Supporting young people to change the conversations about agriculture.

Its almost 20 years since I returned to my farming roots and went on a mission to change the conversations around agriculture.

  • Agriculture as a career choice
  • Agriculture’s environmental credentials

My vision was for agriculture to be perceived an exciting industry
– where innovation, disruption and creativity are fostered,
– where careers with purpose can grow limitlessly and
– where partnerships across sectors are encouraged and nurtured

– that was part of the solution to solving the world’s wicked problems.

When my work started attracting young people and they become the focus of our work and the face of our programs, my team asked ourselves how can we give back to them as individuals and the organisations that support them.

To achieve this we asked them what they wanted. What did they say

Young people said we may be only 20% of the populations but we are 100% of the future  we want agency and voice in designing that future.

We then asked schools and teachers who are given the important role of ensuring young people are ready for the reality of life beyond the classroom what they want

They said we want:

  • an Ecosystem of Expertise we can tap into where our students are connecting  with real people, with lived experiences to investigate real issues together.
  • opportunities for our students to enhance their wellbeing, build their reliance and leadership skills.

To achieve this we have 3 foundation programs:

Our school programs (The Archibull Prize – secondary school )and Kreative Koalas -primary school ) engage students in agricultural and sustainability awareness, understanding and action through art, design thinking, creativity, teamwork, and project development.

The face of our school programs are our Young Farming Champions. Young people who are role models of who you can be in agriculture who we train to be confident communicators and trusted voices. They become dedicated life long learners like me committed to changing the conversations around agriculture. Our Young Farming Champions represent the diversity of people in agriculture. Sam Wan is a first generation Australia forging a career as wool broker still turning up every month to our workshop to learn how she can wake up tomorrow to do it better

Twenty years ago when I returned to the farm, I was flabbergasted when someone said to me farming was an esoteric career. I was frustrated to see  stories about women in agriculture being focused on our shoes.

I was even more horrified by statistics like this from some research Fiona Nash commissioned

In my previous role as Federal Minister for Regional Development, I examined a six-month period of regional stories across the two major metropolitan newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne.

The findings:

  • In Melbourne, 80% of the regional stories were negative, 15% were neutral, and just 5% were positive.
  • In Sydney, around 75% were negative and only 25% were positive.

When this is the narrative city people are fed, it’s no wonder they fail to understand the reality in the regions, the huge driver the regions are for city economies as well as regional economies, and the huge, untapped opportunity they present for businesses and individuals alike. Source

Young  people like Sam are changing the conversations around agriculture and Action4Agriculture is super pumped to be supporting Next Gen to do that in the agriculture sector and in the community.

How can we ensure that investment continues?

Personalizing the food on the menu is becoming the norm – always choose the Skull Island Prawns

Many moons ago I was runner up to David Blackmore for an award and I remember saying to him at the time it must be an extraordinary feeling to see your brand on menu at all the top restaurants.

David said to me if you keep doing what you are doing Lynne your milk could achieve this too and blow me down he was spot on. A few years later we got the big offer and blow me down again the other partners in our family business didn’t want to be the face of a brand and so we passed on the offer.

I still get super excited when I see brands on the menu of people I know  because I know how much it means to have your produce declared the best of the best

The taste sensation that is Skull Island Prawns 

My foodie friend Jules and I seem to be able to pick all the right places to experience the taste sensation that is Skull Island Prawns and the first thing we do is send a picture of taste sensation to the fleet manager. Meet Bryan

We have all become used to seeing the names of the vineyards on our wine lists. I am saluting all the restaurants sharing with the world who is producing their food

 

Jules and I are on a mission to eat at the best restaurants in Sydney showcasing producers. We highly recommend Cirrus at Barangaroo – all the food is delicious 

 

Social impact – if you could wave a magic wand what would you fix?

I work in the social impact space and I am appreciating participating in peer learning groups, being exposed to new stimuli and having opportunities to reflect and reset..

Inspirational speaker panel- How awesome are peer learning groups, being exposed to new stimuli and having opportunities to reflect and reset.. 

A fortnight ago I had a 30 min zoom call with some-one who asked me some great questions including what success looks like for me.

After a fortnight of:

I am confident I now have a lot more clarity on what the 5 pillars for success looks like for me underpinned by the 5th pillar

  1. A fit for purpose education system that prepares young people for the reality of work and supports them to thrive in life
  2. A fit for purpose agricultural workforce strategy and roadmap
  3. Clear Pathways to get between  1 and 2
  4. Agriculture fixes its social and environmental justice red flags
  5. The agriculture sector connecting, collaborating, codesigning and creating success together

If success is a marathon not a sprint how far have, we travelled?

  1. Excitingly we have travelled a significant distance to achieve No 1 – A fit for purpose education system that prepares young people for the reality of work and supports them to thrive in life.

