About art4agriculturechat

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

The milk wars and the sacred cow

'So long losers! I'm off to India to live like a Goddess...'While the Australian Competition and Consumer Council watchdog is working tirelessly to clear the muddy waters that dog Australian dairy farmers efforts to get a fair playing field this article in Bloomberg gives very interesting insights into how Canada and the US nurture their sacred cows

Both countries are guilty of manipulating milk markets. Canada has followed a policy that insures that a cartel of producers limits supply (and imports) in order to keep prices high, with consumers footing the bill at the grocery store. The American policies effectively lead to unlimited supply, cheap milk (and a desire to find foreign markets to dump surplus milk). Consumers don’t pay the price; instead, taxpayers do. 

The president can milk this issue all he wants. But he should realize there are no innocents in a trade war like this — unless you count the cows themselves. Stephen Mihm

 

Milk Wars Curdled U.S.-Canada Relationship Long Ago

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APRIL 29, 2017 8:00 AM EST

Donald Trump sent much of the presidential campaign vilifying Mexico. More recently, he has shifted his attention to the north, assailing Canada for unfair trade practices. In the past few days, he has slapped a retaliatory tariff on softwood lumber imports and threatened Canada’s dairy industry. “We will not stand for this,” Trump tweeted. “Watch!”

Neither industry falls under Nafta, and with good reason: Both countries have propped up these industries for decades and aren’t eager to throw them on the mercies of free trade. The dairy business is an especially sheltered industry in Canada, known among the bovine cognoscenti as the “milk cartel.”

But the U.S. is equally guilty of treating its dairy industry as a sacred cow. Indeed, both countries have gone to extraordinary lengths to prop up their dairies since the 1930s. Canada has merely done so in a very different fashion than our cherished subsidies and price supports.

Why did Canada sour on a free market in milk? As with the U.S., the Great Depression played an important role. In the early 1930s, Canadian dairies desperate for revenue in the hard times inaugurated the so-called “milk wars,” where cash-strapped producers began slashing prices. Ontario witnessed some of the worst declines, and a number of farms went bankrupt. As a cherished industry continued to implode, the regional parliament passed the Milk Control Act in 1933.

This piece of legislation created the MCB, or Milk Control Board. This body didn’t set prices, nor did it hand out subsidies to encourage farmers to cut production, as the U.S. would soon do during the New Deal. Rather, it brought together producers, distributors and consumers to hammer out a “fair price” for milk. One historian of the MCB has characterized it as an attempt to “allow the milk industry to organize and control itself with minimal regulatory intervention.”

The MCB brokered numerous price agreements that stabilized the price of milk and then started to drive it higher. It also raised barriers to entry by imposing strict licensing and bonding requirements. As the number of producers and distributors stagnated and declined, the MCB refused to extend new licenses, insuring a greater profit for those remaining. In effect, the MCB propped up prices by limiting supply.

These tactics turned the Ontario dairy industry into a closed community dominated by a handful of big dairies. The policies also stabilized the price of milk, though at levels many consumers found onerous, prompting significant protests in the late 1930s. In a typical broadside, one newspaper labeled the MCB as “autocratic,” and compared its leaders to Mussolini’s regime.

Nonetheless, other provinces in Canada emulated Ontario’s MCB over the course of the decade. In Alberta, milk actually became a “public utility,” as the province put dairies under the control of the Public Utilities Board. For the most part, though, provinces followed Ontario’s lead. Some, like Saskatchewan, also imposed production quotas to keep milk prices high.

Other countries around the world at this time also wrestled with falling prices and a glut of milk. In the U.S. and Europe, the solution generally took the form of subsidies, where farmers hurt by falling prices would get direct payments from the government to keep them from going out of business. These programs, born during the New Deal, became ever more elaborate and essential in the postwar era.

In the 1950s, Canada also tried subsidies, but by the 1960s, the expense became increasingly prohibitive. In response, Canada passed the Milk Act of 1966, which created a national body known as the Canadian Dairy Commission. Though the CDC initially continued some of the subsidy programs, it soon embraced methods that sought to limit the supply of milk, much as the MCB had sought to do many years earlier.

These tactics took three forms. The first aimed at restricting imports. Initially, Canada prohibited all imports of milk; eventually, Canada relaxed this stricture, using high tariffs to accomplish the same end. At the same time, the CDC began setting prices, much the way the original MCB did. And finally, the CDC imposed a rigorous quota system that restricted the amount of milk produced. These quotas — which confer rights to regular profits — have a monetary value and can be transferred.

