Never underestimate our farmers – not only can they feed the world they can also power the world

We all know farmers feed, clothe and house the world the question that is the key focus of my lobbying activities going forward will answer is – can they also power the world through renewables?

FARMERS FEED US THEY CAN POWER US TOO

Working alongside me are the  dedicated Young Farming Champions team at Picture You in Agriculture who also believe our farmers can help power the world. They are not alone and they have joined forces with a very powerful group (both in size and capacity) of people who vehemently share this belief

There is no denying that an poltical environment in Australia that facilitiates and encourages our farmers and their equity partners to invest in reneawble enery will provide a watershed opportunity for our farmers to not only leave a phenomenal legacy for the planet, it will also provides a new, exciting and pivtoal opportunity for farmers to significant reduce the market and prodcution inputs volitiltyand business risk that a reliable source of dual income from farmers putting energy back into the grid offers

I look forward to sharing our journey to get the Abbott government to share our vision and make it their mission to deliver the necessary incentives and policy to turn “Farmers feed and powers us” from possible into reality

This week as I attended face to face meetings and participated in conference calls from unique locations I was constantly reminded of another often unrecognized service our farmers provide

Last Wednesday saw me travel down the south coast of NSW to meet with farmers and bright minds who share my vision and I documented my journey through the following photographs

Enjoy this pictorial reminder our farmers are the unpaid park keepers of Australia.

Sunrise on my front verandah greeted me like this…….

Sept 9 2015 Clover Hill Sunrise (7)

Salute to Michael and Nicholas Strong who wake up every day committed to growing the best pasture ( and they do) the magnificent rain fed soil the landscape at Clover Hill rarely fails to deliver 

Sept 9 2015 Clover Hill Sunrise (1)

Salute to the magnificent and adorable herd of record breaking “girls” our family has selected and bred over the past 40 years 

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On my journey I took this picture of contented bliss on the Burke family farm

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My meeting with Mike Logan ( Dairy Connect) and  Rob McIntosh ( Chair NSW Farmers Dairy Committee) took place in front of these scenes at the McIntosh Family farm 

IMG_3542 IMG_3544 IMG_3547and then it was back home as the sun set on our gorgeous girls 
Sept 9 2015 Clover Hill Sunrise (4)

Yes our farmers and Australia’s landscape are definitely worth my time. I look forward to sharing our journey to ensure Australian farmers get a fair return on their significant investment in the health, wealth and happiness of all Australians

Farmageddon Indeed?

Having spoken to a number of people who were interviewed for this article I know it was months in the writing.

Farms Way

What do I think about it.? I don’t know.  It does raise some issues that concern me. I think the main one being does this megatrend and the FTA mean ‘foreign workers”

What it does clearly indicicate is the world finds technology very exciting except it appears when it comes to using it to help produce our food

I had a pre theatre meal in Sydney last week with a small group of non farming background people some of whom I met that night for the first time. Robotic dairies came up as part of the dinner conversation and one of the group said she was uncomfortable with the concept as from what she had seen on television robots for milking cows meant less human/animal interaction

I know where she is coming from Michael Strong always said the reason he loves to dairy is because he loves to milk cows so I can’t see any robots on the horizon for Clover Hill in his lifetime

I on the other hand never wanted to milk cows, and having been to farms where robots milk cows, I love the concept of cows wandering in to get milked voluntarily, getting their backs scratched on the way out and then wandering back to the paddock

I especially love all the data the system collects that allows farmers to spend more time focusing on cow health and less time washing udders, spraying teats and dealing with all the stress milking time invariably brings twice/three times a day

From a dairy consumer point of view – it’s an interesting article. The journalist very pointedly is it appears wanting to be seen to be giving a balanced viewpoint. – Interviews with two farmers, a Dairy Australia analyst, a couple of university experts, an animal welfare group and an animal liberationist group

It reminded me how right Josh Gilbert is in this article titled Whoever Tells the Story Wins the War.

This is part of what Josh had to say ………………….

In Australia, our agricultural industry made towns, supported and raised families and provided resources through times of struggle and conflict. Our farms became a location where dreams were realised, memories created and history shaped.

