Agriculture – an endangered species

MPP-hand-threat-spec-web620Just like this little cutie agriculture in this country is under threat and this can potentially have huge ramifications for access to safe, affordable, nutritious food for Australian families  

If we are going to ensure food security in this country agriculture has to be a partnership between farmers and the community

So lets investigate the Australian communities relationship with food ( please assume when I write the word food, I am referring to the two f’s-  food and fibre)

Nobody likes to be put into a box and labelled. However sometimes it’s very useful to help you make a point so please forgive me for putting Australian consumers of food  into 4 boxes.

In one box you have the million people in Australia who are labelled Food Insecure and that means 1 million people in Australia go to bed hungry every night. Yes you read that right.  5% of the people in our wonderful country go to bed hungry every night. Please take the time to read about it here

Then there is the extremely larger box that holds the people who buy their food in the main based on Cost, Convenience and Quality (CC&Q) with a huge focus on cost and convenience

Then there is a small but growing box that I am going to label the people who ‘care’. I am going to call them this because they are the group that will potentially make purchases and are prepared to pay a premium for food grown in a way that meets their values. This group of consumers are interested in the ‘how and why’ of growing food and fibre, and also environmental values, sustainability, appropriate animal care, safety, nutrition, affordability and so on.

Values are an emotion. They in the main are not measurable and everyone of us has different values and how they prioritise them so the descriptors of the word “care’ can be very diverse.

At the other end there is a little group I am going to label “Extreme” for the want of a better word. What I mean here is that this group of people have very very strong views about what the word “care’ means and these people sometimes join organisations to lobby policy and decision makers to regulate and legislate industries to align with their values

For the people who sell food direct to consumers in this country like “Colesworth” for the ‘Food Insecure’ there are initiatives like Foodbank and  Second Bite they can donate food to. Food for example that is going out of date or does not meet the quality expectations of the C,C&Q group

The C,C&Q  are easy to satisfy. Sell food at rock bottom prices and build beautiful mega stores in areas that are within easy reach.  The C,C&Q group scare the living daylights out of ‘Colesworth” and their ability to meet shareholder expectations. Selling food at rock bottom prices from stores that cost you a motza is a no-win race to the bottom for profit margins.

So the group that “Colesworth’ is extremely interested in is the people who “care’.  The group that may pay more if you can meet or exceed their values expectations and help them feel good about their food choices. Colesworth want to grow this group. What is extremely disappointing is Coles in particular have chosen fear based marketing campaigns to grow their market share. I say to you Coles – disgraceful conduct.

Our good farmers also want to grow this group and I believe for all the right reasons. We want to grow this group by having courageous and open and transparent conversations with them.

To do this we have to be prepared to ‘open the door’ to our farms and bring consumers on our journey with us and that means not only showing them the ‘how’ – paddock to plate or field to fibre process but also the  ‘why’ of growing food and fibre,

We want to show them they can trust us to farm without feeling the need to ask policy and decision makers to impose overly budensome regualations on our food and fibre industries. Unlike “Colesworth’ farmers had want to allay consumer fears and reduce stress levels

Today our good farmers are now reconnecting with the people who buy their food and fibre. Listening to them and waking up every morning committed to meeting or exceeding their customers’ expectations

It is imperative that we take consumers on our journey with us or we run the risk of consumers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations like expecting farmers to wake up every day to produce food at rock bottom prices for nothing. Our farmers have families too and just like everybody else their first priority is to feed and clothe their families.

So the key for farmers is to work with the community to get that very necessary balance. Today more than ever agriculture is a partnership between farmers and the community.

This year the theme for the Archibull Prize will be “Agriculture* – an endangered species” (ht SK) and students and teachers will investigate the many challenges that farmers face and how we build community partnerships to ensure Agriculture can make the most of many opportunities that are on offer and gets off the endangered species list permanently.

Earth Hour 2015 will celebrate Australian farmers and the challenges they face under increasing conditions of extreme climate variability 

That the Food Insecure group gets smaller and smaller and that the people who care group gets larger and larger not because they worry about how food and fibre is produced but because they trust farmers and have the time to put their energies into causes like making sure all Australians have full stomachs every night, have clothes to wear and have a roof over their heads

I want to live in an Australia where we all care about people first. I look forward to that day and I am very proud that the Archibull Prize is helping to grow and support that vision.