Great examples include:

The main roadblock to the finish line appears to be the focus on ATAR scores instead of the  The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration which will require a significant culture change in schools and an attitude change by conversative politicians.

  1. A fit for purpose agricultural workforce strategy and roadmap. The good news here is we have crossed the starting line.  The Action4Agriculture team look forward to having their Action4Youth initiative funded to experiment and see what works, what has potential and what we can park
  2. Clear Pathways between 1 and 2. I am confident if funded Professor Felicity Blackstock can bring together a team of bright minds to make this vision a reality
  3. Agriculture fixes its social and environmental justice red flags. We know what we need to do, building a critical mass to make it happen is another thing. We must focus on the huge cost of inaction on this one
  4. The agriculture sector connecting, collaborating, codesigning and creating success together. This one is particularly close to my heart and I will continue to work with my tribe to celebrate the wins on this one – no matter how tiny

What are you optimistic about?

Advocacy – facts matter but it is how you use them that determines how much impact you have

Advocacy is a science – a lot of smart minds have spent a great deal of time researching what works and what doesn’t and how to tailor (frame) your message to the audience you want to reach. 

Here are two examples

One is best practice

Source: Coalition for Conservation

The other is an opportunity lost

Source

In April our Young Farming Champions will be participating in a workshop under the tutelage of the wonderful Gaye Steel former National Marketing Manager of McDonalds and Telstra.  Gaye will share with agriculture’s Next Gen advocates the dangers of reinforcing the negative ( agriculture’s area of expertise) and how to flip the conversation (like to the Coalition for Conservation have )

Agriculture – how do we make it an esoteric career choice no more????

I remember when I was returning to the farm and still doing a few shifts in pharmacy and I would meet new people and they asked me what was my day job I would alternate between saying I was a farmer and a pharmacist

I remember vividly the day some -one replied “That’s an esoteric career” when I said I was a farmer . ( BTW I had to look up the word esoteric later)

This inspired me to go on a journey and work with the Action4Agriculture Young Farming Champions to “normalise” careers in agriculture.

How are we doing that?

We start by telling people agriculture- farming, food and fibre is so much more than the farm

  • It starts before the farm with custodianship of the land and the sea.
  • It progresses to encompass the farm itself;
  • The stage between the farm gate and the point of sale, which includes value-adding; and shaping of, and by, buyers’ preferences.
  • Throughout the process, there is a significant supply chain component.
  • None of the players in any of these stages stands alone. They are all linked in a web of interdependencies, where harm to one weakens the whole (for example, poor labour hire practices injure the reputation of the whole sector); and, conversely, enhancement of one strengthens the whole (for example, a focus on continuous learning in one industry spills over into another).
  • Cooperation among the players in the various stages benefits the entire sector more than if one gains a temporary benefit by disadvantaging another.
  • Unlike the 20th century, the 21st century has seen a growing realisation in the various elements of the Australian agriculture (farming, food and fibre) sector that they all hang together, and that cooperation is more constructive than conflict.

Source 

Then we go on a journey to show and tell and highlight:

We talk about where the growth jobs in agriculture will be in the future

And we advocate to ensure that everyone feels physically, emotionally and identity safe in their workplaces

And we share this with the world in our monthly Muster 

 

A career in agriculture is not for the faint hearted – Do we spend enough time building human capital and resilience ? 

I am forever curious and I spent yesterday reading the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy 

A career in agriculture is not for the faint hearted – Do we spend enough time building human capital and resilience . Graphics source 

The strategy confirms that Australian agriculture is a complex and sophisticated system. Its performance relies heavily on the quality of its people. It highlights the need to:

  • modernise agriculture’s image
  • attract and keep workers
  • embrace innovation
  • build skills for modern agriculture
  • treat workers ethically.

I love the way the report talks about agriculture being so much more than the farm and to recognise this the committee chose to use the term “Agrifood”

It is a spectrum comprising a number of stages. Starting before the farm with custodianship of the land and the sea, it progresses to encompass the farm itself; the stage between the farm gate and the point of sale, which includes value-adding; and shaping of, and by, buyers’ preferences. Ultimately it is the end consumer’s preferences that dictate the workings of each stage. Throughout the process, there is a significant supply chain component.

It goes on to say

None of the players in any of these stages stands alone. They are all linked in a web of interdependencies, where harm to one weakens the whole (for example, poor labour hire practices injure the reputation of the whole sector); and, conversely, enhancement of one strengthens the whole (for example, a focus on continuous learning in one industry spills over into another). Cooperation among the players in the various stages benefits the entire sector more than if one gains a temporary benefit by disadvantaging another. Unlike the 20th century, the 21st century has seen a growing realisation in the various elements of the Australian AgriFood sector that they all hang together, and that cooperation is more constructive than conflict.