But too often we forget to share this story, the journey shaped by where we are and the lifestyle we grew up with. Too often, we surrender our love and incite fear that food will no longer be on the shelves. And too often, we fail to recognise that what we want most is equality and the same opportunities as our city peers.

Late last year I stood before agricultural rockstars and policy makers and stated that;

‘The farming narrative will be told- it is up to farmers to decide who tells that story and how it will be remembered.’

That the agricultural world that we want to portray is our responsibility and if we don’t share our story, we risk leaving it to someone else. Someone else who may not feel our love and our connection of the land, someone else who may criticise our actions, with little knowledge for why we do it.

Having spent time this week with environmental groups, faith groups and Indigenous organisations to discuss climate change, I have come to appreciate that there is great respect and support for what we do by all parties. We have people who want to listen, who are thirsty for information, but their ability to find information is limited. Our opportunity to share our story is the greatest it has been- agriculture needs to grasp it, take advantage of it and realise this potential.

Whoever tells the story wins the war- the war of opportunity and of accurate, positive stories

History is indeed written by the victors. I am looking forward to everyone being a winner in the production of safe, affordable, healthy food produced by people who care and get paid a fair return for their efforts.

Cows in Paradise

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

Interesting article How Robotics is Transforming 21st Century Farming 

Should humans eat animals? Warning reality check ahead

This excellent post Communicating Matters of Life and Death by Judy Kennedy resonated with me this morningreality-check

Image source 

I grew up on a cropping, sheep and cattle farm in Central NSW. I raised every motherless lamb I found. My father too was a home butcher but I couldn’t go anywhere near our ‘home abattoir”.  As I get older the death of animals in my care affects me more and more emotionally. I cried for a week when the fox killed my chooks. Such a waste of life he only took 3 of the 30 he killed.

I know I over sensitised my son to death. He was even discouraged from keeping lizards as pets as I didn’t believe we had the necessary expertise to ensure their well being.

On the dairy farm I have seen both Michael and Nick shed tears when an animal they were attached to died.  We got the vet in to euthanize animals that we could not save and ensured that everyone who was hired knew that a respect for our cows and animal wellbeing was their first priority.

Running the Young Farming Champions program where agriculture’s wonderful young ambassadors who are excited about sharing their journey with people who aren’t lucky enough to have been surrounded by agriculture growing also too find sharing the farm cycle of life story with non-farmers daunting and are very committed to doing it well Our champions take their stories into the community and take the community on the journey of modern and innovative farming practices and show that we too have strong emotional values that underpin the way we do business. These relationships create accessibility to an agricultural industry that is open, transparent and available to consumers.

Pivotally our Young Champions are lucky enough to have access to the brilliant technical specialists Ann Burbrook and Greg Mills who can smooth the path for them and give them the skills to do this in a way they are comfortable with. NIDA trained actor/director.

Ann is a vegetarian and provides a great insight into why she made this choice. Ann like all of us is a consumer and understands that 99% of the cow is used by humans in some form of another and she respects that. She wears leather shoes and carries a leather handbag She has no problem with people who choose to eat meat. It’s just her personal choice not to.

I admit I am far too oversensitive to death and empathise with some animal liberationists and like Milk Maid Marian I am a proud animal activist myself. But it  is very important to put humane human consumption of animals as an energy source into perspective. Whilst I do my very best to block out the fact that something else died so I could live I am comfortable that it is the cycle of life and its common sense. Ecosystem

It’s at the heart of a balanced ecosystem. Less than 6% of this wonderful country is suitable for growing crops and our sheep and cattle are stewards of the landscape not covered by native vegetation. I respect people’s right to have access to nutritious affordable and safe food whether they choose to eat animals or not.

But let’s not kid ourselves if we all became vegetarians, humans will compete for the same food animals do and animals will be smart enough to know when its a matter of life and death they will be eating us

dog_eat_dog Image source 

Get cows out of our rivers protest gets down and dirty

If this protest on the banks of the Yarra last Friday is anything to go by livestock farmers in Victoria are coming under a bit of pressure albeit as a result of pressure on the government to act.

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This is the blurb from the Cut the Crap website

Get livestock out of our rivers. It’s time to moove!

