of Asia, and the voracious appetite that would one day drive our farming sector. That dream is now becoming a reality.

“We need a shared picture of what is possible and real determination to get on with it across all stakeholders”

Global population growth is just the beginning. More important is the impact of rising wealth on calorie consumption, and the shift from carbohydrate-dominant diets towards proteins, oils, sugar, fruit and vegetables. All of this requires huge gains in production per unit of land and water, at a time when agricultural productivity is falling.

Asia - huge potential

Asia – a population who values “safe and healthy” food and the integrity Australia offers in this space  

As the dollar drops, high international soft commodity prices are translating to higher Australian prices for beef, lamb, mutton, wool and some grains. Other commodities will follow, often with volatility. Australian produce is highly regarded in many Asian markets, if only for food safety reasons. And we have among the highest endowments of agricultural land and water per person in the world – China and India aren’t even close.

Despite the opportunity, we’ve let ourselves down before in the mining sector. We imposed cumbersome taxes, slow approvals and excessive costs on a sector that would face tougher times as prices dropped to sustainable levels (still well above historical trends). Poor policy at the peak has led to serious vulnerabilities, generating an unhelpful fracas about iron ore cartels. We can’t afford to make the same mistakes for soft commodities.

Capturing global agriculture opportunities requires diverse “clusters” of participants to mobilise, overcoming the unavoidable fragmentation of agriculture. Farmers, processors, bulk handlers, ports, researchers, consultants, accountants, traders, marketers and all levels of government need to seize the day. Attempts to centralise will not work. Instead we need a shared picture of what is possible and real determination to get on with it across all stakeholders.

Government is only part of the picture, but its role matters. We need to improve and protect access to markets, by reducing trade and non-trade barriers, reducing economic costs, mobilising new relationships and supporting strengthened brands and supply chains. This has been the government’s priority in the past two years, and the results are clear.

Government can also facilitate investment in crucial infrastructure: water, transport, processing and telecommunications. The 500 new mobile phone towers announced last week and reprioritisation of the national broadband network (including the launch of two new satellites), are important steps in this direction. So too were the recently announced water and transport infrastructure initiatives in northern Australia, which remains an enormous opportunity for Australian agriculture.

Serving regional areas with quality supply chains and infrastructure is tough, not just because of the huge land areas. Natural monopolies are common, thwarting trust and investment. Targeted, effective competition policy is crucial, as are clever business structures. Across the Tasman we see the Kiwis’ global domination of the dairy sector driven by a major farmer-owned co-operative; we should take note and likewise consider clever structures that foster farmer self-reliance.

A serious “agtech” sector is ours for the taking. Innovation has always been the life blood of Australian agriculture. With accelerating improvements in genetics, GPS, remote sensing and “big data”, much depends on timely commercialisation and utilisation of our ideas. The government’s food and agricultural growth centre will encourage more private sector involvement in research and development, alongside $750 million a year in current funding.

Direct investment in farms and farmers is crucial, particularly given the rapid growth of debt, just as the pace of farm succession intensifies.

Better risk management products will help, particularly in times of drought, such as multi-peril risk insurance for grain producers.

Some of the investment in agriculture will come from offshore. This is essential and shouldn’t frighten us if motives are sound, taxes are paid and monopolies are avoided. The truth is that offshore investors will fail without strong local management with serious skin in the game.

Our biggest gap is on the human capital side, with a real need for farmers to develop new skills in business management, exploiting new technologies and aligning farm enterprises with fast-growing new markets. Attracting and developing talented agricultural entrepreneurs is more important than ever, in a sector with long and proud history of entrepreneurship.

All studies of wealth creation tell us that when opportunity really knocks, you have to open the door with gusto. In Australian agriculture, opportunity is knocking.

Angus Taylor is the federal member for Hume. He was a partner at McKinsey & Co and Port Jackson Partners. 

 

Innovators and first followers are a special breed we should all celebrate

Being a dairy farmer can be extraordinarily rewarding but there is no denying its 24/7 and you just can’t turn the cows off and shut up shop and go on holiday whenever you want to.

So just imagine if a technology came along that milked the cows for you.

Well it has – bring on the robots courtesy of the highly innovative team at Future Dairy at Sydney University

Cows that milk themselves voluntarily with the help of robots is only one example of the many technologies that are available to our dairy farmers. At the moment there are 34 robotic milking farms in Australia (with at least another 8 being installed).

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Robotic Rotary Dairy

This represents a total of 135 robots milking around 9,100 cows, producing almost 50 million litres of milk per year. A small proportion of the Australian dairy industry (9.2 billion litres), but definitely growing in interest and adoption.

The average Automatic Milking System (AMS) farm has 268 cows milked through 4 robots (range of 110 and 2 robots to 550 and 8 robots).

These AMS installations cover every commercially available type in Australia (two brands offering single box robots, two brands offering multi box robots and one brand offering the robotic rotary).

The AMS operate across a range of farming system types from grazing with some supplementary grain feeding (82% of farms) to farms where all the cows are housed (12% of farms).

Ciows supplementary feeding

Cows live the luxury life with access to supplementary feed under shelter

Every dairy state in Australia has farmers that are currently operating with AMS and farmer discussion groups where they can share their trials and tribulations and success stories have been established in Victoria and Tasmania as well as the NSW Dairy Innovation Group which discusses all things technology and innovation.

There is no denying the gutsy early adopter farmers should be applauded as new technology invariably comes at a large capital cost with a high new technology frustration cost and a small group of vocal detractors sitting in the wings waiting with glee for you to go broke.

Different farmers adopt technologies for different reasons. So it’s imperative that farmers achieve the expectations behind the technology adoption and there is no denying expectations need to be the right ones too!! Check out the Future Dairy’s Case Studies.

Imagine how excited our industry is to hear the Future Dairy team is in the running for Australia’s most prestigious science accolade The Eureka Prize

Innovators and first followers are a special breed we should all celebrate – the bright minds who wake up every day with big ideas to change the way we live, work and play and the brave people who the test the waters and help the innovators get it right for the rest of us.

Change is hard

I must admit when I played a big role in the management decisions at Clover Hill there were so many times we were tempted to get on board with some of these new technology breakthroughs that were thwarted by lack of funds, lack of room, lack of IT knowledge ad infinitum but never a lack of desire to get the best outcomes for our cows, our team,our business and the land we have stewardship of

Innovators and Early Adopters, both work hand-in-hand to bring new technology into use. Innovators are the great thinkers in the realm of technology; they create the latest and greatest, cutting edge technology, while Early Adopters can see what the Innovators have created, and find the practical application of the new technology and begin using the Innovators’ creations and applying their ideas.

I sit in the stands and watch with fascination and loudly cheer on all the early technology adopter farmers in our dairy industry.

You are a gutsy bunch of people and you deserve every success and you couldn’t have a better support network than the team at Future Dairy

Also hearty congratulations to Professor Snow Barlow another legend in agriculture for his selection as a Eureka Prize finalist

Thanks to Dr Nico Lyons for his assistance with the data in this article

Early adopter farmers are agriculture’s biggest threat

This year as part of The Archibull Prize students in schools across NSW and QLD are studying and reflecting on the biggest challenges facing agriculture in this country.

We have told the teachers and students those challenges are:

  • Climate Change
  • Declining natural resources
  • Food and Fashion Waste
  • Biosecurity

We have left out the most immediate challenge and the most important because the program itself by default addresses this

That problem is consumers are increasingly concerned about the way their food and fibre is produced

Surveys continually back up the following

Consumers want  Safe, affordable and healthy food

Consumers are concerned about

1. environment

2. animal welfare

3. chemicals in food

4. Farmers ability to make a living

I have dedicated the last ten years and the next 20 years of my life to showing consumers that they can have faith in the way food and fibre is produced in this country

I am lucky enough to work with a wonderful team of supporting partners and advocates helping me do this including agriculture’s rising stars

The biggest barrier to achieving major gains in building trust with consumers is our farmers themselves. There is a culture in agriculture that values quiet achievers and frowns upon being proud and loud

Too often I hear those early adopter quiet achievers say that the farmers talking in the media do not represent the majority and are not walking the talk whilst they are at home doing what they do best and don’t need to share it.

Let me tell you early adopter quiet achievers. You are the biggest threat to agriculture in this country and I put it to most of you that like me ten years ago you are very proud of what you do and would be delighted to talk about it if you had the confidence and skill sets to do so.

I have spent the last ten years building my confidence and skills sets and now help others by sharing my journey and providing them with the same technical experts that I was lucky enough to have access to.

Let me share with you what I believe the problem is.

You can break farmers up into the following demographics

  1. Innovators
  2. Early adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

Interestingly enough you can break consumers up into the same demographics. Looking at mainstream technology – love this graph but can’t understand why it wasn’t the girls who were the innovators. See postscript

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In agriculture the early adopters get their information from the experts and other farmers follow by having conversations with and witnessing the successes of the early adopters. We have all heard the stats –  9 out 10 farmers learn from other farmers.

Agriculture’s big problem is early adopter consumers have great difficulty accessing agricultural experts or early adopter farmers prepared to share their journey so they get their information from the internet. In a lot of cases that’s a very scary thought. Dissemination of information in the community occurs in just the same way as it does in the farming community. Early adopters (or thought leaders) are highly respected by their peers and listen to what they say.

So I rest my case. Like it or not Early Adopter Farmers is time to come out from behind the bushel and it you were like me and want to build your confidence and skills sets –  lobby the organisations you pay levies to for the access to technical experts to help you Because in reality this is the only way you can save your fellow farmers from extinction.

Self driven extinction by our lack of across the board acknowledgment that the consumer is King and Queen and without their support we are wasting our time and money and our physical and emotional energy

Postscript.

I just love twitter my question as to why girls weren’t the innovators re the iPhone the brains trust on Twitter tells me and you will love this-  its because boys watch porn online that’s why they are innovators. Bit confused but amused

Now there is a research topic for the scientists – Online porn the driver of innovation

Aussie farmers committment to the planet underestimated for too long

Last night I witnessed a history making moment in Australian agri-poltics when this very well crafted motion from the NSW Young Farmers received resounding support from the NSW Farmers conference floor and was passed

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So many of my generation spoke from the heart clearly grateful they had been given a chance to send a clear message to bureaucrats and the community.. See what NSW farmer Angela Martin had to say here

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For too long farmers in this country have been underestimated. We are not all climate sceptics to be viewed as dinosaurs.

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The moving of this motion shouts it loud and clear Australian farmers want to be seen as progressive and committed to doing the right thing by the planet

and I couldnt have said it better Brianna Casey

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and I am very confident that the Minister is just as proud to be standing next to these young history makers as farmers everywhere todayJosh Gilbert Niall Blair Martin Murray Jo Newton

NSW Young Farmers Chair Josh Gilbert with Martin Murray and Jo Newton and NSW Minister for Primary Industries the Hon Niall Blair MLC