Kildare Catholic College

In 2014 the Reserve Grand Champion Archibull Prize award winner from Kildare Catholic College exemplified their community – Wagga Wagga


  1. * Agriculture – the industry that provides us with our most basic of needs. The industry that feeds us, clothes us and puts a roof over our heads
  2. Please note this post is a work in progress. It has been updated following excellent feedback from a number of people since it was first posted it.
  3. Rider – I admit the only thing I look at when I buy eggs is how crushproof I believe the box they come in is.
  4. HT – Hat tip to SK – a lovely lady I met at the NSW Department of Secondary Education yesterday. I shared my vision with her for what I wanted to the Archibull Prize to investigate this year and we work-shopped the theme and I loved her idea




Hate is not an emotion. Its a disease that eats you alive from within

Like the rest of the world I woke up to the heartbreaking news that the siege in Martin Place had ended in tragedy

I write this post this morning to remind people that hate is not an emotion. Its is a disease that eats you alive from within

I just cant imagine what it would be like to have family and friends directly involved in a life threatening situation like the Martin Place siege and my heart bleeds for them

But I have seen the way Australians are talking and thinking about people who follow the Muslim faith change over the last 12 months and it truly saddens me.

Like everyone I have access to a plethora of background information on the man behind the siege and until anybody can prove otherwise I will remain firm in my commitment  that the siege is not the work of an organised terrorist group.

“This is a one-off random individual.  It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged-goods individual who’s done something outrageous.” Source

Lets all remember no matter what religious affiliations we have every religion  has its fanatics who will use their beliefs to help justify barbaric acts

As I thought about the community yesterday and how this would be impacting on our day to day lives I am so proud of Rachel Jacobs who initiated the  #illridewithyou campaign and our fellow Australians who followed her lead.

I will ride with you

Read the Rachel Jacob’s story behind the #hashtag here How #illridewithyou began with Rachael Jacobs’ experience on a Brisbane train

Lets remember when we reflect on this tragedy.  Hate is not an emotion, it is a disease that eats you alive from within.

Some reflections that have also moved me

This post on the Lindt Facebook site



This reflection by a year 9 class in this post  If Martin Bryant was a Muslim 

Today’s reporting of the incident in Martin Place exemplifies what the students identified. We will always be afraid of terrorists if we keep making them. This lone gunman in Martin Place is a psychopath, the media made him a terrorist.


Farming land versus housing land. Does it need to be a competition?

Its been a big week and I have learnt a great deal.

On Tuesday I presented an overview of the local dairy industry and its threats and potential at a local community forum of residents who were keen to get an understanding of  what the Draft Illawarra Regional Growth and Infrastructure Plan meant for them and our community

I was overwhelmed. More than 10% of the community filled the local bowling club to hear the speakers, express their views and hear how they can have a voice and have their voice heard where it can make a difference and value add to the decision and policy making process

My presentation started with this slide which of course is the view from my front verandah

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However I too as a householder am not immune to urban expansion.

This is the current view from my kitchen window. Note the newly cleared area under the gum trees. This time next year I will be looking a very big house.


This block of land has been sold more than 4 times in the last 15 years . The last time for over $1 million (and believe it or not there is less then half an acre of land to build on).

Life as I know it like my community is constantly changing. Its not easy to get your head around

Any way what did I have to say about our local dairy industry and its place in the world and  how do we keep it profitable and sustainable and value adding to the community

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I look forward to seeing our community harness the energy  in the room and get the best outcomes for our little piece of paradise

White knights don’t deliver story book endings

This time last week I had the next 4 weeks mapped out. A hugely successful Archibull Prize and Young Farming Champions program in 2014 needed refunding for 2015/16 and once again all my energy would go into do everything I physically and emotionally could to ensure these great initiatives would continue

But as always something comes out of left field that too often seems like a white knight request. Some-one, something, some-where is a victim needing saving from the big bully. This time the big bully is apparently the state government and their Regional Growth and Infrastructure plan which some believe could mean the end of dairying in this region and our regional community as we know it.