Canada’s dairy industry has changed little since the 1970s, despite token concessions in free-trade negotiations. John Manley, the president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, has called it “the last Soviet-style economic regime on the planet.” Critics claim that it is inefficient and imposes an unfair burden on Canadian consumers.

All of that may be true. None of it should bother the president of the United States. The more relevant question is this: Have these machinations lent Canada a competitive edge in international milk markets? In 2016, it exported $112.6 million in dairy products to the United States. During the same period, Canada imported more than four times that — $631.6 million — from American dairy producers.

The fury aimed at Canada might lead one to assume that the U.S. would never stoop to propping up its own dairy industry. This is laughable.

Instead of a government-sponsored cartel, the U.S. has created myriad price supports and subsidies aimed at keeping the milk flowing. These include the federal government’s “milk marketing orders,” which set minimum prices; the Dairy Price Support Program, which buys up surplus production at guaranteed prices; the Milk Income Loss Contracts, which pay farmers when prices dip below certain thresholds; and many others. By one estimate, these subsidies account for 40 percent of the income of American dairy farmers.

Both countries are guilty of manipulating milk markets. Canada has followed a policy that insures that a cartel of producers limits supply (and imports) in order to keep prices high, with consumers footing the bill at the grocery store. The American policies effectively lead to unlimited supply, cheap milk (and a desire to find foreign markets to dump surplus milk). Consumers don’t pay the price; instead, taxpayers do.

The president can milk this issue all he wants. But he should realize there are no innocents in a trade war like this — unless you count the cows themselves.

 

My final thoughts on the Australian dairy industry situation are summed up by this image

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In reality both Australian dairy farmers and milk processors who supply the domestic milk market in Australia are lambs to the slaughter  in the Woolworths vs Coles supermarket milk wars. Its time to give our dairy cows the respect they deserve

 

 

Leadership involves sacrifice – its not for the faint hearted

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I am currently putting together the pre-reading material for the first Young Farming Champions workshop for 2017.

This year we will be bringing together a cohort of twenty #youthinag determined to learn the techniques and have the knowledge to help lead transformational change to secure a prosperous and exciting future for the agriculture sector in Australia

When looking for wisdom Zoe Routh from Inner Compass never fails to provide great inspiration and food for thought for both me and our YFC cohort

What should you sacrifice as a leader?

As a global thinker and citizen, we ought to know what we would lay down our lives for. Is there anything for which you would make the ultimate sacrifice?

Sacrifice in leadership comes with the territory. It’s one of the main reasons that not everyone should lead others: sacrifice is a concept and action that requires great maturity and self-awareness. Not all are ready for this kind of surrender.

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What should we sacrifice as leaders?

Selfishness. One cannot be a leader if one is driven by selfishness. To be a leader, our thoughts are on those who would follow us and support the cause we all rally behind. Selfishness has no part to play here. The distinction should be made around the self-first concept. Self-sacrifice is martyrdom, and is not always necessary or helpful. Self-first as a concept is where we tend to our own needs (like sleep, rest, exercise, health, well-being) so there is more of us to give. We need to look after ourselves if we are to live to serve another day.

Invisibility. To lead is to make a stand, to be seen and heard for the sake of what we believe and who we serve. Invisibility keeps us hidden, inspiring no one and encouraging nothing. We do not need to lead from the front as a hero; what we do need is to be a visible and vocal presence of encouragement. We need to be seen to model what we believe. Integrity is when action reflects thought and words.

Fear of criticism. Actually, many fears need to be sacrificed: fear of making a mistake, of letting others down, of not living up to expectations, of being found wanting. As leaders, we will make mistakes, we will disappoint others, and we may find ourselves short of skill or capacity to do the job. Leadership is knowing all this, and doing our best anyway, because we believe that our petty fears are not enough to stand by and let what matters go unsupported. There is something bigger than us that calls us to sacrifice our fears.

Feeling like a fraud. Everyone has a first day on the job. We all needed to learn how to walk as babies. When we fell down as toddlers, did we feel like frauds as humans? The essence of our humanity is in getting up again and trying once more. The longing for growth and contribution is the fabric of leadership. At this altar we may leave the shackles of fraud.

Hope. Hope is an emotion for those who feel powerless and victims in life’s wake. It is for those who wait to be rescued. As leaders, we do not waste energy in a lament of hope; we forge our own path, seeking a way through turmoil with effort and focus. We can replace hope with determination, conviction, and grit.

What do you sacrifice as a leader? What is the cause that you dedicate your life to?

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Sydney Royal Easter Show – is agriculture missing a massive marketing opportunity?

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I was very interested to read editor Andrew Norris’ article in The Land April 6th 2017 The Royal an underutilised event . Having made some strong and controversial comments in my 2015 blog post When farmers are their own worst enemy on the Australian dairy industry’s efforts to build warm and enduring relationships with the one million people who attend the Sydney Royal Easter Show I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the great work that is being done by industry and the RAS team at the show.

But firstly there was a reader comment following Andrew’s article that caught my eye

Yep, great Andrew…but the RAS Show will reach less non-farming people in the next 14 days than will the Sydney Morning Herald and Fin Review which are other Fairfax mastheads like yours. How many of your Show stories will those publications carry? Is the true problem to be found in the shallow coverage of rural issues – that don’t entail natural disaster – in non-rural media and organised social media?   

I would like to address this comment on three levels

In the first instance Sydney Royal Easter Show is a marketing opportunity. Its a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness and appreciation for agriculture.

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Students from Wilberforce Public School loved showing their Archie off to Farmer Tim

Show-goers no matter what age want to meet real farmers and have two way conversations with them. The show offers that opportunity en masse.  Too often we make the mistake of thinking its an education opportunity only and we bombard our consumer show patrons with stats no-one will remember or are interested in and dull non interactive displays.

Secondly on the subject of statistics, consumer reach is an output not an outcome. Its that old adage of quality not quantity and it can be very difficult to measure outcomes and impact at an event like the Sydney Royal Easter Show or print or TV media for that matter. But if you are missing in action or don’t do it smartly then its a no brainier that you are missing an opportunity

Thirdly my expereince tells me mainstream print and TV media are very happy to print/showcase good news stories about agriculture. I have plenty of examples to back this up. Agriculture just has to learn how to pitch these stories more effectively.

So getting back to the good news stories about agriculture and the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Please note I am showcasing ‘activations” (event lingo for interactive hands on displays) that I  have been involved in. I would love to hear about others.

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The Cotton Australia (CA) activation in the Food Farm at the Sydney Royal Easter Show finishes with a photograph of all the students in a field of cotton. Does a crop get any more beautiful than a field of cotton. Pretty sure all the students who met CA”s Sophie Davidson at the show will be able to identify a field of cotton anywhere  

Number one on the list of great news stories is the Food Farm and in particular the Primary School  Preview Day.

The success of this event is multi pronged. It starts with a great team at the RAS, a number of whom are former school teachers and one of their key areas of expertise is knowing how to engage with kids. Farming industry bodies have relished the opportunity to be part of this exciting event and have really stepped up to the plate and every year their activations get more and more impressive

Super kudos this year to NSW Government for their phenomenal Biosecurity activation –  loved it.

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Sydney Water also blew me away

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and how impressive was the Drone activation

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Our team bought along our videographer and we will be able to share with you our activation  which was a partnership with Australian Wool Innovation as well as the Sydney Water and Drone and Vegetable activations on film shortly. in the meantime we have plenty of pictures

Our activation paired Australian Wool Innovation supported Young Farming Champions Peta Bradley ( wool farmer from Armatree) and Dione Howard ( soon to be vet and wool farmer from Lockhart) to create and deliver a fun activity that raised awareness and appreciation of the great Australian natural fibre that is wool and the farmers who produce it.

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Peta Bradley in action introducing the students to her family and their farm as well highlighting the big difference in students numbers at the primary school she attended to the school sizes in Sydney 

We made use of technology and used the Plickers app to ask the students a series of questions.

Plickers Sheep Nos

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Examples of some of the questions 

All the students were given cards that allowed them to select one of four answers

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Dione then scanned their answers with an app on her iPhone which we then showed on the screen as a series of graphs.

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This allowed to us to test their awareness of the industry in general, properties of wool and careers available in the wool sector .

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Students loved the feel of wool SRES Peta amd Dione Wool Activation (26) and we found the lanolin sampling was a big hit    

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with the students deciding it makes the perfect hair gel – how adorable is Ryan

As I previously mentioned measuring impact to determine return on investment (and its very expensive to take a support team to the Royal Easter Show) is not an easy task. We have relished  the challenge and this is how we measured our cut through impact

We asked the students to write one new thing they learnt on a chalk board Archie. What we found was that the groups of students picked up very diverse leanings.

and there was definitely a big consensus of opinion that We Love Wool 

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On another note RAS Dairy Councillor John Fairley has been working relentlessly over the past two years to engage Dairy Australia to help design and deliver a Sydney Royal Easter Show dairy activation in the dairy cattle sheds. John succeeded this year in bringing a Dairy Australia team to the show. and together with farmer ambassadors they hosted dairy cattle shed tours.  Feedback from a few dairy people I have spoken to said it was a  personal success for them and I look forward to the Dairy Australia’s evaluation and impact study.

Footnote 

Special thanks to Greg Mills. What a treasure he is  – not only does he design the questionnaires and teach us the technology he travels from Armidale to Sydney every year to assist on the day . We couldn’t do it without you Greg and we love you to bits  

Previous Picture You in Agriculture activations at the show can be found here

Cotton in 2016

Beef in 2014

Your life is an autobiography. How will you write it?

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The last four years of my life have seen me struggling with things that I could never have planned for. My solution is to get out and about and do as many different things as I can and surround myself with people who inspire me.

Some of those things haven’t quite turned out the way I envisioned either including my vision to make hiking all over Australia a way to meet new people and have fun. Case in question is my challenging hamstring injury . Must admit I have seen some very delicious specialists as a result and can’t fault the medical personal I have met along the way.

Last week I went to Canberra to attend Zoe Routh’s Edge of Leadership Unconference. How awesome was it to get the post event summary and tip sheet and have a permanent reminder of the people whose focus is to do good first

I just loved Dr Jason Fox’s keynote. You can sign up for his newsletter here 

About Jason

Dr Jason Fox is a modern day wizard-rogue, author and leadership advisor. With deep expertise in motivation design, Jason shows pioneering leaders around the world how to unlock new progress and build for the future of work.

When not liberating the world from default thinking and the curse of efficiency, Jason enjoys partaking in the fine art of coffee snobbery, sun avoidance and beard maintenance. He is based in Melbourne, where the coffee is magic.

Jason gave us all a challenge I rather I loved

He said think of your life asan autobiography. Look at 12 chapters of last year and think of a word that sums  them up. Then visualise the next 12 months and chose  one word to describe what you you wish for.

In Jason’s lingo it looks like this

“Use a contextual word as a ‘fuzzy beacon’ to keep you steering to a desired new state, experience, our way of being and doing.”

The word that best describes the last 12 months of my life ( or last 4 years in fact ) is Butterfly inspired by this beautiful  song by Claire Guerreso

My word for 2017 is Everest.

I want to stand at the top of the mountain and look down and see just how wonderful the world is.

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Not stand at the bottom and look up and see the world as another tough mountain to climb

Hillary crosses bridges through the Khumbu ice fall.

The many faces of  Dr Jason Fox

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Do our politicians care about us?

Its pretty easy  to think about the world and be cynical. I know at my age I can certainly write a list of the people who have let me down.

But we all know selling despair, ruminating  on the people you wished hadn’t crossed your path and on what could have been gets us nowhere. On the other hand selling hope and focusing on a bright future by engaging and working with the people who share your vision keeps the fire burning in our bellies

I keep the fire burning in my belly by surrounding myself with exciting young people. Young people in schools, young farmers and young activists for social and environmental justice .

Last Friday night  I attended the NSW ACT Young Achiever Awards to support Young Farming Champions Anika Molesworth and Joshua Gilbert who were both finalists in the Environment and Sustainability Category   

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Anika Molesworth Winner of  the Environment and Sustainability Award

Millennials and the generation before them don’t exactly  get the best wrap and are often described as self absorbed .  Reading the bios of the finalists in all categories  certainly drew everyone’s attention to a group of young people and their support networks who are turning  the self absorbed label on its head.

Why theses young people do what they do  and how they do it is both fascinating and inspiring.   Last year’s winner in the opening speech said something that gave me food for serious reflection. This young lady is a very passionate member of AYCC who lobbied their peers to sign up and vote at the last election. She quoted some phenomenal numbers as a testimony to their success.

She expressed her motivation by saying  something along the lines of “politicians don’t care about young people and young people don’t care about politicians”. She went on to say part of the mission of AYCC is to show young people how important it is to care about politicians and what they do and don’t stand for and to vote for the one’s that align with their values

Do politicians care about young people.? Do they care about us?  I think they do but I can certainly understand why people in general wonder what they do stand for. How do we fix a system where it appears that too many of our politicians only care about the needs of big business and the powerful people and not enough about the quality of life and well being of everyday Australians?.

AYCC have got it right. It’s up to everyday Australians to hold our politicians accountable and that starts with making sure we have the right politicians in office and support fiercely the one’s who align with our values.

Congratulations to Anika Molesworth, a fierce campaigner for #youthinag and the viability  and resilience of Australian farmers and social and environmental justice

Anika’s acceptance speech – its easy to see why she is in demand as a keynote speaker 

 

 

Happy hens – a question of ethics

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I recently read The Circle which I note is being released as a movie later this year. You can find Margaret Attwood’s review of the book here  .

I am also watching ‘Continuum” on Netflix – not exactly riveting television but definitely  some very interesting reflections on ethics and what the future could look like depending on the decisions we make in the here and now .

“Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming.” …… Alice Walker

We are being asked to make many of the decisions now that are being played out in The Circle and Continuum and in movies like Eye in the Sky 

The Happy Hens caged egg scenario is the current example. Its a tough world out there for the hen whether she lives in a cage, a barn or gets to graze on pasture.

Life is risky for her.Being in the situation where I do know the stats – there are genuine reasons to house hens in cages – lets not beat up the farmers who do this well.

Are caged hens happy – would you be happy living in a cage?. Your kidding you say yet lots of us do live in “cages” in fact we probably all do, some more than others.

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Too many humans live in cages like structures in our modern world 

We have many restrictions on our everyday lives and everyday those restrictions increase and others are making our decisions for us.

For me its time to stop demonising the farmer and the system and get comfortable about the choices we make everyday. Most of the time there are no right and wrong choices just the best choices at that point in time.

The future isn’t a place we just get to go – it is a place we get to create.  Together.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart

Over the years I have written a number of posts on leadership and from the robust discussions that followed the vocal majority in agriculture seem to prefer the notion leaders are born not made.

I am currently attending a number of courses/events that pitch themselves as Leadership Courses

It will be hard for them to trump one of the best experiences of my life yesterday which was attending (with 1500 other people ) the Simon Sinek “Start with Why” Leadership forum .

As Simon quite rightly shared with us

“how can we aspire to be a leader when we cant all agree what leadership is?”

Donna Digby who bought 18 women in the agriculture sector a combined 20,000 km to Melbourne to hear their hero Simon speak is the perfect example of the definition of leadership Simon promotes.

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As the motivational speaker and author explained, it really boils down to three things: selflessness, empathy, and an ability to manage anxiety on your team. Here is a look at each trait, and why it is so valuable for you to cultivate. 

1. Selflessness

People like to be around people they trust–it’s as simple as that. “Humans are constantly assessing people and organizations around them, and if they feel they’re selfish, they’ll keep a safe distance,” said Sinek. On the other hand, people tend to want to associate with people and brands characterised by an element of selflessness. Creating that human connection–building trust-is key, though it does take time. Just remember: You’re responsible for setting that tone, Sinek warned. “When the environment is one of a leader who [will] sacrifice, the way people respond is by sacrificing in return. Being a leader is a lifestyle decision; it means you’re willing to take care of others.” 

2. Empathy

Speaking of taking care of others, Sinek added, “the more we do good for each other, the more we want to do good for each other.” He recounted the time he picked up loose papers for a man when he saw them slip out of his bag. The man was grateful, but Sinek said his actions went further than that. They motivated someone who saw them to do something kind. Kindness begets kindness, Sinek went on. It’s holding the door for someone, making a new pot of coffee, and letting someone into your lane. Putting others ahead of yourself-“that is the practice of leadership,” he said. 

3. Grace under fire 

Stress and anxiety are enough to make people dishonest and to sabotage their performance at work. When your body is flooded with cortisol, or the chemical that produces anxiety, “you biologically restrict empathy and trust,” Sinek said. Don’t be that kind of boss–if you’re the one inducing fear and anxiety in your employees, you’re never going to have their trust. The solution is clear: Work on managing your own stress and “be the leader you wish you had,” he said. Your team will appreciate it.  Source 

Simon compared being a leader to being a parent.

‘You accept the responsibility  for the growth of another human being, often  making many thankless sacrifices. Leadership is a hard gig and its not for the faint of heart.’

Wonderful #sketchnote summary of Simon’s talk by the very talented Matthew Magain

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As I watch a lot of the current nastiness on Twitter particularly in the dairy industry I am so saddened to see far too many people creating a toxic environment where people don’t feel safe and the bullies rule. Its time for us all to become leaders and see our role as nurturers of others  and get our buzz not from the hurt generated but take pride in the growth and confidence building of others. Its time to get high on watching others thrive

The TED talk that made Simon a legend