The committee noted with concern

 the converging problems of agricultural workforce shortages, reduced employment opportunities for young people and poor perceptions of agricultural jobs and careers.

 

As we face increasingly complex major global and domestic challenges, Australia’s social and economic future is reliant on a fit-for-purpose education system and easy to navigate training pathways that equip young people with the skills they need to transition through school, to higher education and/or the workplace and thrive

The committee then made this beautiful statement

If the sector places capability development of its people at its core, if a general recognition prevails that this is a highly diverse sector encompassing a number of stages, if the ultimate arbiter is acknowledged to be the expectations of citizens and the tastes of consumers, if industry leaders rise to the challenge, and if they unite to plan actively to recruit and educate the new workforce, Australian AgriFood will not just survive in the 21st century. It will thrive.

I came to agriculture from a 25 year career in retail and I have always been frustrated by the lack of desire or lack of availability in the agriculture sector to upskill from a human capital perspective.

For example  I spent 3 years at uni learning pharmacology – my degree did not prepare me for the world of retail but the University of New England and Financial Management Research Centre (FMRC)  filled that gap 30 years ago. I don’t know of anything similar in agriculture except the Rabobank Business Management offering . I havent done the Rabobank course so I don’t know if it covers team management and motivations.

I was so impressed by the FMRC course I still have the manual 30 years later

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Is agriculture having enough conversations with our team members? Are we doing regular surveys like this one from McKinsey? What do we know about our team members?

There is some very important work being done by Professor Peter McIlveen and Dr Nicole McDonald looking at the Vocational psychology of agriculture. (e.g., the skill, knowledge, openness to change, and motivation of farmers). Their research couldn’t come at a more important time

This research by McKinsey shows why we shouldn’t guess and why the research is so important. 

Source 

Advocacy at its best – when three very courageous women in agriculture stand up for human rights

My recent post Advocacy at its worst – when agriculture chooses the divide and conquer route to market  created significant discussion.

Problems are challenges to be solved and when we have the right solution we need to advocate at the highest level to ensure those solutions are put in place.

And we have some very wicked problems in Australian agriculture including  human rights and modern slavery issues we should have addressed a long time ago.

The more modern and sophisticated the whole AgriFood sector becomes, the less room there is likely to be for unethical operators, particularly in labour hire, and the mistreatment of transient workers. The Committee is strongly of the view that every possible means should be brought to bear to stamp out these ugly practices. Source 

Photo source The Weekly Times 

What does real advocacy look like – three very courageous women in Session 11 at the recent ABARES conference showed Australian agriculture industry leaders exactly what it looks like.

“This is real issue for industry bodies and it goes to industry leadership we can’t address our workforce labour issues until we deal with the elephant in the room… and stop sweeping our problems under the rug” Professor Joanna Howe

Professor Joanna Howe answers the question “What is the problem”

The problem is, when there’s so many people doing the wrong thing, and when there’s a reliance on undocumented workers and dodgy contractors, which are unregulated, and when the industry hasn’t shown the leadership on these issues, it becomes very, very difficult. The main thing that the industry has fought for, is an ag visa and for more expanded migration pathways without recognizing that they’ve lost their social license. That there are real issues with the industry saying, give us more visas, give us more overseas workers, when investigation, after investigation is showing problems. I think that there is a need for the industry bodies to step up and to own this issue and to face the difficult solutions that will result in structural change.

There are growers that need to go out of business because their business model is based on exploiting workers. There are other growers that can then pick up the slack and expand their operations because they have the economies of scale and the competency, but it’s not just about large business. For example, in the Northern territory, a small mango farmer that we knew, that we interviewed, he brought in six workers on the seasonal worker program. It was more expensive for him to do so, but he was running a very sharp operation and making profits, even though that program is quite expensive, but he knew that it was a better program for him to use than the backpacker program, which is a revolving door for undocumented migrants. It’s not just about the small farms, bad, big farms compliant, that’s not what it is, and there’s not what I’m saying, but the industry needs to recognize that there’s some very hard decisions ahead and just arguing for an agriculture visa without acknowledging the extent of the problem or being open to doing real hard work about it.

For example, industry created the Fair Farms initiative through Growcom in Queensland. Good program, but if I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t involve … I’m just being honest, it doesn’t involve unions. Yes, it’s got involvement from the Fair Work ombudsman, but the amount, they have very few inspectors across an entire country. We know that there’s problems across this workforce and while unions cause a lot of trouble for farmers, they are a necessary evil. If we’re going to put it that way from the growers perspective. In that, they do monitor standards. If we need to clean up the industry, they’re a part of this and they’re going to be involved. We saw the impact that they can have and the piece rates case. The fair farms program should be tripartite. Otherwise, it’s just the good growers who sign up to that accreditation program and who use it. It does nothing to affect the bad growers who are doing the wrong thing and getting away with it” Watch the video here

What does best practice look like

We ALL have a role to play – everyone in the supply chain from farmers to retailers to consumers can ask themselves what role can I play in stepping up to say no to modern slavery in this country

#creatingabetterworldtogether

Are winning awards a blessing or a missed opportunity – what could a fit for purpose award system look like?