I have been in this space now for 15 years and I have learnt white knights are rarely appreciated, are used and abused and in reality achieve very little. So I have a new approach and that is building capacity for people to have the skills sets to help themselves. Sadly the dairy industry is a long way behind in understanding what it actually takes to provide their farmers with these skill sets.

Free range farming

For me on a personal growth level his head in the sand attitude has delivered great outcomes. It has meant success has had to come from building networks with people and organisations (and learning from them) who have the grunt, desire and drive and COURAGE to get the best outcomes for the common good.

I have now read the draft strategy and I am excited. For the first time I am reading a government document that is using language that gives me hope they might just get it. But success will only come if the community uses its skills and local knowledge and expertise and takes a collaborative and cohesive approach and works with them.

My post yesterday “When good men do something” showed you can achieve change the seemingly impossible almost overnight if you nail the right course of action.

Yes it’s important for the community to stand up and be counted but it’s how they do it that will define the future for the Illawarra

BTW this document really puts first world problems into perspective.

Our region is going to grow by 65,000 people over the next 17 years and 25% of them will be over 65. We apparently need 45,000 more houses for those people. On top of somewhere to live they need jobs, infrastructure and food and we need to ensure that these needs are balanced with the environment and their lifestyles.

I am a farmer. I know 158 more people worldwide a being born every MINUTE. That’s a 158 more mouths to feed every minute and in our region apparently every 1.5 people needs a house?

That is a very serious first world problem!!!!!!!

So what will be my call to action when it’s my turn to speak at the community meeting?

Let’s work with the state government (not against it) and get it right. It’s time to use our energy wisely and smartly.

Our life is designed to challenge us

I have taken a day out of the Archibull Prize judging tour and diverted to Canberra where Zoe Routh from Inner Compass has invited me to be her guest at her Leadership Roundtable and I am looking forward to it

Last night I put together my. Who I am, What I do and Why I do it intro. You know the 2 minute that shares with others what gets you out of bed every morning speech and it reinforced I do have a lot of great reasons to get out of bed in the morning.

I am a great fan of the work of Will Marre. I thought when his newsletter popped into my inbox early this morning so much of what he had to say was extraordinarily relevant to my life at this point in time and a very appropriate start to my day.

I would like to share to some of the bits that truly resonated for me

Our life is designed to challenge us. Our future rarely turns out as we envision. Nearly all our plans for our career, marriage, finances and health don’t materialize as we imagined. When we are surprised by crisis and disappointment it is time to question our desires, our values and our choices. If these moments cause us to pause and reflect and realign with our inner sense of purpose we will grow. If we don’t we will re-enter the cycle of disappointment and self-frustration. This is true for everyone. It is how life is designed.

While it is reasonable to forgive people who seek our forgiveness, forgiving those who hurt us without remorse is masochism. Escaping the anger of past and unresolved pain doesn’t require forgiveness…it requires transcendence. This means that we cease to want justice or to wallow as a victim. We literally transcend our pain by focusing on our own growth, our own power and the positive difference we are designed to make. When we stop investing our energy in our mental movie of past wrongs and disappointments we free our minds so our hearts can embrace today and generate optimism for tomorrow.

And my final thought for the day from Will

Don’t let the tribes we belong to dilute our conscience


Animal welfare and animal cruelty. There is a big difference

This tweet caught my eye yesterday.


Original photo source here 

As did the Sustainable Table movement again

This group are doing fantastic work in their drive to address one of the biggest problems on the planet – Food Waste but they are making me so cranky about the way they are depicting main stream agriculture.

So how does main stream agriculture get the real story out there. Who is our audience?. What are our messages? Why are some people so ready to err in favour of the propaganda proliferated by the picture on the left

Lets look at our audience. It certainly isn’t the hardliners on both sides ( and yes agriculture has them too). In laymans terms they are in the main a lost cause and a big waste of energy.

As the scientists say

Firstly they are motivated to believe what they do, and unless those motivations change, it is unlikely they will be swayed by rational argument.

Secondly their logic is self-sealing, designed to be impermeable to external reasoning. Source here 

Lets look at our messages. What are our messages?  Yes its definitely time we get those right

In the first instance it is time we make a strong delineation between animal welfare/wellbeing and animal cruelty. If the hardliner animal liberationists where truly serious about animal cruelty they would be targeting owners of companion pets who make up more than 60% of the people charged for animal cruelty. Note farmers make up less than 5%.

Why don’t they target companion pet owners you ask? . Yes that is definitely one question we should be asking. I think in this case this just reinforces my point that this group of people have their own agenda and reducing animal cruelty seems to be well down the list of their priorities with raising money at the top.

So getting back to Sustainable Table (see footnote) who I have mentioned in my blog before. See here

Its a beautiful website, obviously started by some very passionate people doing some great things.  This initiative also has some very credible people backing it as do a number of people who promote similar farming enterprises. I have no problem at all with people who want to farm using these philosophies but I want to use this post to debunk some of the very naive thinking that underpins this ethos and makes me really cranky by promoting it by deriding large scale farming practices

What a difference their approach is to the Fair Food Farmers United beautifully outlined by Tammi Jonas here. Tammi is an advocate of the ‘produce less for more’ model and walks the talk.

Don’t produce more for less, produce less for more.

By that I mean we must value the land, animals, and workers and ensure their health is paramount in every agricultural system and then ask eaters to pay a fair price for our efforts.

All of which is easier said from a farmer in a miniscule supply chain selling direct to eaters. The bigger challenge is for the majority who are under pressure from centralised market power and long supply chains…

What do you think? How can we address the serious structural imbalances between farmers, processors, distributors and supermarkets in Australia? How can we support all farmers to make a living growing food in the fairest ways possible?

I will be blunt. I believe the Sustainable Table approach to the way they depict main stream agriculture farming practices ( or what they believe are main stream agriculture farming practices) is dangerous and divisive and damaging to Brand Agriculture and needs addressing by mainstream agriculture.  Its time for polite, constructive and robust two way conversations. Its time to invite them to our table.

Footnote: I don’t view Sustainable Table as hardliners

Growing the Australian dairy industry is not all about farmgate price

ABC reporter Catherine McLoon has eloquently reported today on the Productivity Commission report into the Australian dairy industry found here

In a nutshell the Productivity Commission report says that without added incentives dairy farmers in Australia have no motivation to increase production.

“Productivity gains by farmers have underwritten profit in dairy manufacturing and sustained the industry in recent years.

“A lot of the context for this sort of inquiry has been an expectation that we will grow the industry as New Zealand has grown its industry,” Mr Harris said.

“If we are to do that, we will need to provide incentives to farmers to continue to take the sorts of productivity enhancing measures they have to date.

“That will probably involve improvements to the working relationship between manufacturers and farmers.” Says Commission chairman Peter Harris

It also says if processors want more milk and they do as the slide below shows they are going to have to get more creative and the commission believes quite rightly that paying an increased farmgate milk price is not necessarily the answer


Slide from David Lord’s CEO of Saputo’s presentation at PICCC 2014 Think Tank

In the first instance to the processors defense they can only pay what they get out of the marketplace. For those processors supplying the international market the export market is definitely a roller coaster. For example awesome returns last year now predicted to be horrendous in 2015/16 and that will flow back to the farmgate as the recent announcement by Fonterra NZ shows. See post from Milk Maid Marian here

‘Processors are paying the highest possible prices relative to the trading conditions. says David Lord CEO Saputo

On the domestic front we all know it’s a nightmare supplying a duopoly with the power that Colesworth have

At a farm level dairy farmers do tend to talk far too much about farmgate price instead of focusing on what’s left over when they take out all their costs. As we all know using the used car analogy it’s not what you get paid for your used car that counts it’s the price difference between the new car and the used car.

So how can the processors get creative and work with their farmers to ensure that they have enough money in the bank at the end of each month to make the investment in blood, sweat and tears worth it?

David Lord recently outlined the Saputo model going forward

According to Mr Lord

‘There are significant improvements to be made in efficiency gains over the way farm systems currently operate:

· Maximising individual farm performance and profitability;

· Effective extension programs that spread best practice and attract broad participation;

· Transitioning of farm assets into the hands of those who want to grow

The extent of the impact will be determined by decisions taken by farmers; debt / equity position, stage of life, optimistic / pessimistic outlook, quality of farm assets, appetite for change…

Also what struck me from this presentation is there is HUGE room for improvement in the way our dairy farmers are perceived by their processors


Slide from David Lord’s CEO of Saputo’s presentation at PICCC 2014 Think Tank

As you can see Mr Lord classifies his suppliers in this instance as

  • Model Farm
  • Reluctant Improver
  • Resistant to Change
  • Likely to Exit.

Mr Lord was asked by the audience how many of Saputo’s Australian suppliers fit into the ‘Model Farm’ category and if my memory serves me correctly his answer was 30%. No-one asked him his definition of ‘Model’ but I think the other classifications make that fairly clear.

It would very interesting to do a survey of all Saputo’s Australian suppliers and ask them which category they believed they fitted into

Mr Lord also made it clear that the processors needed to get very market savvy and focus on Australia’s areas of strength which are underpinned by our reputation for quality

clip_image006[6] Slide from David Lord’s CEO of Saputo’s presentation at PICCC 2014 Think Tank


Slide from David Lord’s CEO of Saputo’s presentation at PICCC 2014 Think Tank

So if all the other Australian processors perceive their farmers to be in the same categories as Saputo Australia and 70% are either reluctant Improvers, resistant to change or likely to exit how does the industry work with the reluctants and the resistants and support those likely to exit. Or better still how do we as farmers work with our processors to change those images and perceptions and descriptions of ‘reluctants and resistants” ?

I recently met with Dairy Australia’s new whizz kid in this space former private consultant Neil Lane and as it turns out Neil is putting together an extensive array of programs to help our Australian dairy farmers get fair returns for their efforts and very importantly have the capacity to ride the peaks and troughs.

I have invited Neil to provide an outline of his model with my readers.

According to Neil Dairy Australia’s new Farm Business Management program is still in development stage with a proposed roll out in early in 2015.

The planks will

1. Imbed farm business management and analysis principles across the industry so that we have consistent and correct use of terminology and metrics in farm business analysis

2. Offer capability building programs that will include a series of capability programs covering Farm Business Management skills required across the spectrum of Novice (thinking about applying of an ABN) through to Expert where a successful farmer looking to better utilise their skills and their balance sheet. This type of capability building would also be targeted across all sectors of the industry including but not exclusive to service providers, milk processors and researchers.

3. Provide better tools to help farmers manage their farm business. The first initiative planned will be an energy driven milk feed and milk budget that links to a cash flow budget.

4. Roll out DairyBase which is a queryable database that will house physical and financial performance farm data sets and allow for more detailed farm business analysis across the spectrum from individual farm level to industry analysis. This will help farmers to ask the questions they need to ask about their business and provide a tool which will allow them to benchmark their own business year by year against their own previous performance.

I look forward to sharing what is happening in this space to support our dairy farmers from both an industry and processor supported level with you over the next 12 months.

I look forward to the day when the CEO’s of our dairy companies talk with pride about all their farmers.

Lets not forget farmers have ownership of what’s in their control and it’s time we acknowledged we too have a pivotal role in determining our profitability and the way we are perceived. Profitable farmers are empowered and able to invest in innovation, technology, employ and give back to the landscape and the cows that underpin their business success. Market savvy farmers also realise how they are perceived plays an important roll in their leveraging capacity

Once we have a majority cohort of financially literate, confident and proud Australian dairy farmers (and only then) will we have a strong foundation for the Australian dairy industry to grow and grab the opportunities as they arise.

We are all in this together. Let’s embrace it

Some great food for thought can also be found at David Edgerton’s blog found here

Another great grass roots initiative to help build farmer capacity to ride the peaks and trough from from James Walker can be found here Agrihive  

we are all in this together