We’ve got some pretty spectacular rivers in Victoria. They provide us with the water we drink, and are the lifeblood of our ecosystems and communities. We can’t live without them. Nor can the thousands of native species that call our rivers home. Incredibly ecologically rich places, river banks provide important corridors for native animals, as they migrate and adapt to the changing climate.

So it would be udder madness to let cows and other livestock trample the banks and poo in the rivers, right?! Yet our riverbanks, including more than half the river frontage owned by the public, is open slather for livestock.

Every day 4,500 tonnes worth of cow poo lands in Victoria’s creeks and rivers. Not only does livestock access to rivers destroy habitat, cause erosion and muddy the water, but pooey river water ends up in drinking water catchments!

The solution is simple – fence off riverbanks, provide an alternative watering place for stock and let the riverbanks return to their natural state. It’s a win for the environment, and as it reduces risk of disease and injury to cows, this state-government funded program would be a win for farmers.

It’s time to moove cow out of our rivers.

Now as you can see from this video I share their ethos and have been very active in this space for quite some time

I am not alone. More than 70% of Australian dairy farmers acknowledge waterways are precious and are committed to keeping them healthy and clean.

So what would it take for the other 30% to jump on board? The stats say 9 out of 10 farmers learn from other farmers. The answer is simple. Its time to get out there and share our stories with each other as well as the community, form partnerships and tap into community good funding when its available and lobby the government when it isn’t . After all our farming families rely on healthy waterways just as much as anyone else – perhaps more

Its scary just how naive the people who join animal activists groups can be

Warning this post is going to be very controversial and I write it in the knowledge that I risk bringing the wrath of the gods down on me

But as a person who has milk in my veins and has supplied it to 50,000 Australians for their breakfast everyday I have been wanting to write a post like this for a long time and then this video came along and gave me the perfect vehicle

Please watch it here

In the first instance it shows just how naive many people who join animal activists groups can be

PETA Mad over cows

In the second instance it asks Animal Activists the question I have been wanting to ask them for years and that is ‘Just what happens to the cows if we stop drinking milk and “set them all free”?

Thirdly I learnt something I didn’t know and that is PETA runs animal welfare shelters and they have killed over 100,000 domesticated animals that have apparently been given ‘sanctuary’ in these shelters.

Yes cow’s milk is for baby cows. Its also the perfect nutrient dense cocktail for human beings and the science tells us having access to this delicious, nutritious staple ( which thanks to Coles is now cheaper than water in this country) is one of the reasons we all have the chance to live into our 80’s

And yes the male of the species is a challenge for the dairy industry in that it doesn’t produce milk. My goodness an industry where the female rules. Heaven forbid.

I can tell you as 6th generation dairy farmer everyday I think of how we can give the best life we can to the male of the species and the answer to that lies in the hands of conglomerates like Coles

When Coles and their counterparts devalue milk and the cows that produce it so its cheaper than water and convince their customers that its all about price and not animal care and the good of the planet – ultimately the life of the baby bull calf is in the hands of those who put $1 milk in their trolleys and fridges.

Then there is this grim reminder of how hard it can be when you let chooks ‘roam free’

Consumers everywhere (and we are all consumers) like it or not its time to think about your definition  of “value” when thinking about dairy,eggs and other Australian grown products.

And believe me PETA and Animals Australia et al do not have the answer. Not drinking milk is NOT the best option for cows or the planet or people for that matter.

Ultimately whether we like it or not every 20 years the number of people depending on one farmer will double. Currently 650 people depend on one Australian farmer. Common sense dictates that the answers lie in producers and consumers working together to get the best outcomes for everyone

If you stuff up it pays to tell everyone

On farm field days are a great way for farmers to learn from other farmers. The successes and the stuff ups that farmers share are equally insightful.

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Overview of research and down to the paddock to see it in action 

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At the Lemon Grove Research Farm field day we hosted in July as part of the 2013 Dairy Research Foundation Symposium I bit the bullet and shared the “Wish we had the knowledge, skill sets, attention to systems detail and time to do x,y & z better – Clover Hill Dairies story”

What I particularly liked was that I also got the opportunity to identify farmers in our region who were systems focused and balancing all four to get great outcomes for their cows, their farms and their staff whilst keeping the bank manager happy.

One of the keys to profitability in the dairy industry is having milk in the vat in the quantity and quality you and your milk processor want it to be all year round.

Milk yield of a dairy cow depends on four main factors: (a) genetic ability; (b) feeding program; (c) herd management; and (d) health. A good dairy feeding program must consider the quantity fed, the suitability of the feed and how and when the feeds are offered.

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Paying attention to herd nutrition in the 90 days prior to calving through lead feeding (aka transition feeding) can mean an extra $200 in milk production per cow.  But it’s not just about the dollars – an effective transition program also makes life less stressful for dairy farmers as well as making their cows’ lives safer and easier.

For smart farmers good herd management also means having your herd as “fresh” as possible. Now that doesn’t mean feeding your cows oysters, it means ensuring you have as many cows as possible in the herd at peak milk production. This means managing herd fertility well is paramount.

The top farmers in our region work with the team from Sydney University Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit.

The Livestock Veterinary Service operates commercial on farm personal herd health and treatment and consultancy services. Activities range from routine procedures such as pregnancy testing through to more complex project planning, clinical trials and disease investigation. A philosophy of the Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit is to promote application of science and technology to problem solving on the farm.

The Livestock Veterinary Service also provides veterinary students with an opportunity to get hands on experience working with livestock and post graduate veterinarians with an interest in livestock an opportunity to pursue specialty training.

Luke Ingenhoff Vet from Sydney UNI  testing  (5)

Dr Luke Ingenhoff  from the Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit preg testing cows at Clover Hill Dairies

I identified Phil and Craig Tate from Albion Park as the farmers I believed would share their story with the field day participants in an honest and open way that would resonate with other farmers like us who wished we were just a little better at it.

Craig Phil and Assoc Professor John House

Craig and Philip Tate with Assoc Professor John House tell their story at Lemon Grove Research Farm field day 

Philip and Craig outlined their reproductive system to delegates describing the ‘systematic
routine’ that they believe is the secret to their success.

When it comes to being successful in business, one must create systems. Systems provide a framework for your team to use. In order to create high-levels of efficiency you will need to constantly update your systems and be on the lookout for ways to improve your business’s way of operating. Creating systems will take time, but it will more than save you the time on the back-end.

‘‘The system is the solution.’’ — AT&T motto

BTW I had Craig and Phil’s presentation with Assoc Professor John House videoed so you can watch it too. See link below

So impressive was Phil and Craig’s presentation that Holstein Australia commissioned Lee-Ann Monks to write a story for their journal readers and guess who was invited to take the pictures. Well after all who else would do for nix (when oh when am I going to value my time?)

So off I went with my trusty Canon to Macquarie Holsteins, home of the Tate Family dairy and now the workplace for two of our former employees.

What a delight  are Craig and Phil, such great farmers yet so humble and so proud of their cows   

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Craig and Phil making use of Smart Phone technology to keep good records

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Good records in the dairy ensure everyone is in the loop. Knowledge is power

Communication is the true lifeblood of a successful organization – a high flow of information so everyone and everything is connected. Easy to say, hard to do.

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The herd favourite 1258

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Please note Craig took his helmet of for this stationery pix – trust me he does wear it when the bike is moving

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Mutual respect between farmer and cow is very evident at the Tate Farm

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Louise Macmaster –  Phil and Craig’s calf rearer extraordinaire

and of course looking after the next generation requires team members who treat the calves under their care with as much love and attention as their children

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and what of former Clover Hill team members John and Tim pictured below at our field day?

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Tim (left) is now managing the farm across the hill and John is working at the Tate’s along with Louise. 

See and hear Craig and Phil Tate share their successful herd fertility management strategies with the farmers, students and researchers at the 2013 Dairy Research Foundation Field Day at Lemon Grove Research Farm here 

 

‘‘You must analyze your business as it is today, decide what it
must be like when you’ve finally got it just like you want it, and
then determine the gap between where you are and where you
need to be in order to make your dream a reality. That gap will
tell you exactly what needs to be done to create the business of
your dreams. And what you’ll discover when you look at your
business through your E-Myth eyes is that the gap is always
created by the absence of systems, the absence of a proprietary
way of doing business that successfully differentiates your
business from everyone else’s.’’
— Michael Gerber