I am forever grateful to the people who raised awareness of the work our organisation Action4Agriculture (formerly Picture You in Agriculture) is doing.

I am grateful for the people who nominated me for awards.

I am grateful I was awarded agriculture’s most prestigious accolade.

I will be very blunt it’s what the award giver does when some-one wins the award that tells you whether the award was about them or the greater good.

My experience is too few people/organisations who lift people up and give them a platform for their cause have thought about what their role is in the “collaborating and co-design” process for the “greater good” looks like

We cant do it alone and we cant do it in silos. Organisations who genuinely care about the greater good embrace their award winners and say how can we collaborate and co-design a better world together

As one of those award winners I am finding award giving organisations who genuinely walk their talk short on the ground.

We can create a better world for everyone or we can better our world.

That’s our choice.

The last twenty years has taught me there are so many people doing extraordinary things that could be brought together to multiply their impact.

What has your experience being ?

What could a fit for purpose award system look like?

The text below is from a recent newsletter identifying the the top climate non profits. Is the fact there are so many non profits in this space part of the problem.?

Have we lost the capacity to connect, collaborate and co-design?

Are humans the problem?

There are SO many important causes to support (e.g. human rights, human health, ending poverty, ending wars, education, racial/social/economic justice, ending world hunger, animal welfare, and many more). They’re all 100% worth supporting.

But we are at risk of losing all of the gains we’ve made over the decades in these areas if we don’t address the overarching planetary emergency.

Because the planetary emergency is not only undermining all of these issues simultaneously – it’s threatening to take out the very building blocks of our society and economy.

Society relies on a healthy, stable biosphere for food, water, clean air, shelter, livelihoods, and much more…and our biosphere – this place we call home – is under attack.

Agriculture creating a culture where people feel physically, emotionally and identity safe

This is the fifth article in a series that looks at the Action4Youth workforce Attract-Train-Retain workforce strategy and road map  model created by the Action4Agriculture team in partnership with Professor Felicity Blackstock. 

The model acknowledges careers’ awareness starts in primary school and leverages the relationships that Action4Agriculture’s school programs have developed with schools over the past 15 years

It was rewarding to see the announcement yesterday that the cotton industry is increasing its investment in understanding people and how they think, feel and behave.  

One of the key elements of the Action4Youth model is the pastoral care package.  If agriculture is going to Attract, Train and RETAIN people, they must feel physically, emotionally and identity safe in their workplaces

The graphics shown above have been created for a program aimed at attracting young people who are disengaged from school to the foundation careers on farm/in the oceans for the dairy, fishing and wool industries

It can be adapted, replicated and scaled (or shrunk) for all industries.

Interestingly enough that is where it is getting the most traction. There are no shortage of industries with dollars to invest in best practice workforce engagement strategies that don’t have what agriculture has.

The question is are we making the most of what we have?

Agriculture is not alone in having a huge labour shortage.

With Australia’s  birthrate at its lowest ever level of 1.6 (more people choosing career over having children) and reduced accessed to overseas workers we are going to have to be very committed to building and investing in relationship building with the next gen workforce. We have to be equally committed to agriculture being the image we want the world to see.

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Agriculture in self reflection. What does self awareness look like? What is the image we want the world to see.

One of the golden rules in the Young Farming Champions program is to avoid re-enforcing the negative and using deficit language ( which agriculture by the way has turned into an artform)

But if we are going to address the pain points in the Action4Agriculture Action4YouthExplore, Connect and Support young people to thrive in careers in agriculture Attract-Train-Retain Workforce Strategy and Roadmap we must be prepared to put our dirty linen out for washing

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And like all forward thinking sectors there are times when self-awareness and self-reflection are key to being the change required to be the image you want the world to see.

The graphics below are from the  YouthInsight Study done in WA in2017

Scott Graham from Barker College has identified others

 

Action4Agriculture’s work in schools has shown it IS possible to change of teachers and students images and perceptions

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Its possible to raise awareness of the diversity of careers

But we cant do it alone and Scott Graham and Barker College cant do it alone.

Creating resources and putting them on a website and hoping teachers see them is an equally ad hoc transaction that it not a best return on investment of expectations for anyone.

None of us can do it alone and we cant do it in silos.

How do we build a culture of co-operation in the agriculture sector  because we are not alone in needing to attract the best and brightest

Job vacancies rose 18.5 per cent to hit a record of 396,100 in the three months to November 30 as employers embarked on a hiring spree at the end of the delta lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported