How do we make sustainable farming part of our DNA?

Agriculture is this country is starting to feel the societal pressures that food production should harness environmental good outcomes that European farmers have been experiencing for decades.

One would hope Europe’s experience would have given us the opportunity to show foresight and be prepared.

Quite the contrary as Gabrielle Chan shares in this excellent article   

“No Australian political party is doing serious thinking about how to knit together food, farming and environmental policies to continue feeding the population while mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss.”

In 2016 the United Nations announced the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that give every business including agriculture a global blueprint to guide our country’s activities towards a global collaborative achievement of sustainable development. The SDGs provide a ‘common language’ through which our rural industries can communicate domestically and globally, in alignment with world leaders on the SDG index as well as Australia’s major trading partners.

They also provide an extraordinary opportunity to develop a leadership capability framework to support the National Farmers Federation 2030 roadmap.

Leading change for a sustainable economy and planet has a huge focus in Europe yet big business in Australia is much slower to move into this space.

“The systemic pressures the world faces today mean that leadership simply cannot be the preserve of a ‘heroic’ few. Delivering the future we want will require organisations to cultivate leadership at all levels, and to embrace diverse and complementary strengths and approaches. The focus will be on developing collective leadership capacity, with individuals supported and inspired to deliver against their potential, and to contribute effectively within their personal strengths and role.”

Whilst progress on building the knowledge, thinking and practice around the new normal is very slow at government level our teachers are grasping the Sustainability Leadership mantle firmly ensuring our young people are going to be ready for the jobs of the future.

Meet Sana Said from Riverstone High School

By mapping our future leadership needs and deploying our people for  good, we have a significant opportunity to shape the food production agenda and deliver an equitable system for all.

There is also icing on the cake with a number of economic benefits from SDG reporting globally to be realised through enhancements to the natural environment.

  • FOOD WASTE: Potential to lower global costs of food waste for saving AUD $240 to $600B per year (20-30 per cent of food globally is wasted through post-harvest losses that are easy to prevent)
  • FOREST ECOSYSTEM SERVICES: Potential to lower Global costs of deforestation and forest degradation: AUD $200B to $550B per year (Deforestation and forest degradation which currently account for 17 per cent of global emissions
  • RENEWABLE ENERGY: Increase renewables’ share of energy generation worldwide could increase to 45 per cent by 2030 (from 23 per cent in 2014) (IRENA, 2014) Potential to lower global costs of non-renewable energy: AUD $250B to $900B

Thanks to Jo Eady from Rural Scope and Mark Paterson from Currie Communication for inspiration for this post


A state of chaos is the normal in most years in the dairy industry

In my quest to collect information and data about how we can best support  women in rural and regional Australia through The Wise Women Project, I interviewed Australian Rural Consultant of the Year Dr Neil Moss

Neil was, as always very pragmatic, and it was this statement that was a wake-up call for me.

On reflecting on the 20 plus years Neil has been consulting to dairy farmers he said

“A state of chaos is the normal in most years in the dairy industry”

Chaos and disruption is normal. Our reflections on the past and what we consider “normal” are often blinded by our experiences of our early and formative years in agriculture. Those that became agricultural aware in the 50’s or 70’s reflect on the wetter times being the normal. I became “agriculturally aware” on the Monaro in the early 80s when my parents moved to Dalgety and bought the general store- my perception of normal is some degree of drought interspersed with occasional but appreciated wet times. The world was different – we were protected by more favourable terms of trade, lower land values and in some industries quota and floor prices. Many farmers continued to innovate and move forward during and since those times but some have stood still.

No business is immune from change and this is not unique to agriculture. Costs have risen, terms of trade have declined, land values have escalated dramatically and our need to be more efficient, that is, to get more from less, has only become more acute. Stocking rates have had to rise to keep pace, expectations of higher productivity continue and as a result, whether or not you accept the science of climate change, all farms are more exposed to drought and climate risk than they ever have been before.  These are the messages that we need to get out. Farmers need to be adopting technology, innovation, improvements in management, improvements in efficiency, improvements in resource use efficiency.

These conversations can be coupled with conversations about sustainability, the reality of carbon cycling in agriculture, emissions intensity, sustainable intensification and animal wellbeing. These factors should not be viewed as being mutually exclusive with productivity, profitability and resilience- the opposite is the true reality.

On the question of genuine financial literacy and valuing everyone in the business 

Returns in agriculture need to be carefully considered. While income is important, asset growth and wealth creation need to be factored, as well as the people who are contributing both paid and in-kind labour as well as founding capital. Unfortunately, in many cases no individual is getting income paid directly – It’s just declared as co-drawings. This can make things like tracking or contributing superannuation or other entitlements, generally taken for granted outside of agriculture, very problematic.

Ideally, all businesses should factor in labour costs and pay staff whether they be family or not

It is a critical conversation to have when you’re looking at whether a business is viable in the first place. If your business doesn’t provide for labour costs, then there is risk that what  you may be doing is effectively  indulging a hobby farming career.

When we look at this there are two things to consider

  1. Diligence when people are establishing and reviewing the business objectively to also apply a proper wage structures, to all people that are contributing. Otherwise, you are not acknowledging opportunity lost costs of all those involved.
  2. And secondarily, when we are talking about technology and innovation:
    • Identify how the technology can help and also what are its costs and requirements such as training and integration into the whole farm system that need to be considered
    • Identify who are the drivers of the adoption and uptake of technology on farms?

On the question of the adoption of technology

Frequently, it’s the women that are more engaged in exploring and bringing new technology to the farm and suggesting where it fits in. Women often have a capacity to sit back, look and say, “Well, why are you doing it that way? Maybe there is a better way and I’m going to go out and find it.”

Whereas quite often, and certainly not always, (there are great examples of technology being adopted by all genders), males can get locked into a “that’s how we do it, that’s how dad did it, that’s how we’re going to keep doing it” mindset.

It is important to not just talk about technology, it’s important we talk about adoption of change in management practices as well as technology, that reflects new knowledge in how things can be done. Quite often we do not need a new gadget or machine, just a review of how things are done and processes in light of the ever evolving on and off farm innovation that is occurring across the world- we are so much better connected these days to world-wide innovation, and it is often women that drive and thrive with this connectivity and approach to critical thinking.

It is important to conduct studies rather than rely on the anecdotal information because the people who are already having these conversations are often working with the progressive or aspirational farmers who are already on the innovation wave or are looking to get on board and wanting to do better.

We need to better understand why some farmers embrace and move forward with technology and innovation and some chose not to.

Questions we should be asking

  • Who is adopting the technology,
  • Are they using it to its best advantage?
  • What are they doing with the data that they’re collecting?
  • Where do you get your information on technology?
  • How is that information communicated to you?
  • Who in the farm team is responsible for bringing it to the table?
  • What processes of review do you have before adopting a technology?
  • What are the real barriers to technology and change being taken up- is it capital, culture, consensus, access, training or poor explanation of potential benefits and across business synergies?

On the question of the importance of a commitment to lifelong learning 

We all know many very successful people who do not have a tertiary education- a university degree or similar is not a pre-requisite for success!  However, many of the most successful farmers I am lucky enough to work with adopt a lifelong approach to ongoing continuing education, and learning, albeit less structured. These farmers understand the drivers of their business, they appreciate the critical importance of timing and decisiveness, they understand and manage their key risks and they continue to update skills and knowledge. A profitable and resilient industry needs farming management teams that consider all of this.

In the wake of some of the recent natural disasters I have been doing some recovery work with farms that have been less exposed to both broader industry extension efforts and use of consultants. Irrespective of the real devastation that they had experienced, the failure of either delivery or uptake of messaging and practices that many farmers and advisers consider as basics and fundamentals was deeply concerning. We need to find better ways to connect innovation and technology right across the broad spectrum of aspiration and ambition

On the question of how do we inspire change 

To inspire change the industry has used role models and it has had various programs. The issue I see is the industry continues to preach to the converted. You have the same 30% of farms that attend 90% of the structured education extension offerings.

There is a large component of industry that will never embrace or adopt change, time  or the next natural disaster or industry price shock will unfortunately catch up with many of these business.

Concerning as it is we may need to accept that it doesn’t matter how hard or what we try and do, there’s going to be many farms that are never going to or want to progress-and that is ok and that is absolutely their choice.

There just must be an acceptance of that.

While the Australian public is in general deeply supportive of agriculture and farmers, the tolerance towards repeated bail outs and support packages may be wearing thin. There is a need to be honest and transparent with the farming sector that next time there is a drought or a price shock, if they haven’t gone out and upskilled, and improved, and taken the opportunities that are there to make their business more resilient, then the public’s tolerance and acceptance of taxpayer funded bail-outs being delivered are being continually eroded

Very few farming businesses are optimized and there is existing and evolving technologies and management changes  that can continue to improve efficiency and resilience. People must look on their side of the farm gate first, assess and challenge the operations and structures in their business and see what they can adopt and how they can improve management and adopt technology, and just not blame the milk price next time something goes wrong. This is not to say that issues around inappropriate milk pricing structures should remain uncontested when they do occur as has recently been the case.

This wise woman is very grateful to have this very wise man in her life – thank you Neil

How do we all play our role in keeping our governments accountable?

After spending 25 years working in the for purpose- for profit space I have always been flabbergasted by the way governments spend taxpayer money

I am equally shocked that our governments lack of attention to detail around accountability seems to be so rarely questioned by taxpayers.

We live in a complex world. The challenges we confront today are many. Being future ready requires us to rethink our core processes and practices

No-one has a monopoly on good ideas. Yet our governments throw grant money around like the next quick fix is just around the corner.

Surely real break throughs come from cross sector collaboration, strategic  funding and policy making and creating enabling environments?

How do we help our politicians see success requires a human centred approach and sustainable change happens at community level?

It should go without saying that solutions must go beyond having isolated impact and deliver progress at scale.

It was heartening and enlightening to read Stacey Barr’s newsletter this week

“Stacey is a specialist in strategic performance measurement and evidence-based leadership.”

In her newsletter Stacey gives a a lot of food for thought with questions like

  1. Is the return on our taxes quantified by how much activity government does with those taxes?
  2. Where is the evidence of how it’s improved the quality of life for everyone?
  3. Isn’t that the evidence we most want them to use to spend taxes ever more wisely?
  4. Do government organisations measure their performance with activity measures, because they focus too much on what they can control, and not on what they should influence?

You will find an extract of Stacey’s newsletter below. You can find out how your organisation can work with Stacey here 

Is This Why Government’s Performance Measures Are Activity-Focused?”

The performance measurement advice that government gives its entities causes the biggest measurement problem in the public sector: trivial activity measures.

Everyone wants government organisations to perform well. Unlike the private sector, they can’t be judged by profit. But we all want to know that the tax we pay is being put to good use.

Notoriously, public sector organisations don’t measure their performance well. From my 2017 study, ‘How many organisations have meaningful KPIs‘, I found that only 6% have measures that provide direct evidence of their strategic goals.

In part it’s because public accountability is tough. To avoid the distraction of dealing with reactive public scrutiny, government leaders can resort to vanity metrics and measures of how much activity they’re doing. They will avoid measurement of the real results their organisation exists to create for the community.

But another reason why public sector organisations don’t measure performance well is likely due to the advice they get from their regulators about how and what to measure. This advice unwittingly sends them in the wrong direction:

  1. To believe that strategic objectives are too high-level to measure, rather than making strategic objectives measurable.
  2. To focus on what is within the organisation’s control, rather than the social results it exists to influence.
  3. To measure activity, rather than measuring results.

We will see this problem clearly in the advice given in the Australian Government’s Resource Management Guide 131 (RMG-131) for developing good performance information. It exists to support the PGPA Act for Australian Government entities. But the same goes for many other countries’ government advice for performance measurement.

If public sector organisations are going to truly improve and demonstrate the value they generate with taxpayer’s money, a few things need to be fixed in the advice they follow for developing performance measures.

Fix 1: Strategic objectives can be high-level and measurable.

The first fix to the advice government gives itself on how to measure performance is to provide guidance on how to measure strategic objectives. Any change we intend to make should be observable, and therefore should be measurable. Our strategic objectives describe intended changes, and can be written measurably with a little deliberate effort.

Item 15 in RMG-131 says that because an entity’s purposes (which they define in item 16 as strategic objectives) are naturally high-level, performance measurements should be based on lower-level objectives derived from it’s purposes.

The problem with this advise is that it essentially advises government organisations to not bother looking for ways to directly measure their strategic objectives, but to focus on measuring their activities.

And this leads us to the next problem: measuring only what they can control, not what they should influence.

Fix 2: Public sector organisations exist to influence, not control.

The harsh truth is that no entity can have control over everything it wants to change. Control assumes things are predictable. But our world is somewhere between predictable and unpredictable. And that’s the realm of influence, not control. The most meaningful performance measures for improvement of effectiveness and efficiency (government loves these words) are measures of influence, not control.

Item 20 in RMG-131 suggests government entities use the Logic Model to more easily measure the things they have direct control over. They allude to the notion that they have too little influence over the outcomes they contribute to, to measure their impact on those outcomes.

The problem with this advice is that government organisations will resort to measuring only what they have direct control over. And what they have direct control over is what they choose to do; how they spend their allocated budget. They assume that what they have chosen to do will, indeed, positively impact the outcomes they contribute to.

This, again, leads to another problem: measuring the doing of activity, not the achievements from activity.

Fix 3: Measuring activity means measuring the results of that activity.

In PuMP, we do measure activity. But it’s the results of activities that we design performance measures to evidence. Activities are just smaller parts of the larger organisational system of processes, functions, goals and purpose (as described in the Results Map, activities are in the outer layer).

Item 17 of RMG-131 does suggest that performance measures should focus on what the activity is intended to achieve. But the measure examples given include many actions or measures of how much action, like these:

  • “Effective administration of investment in road infrastructure”
    (what should be quantified to know how effective?)
  • “Coordinate the National Road Safety Action Plan 2018-2020 through the Council of Australian Governments’ Transport and Infrastructure Council”
    (what is the result of this that should be quantified?)
  • “Number of site visits undertaken nationally”
    (what is the result of a site visit that should be quantified?)

The problem with the advice of item 17 is that it’s not reinforced with consistent and proper examples of measures of activity results. If you take just 10 minutes to look at your own strategic plan, or that of any public sector organisation you immediately think of, chances are you’ll find too many action-oriented measures and too few results-oriented measures.

Thank you Stacey

Our politicians work for us.  They spend our money. They report to us. We can all play an active role in ensuring they are accountable and show evidence of how our money is being  spent to improve the quality of life for everyone.

There is a real opportunity here for our politicians and our governments to be leadership role models

That’s why I have signed up for the Getting Election Convention.

Join me and learn how to be politically savvy.  #BeTheChange

“How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

I am currently reading Adam Grant’s new book Think Again. It is fascinating. I am re thinking a lot.

It has helped me answer the question I asked in a previous post – I am curious, if honesty is the most valued leadership trait why did 75 million Americans vote for Trump?  in which  I suggested Australians  are equally happy to gloss over the failings of our politicians in this country   

In “Think Again” – Grant shares the story of a black musician who  estimates that he has helped upwards of two hundred white supremacists rethink their beliefs and leave the KKK and other neo-Nazi groups. It began with a conversation with a white supremist who heard him play and he asked him a HOW question ( in preference to a WHY question )

“How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

Here is a an extract from the book 

It’s one thing to love your team. It’s another to hate your rivals so much that you’d consider rooting for terrorists to crush them. If you despise a particular sports team—and its fans—you’re harbouring some strong opinions about a group of people. Those beliefs are stereotypes, and they often spill over into prejudice. The stronger your attitudes become, the less likely you are to rethink them.

Rivalries aren’t unique to sports. A rivalry exists whenever we reserve special animosity for a group we see as competing with us for resources or threatening our identities. In business, the rivalry between footwear companies Puma and Adidas was so intense that for generations, families self-segregated based on their allegiance to the brands—they went to different bakeries, pubs, and shops, and even refused to date people who worked for the rival firm.

In politics, you probably know some Democrats who view Republicans as being greedy, ignorant, heartless cretins, and some Republicans who regard Democrats as lazy, dishonest, hypersensitive snowflakes. As stereotypes stick and prejudice deepens, we don’t just identify with our own group; we dis-identify with our adversaries, coming to define who we are by what we’re not. We don’t just preach virtues of our side; we find self-worth in prosecuting the vices of our rivals.

When people hold prejudice toward a rival group, they’re often willing to do whatever it takes to elevate their own group and undermine their rivals—even if it means doing harm or doing wrong. We see people cross those lines regularly in sports rivalries. “Diminishing  Prejudice by Destabilizing Stereotypes”  from Think Again by Adam Grant 

You can tell I am Australian because I couldn’t find a graphic about Australian stereotypes that didn’t make me cringe

Think Again reveals that we don’t have to believe everything we think or internalize everything we feel. It’s an invitation to let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility, humility, and curiosity over foolish consistency. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.

Momoko Nojo has shown us we can all #BeTheChange

Young Farming Champions meet our Kreative Koala Kids

Reading the Foundation for Young Australians latest report – The Missing Young People in Australian News Media it is clear it is pretty profound what our teachers do, helping the young people they teach realize that they have more potential and skill than the world tells them that they do.

A Picture You in Agriculture we think a lot about the hopes and dreams of young Australians. We want to understand their frustrations and we invest our time in helping them change the culture.

As agents of change we see part of our role is to consistently help the idea spread from person to person, engaging a tribe as you make change happen.

To paraphrase the Boss (showing my age) we work with the teachers and students to determine 

“What is the work for us to do in our short time together?”

One thing we can do at Picture You in Agriculture is help change the way young people view the world of work. 

As a result of COVID there is up to 100,000 more young Australians between the ages of 15 and 24 not in employment, education or training and 60% of young Australians are not confident they can get a job or have the right skills to get a job

Building young people’s confidence starts in our homes and in our schools. Research tells us that young people going from primary to secondary school have closed their minds to up to 70% of the current careers available let alone be thinking about the careers that will exist in ten years’ time that don’t exist today

To open their eyes to the diversity of careers in the agriculture sector over the next three weeks our Kreative Koala kids will get the opportunity to meet 15 of our Young Farming Champions who will be zooming into their classrooms 

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Knowing how much impact our Young Farming Champions have on young peoples perceptions of careers in agriculture I am looking forward to hearing the stories 


Dairy Industry Culture Change – opening Pandora’s Box

When Young Farming Champion Lucy Collingridge recently interviewed Michael Bungay Stanier (MBS) she put to him a Wool Industry challenge.

MBS used the Drama Triangle concept to frame his response ( Lucy’s full interview with MBS will go live on 8th Oct 2020.)

Australian Dairy Farmers President, Terry Richardson’s OP-ED last week put the Australia dairy industry’s toxic culture front and centre. 

Word on the street is there is no shortage of people who agree with him. 

Now that Terry has opened Pandora’s Box – What next 

My experiences have shown me the Australian dairy industry ( at all levels) has spent so much time perfecting the drama triangle it has no concept of what its world would look like without it   

As Lucy and MBS have highlighted the agricultural landscape isn’t alone in favouring the drama triangle over the TED model. We all can default to this culture when its the predominate culture.  How do we reframe the toxic negativity?  How do we help victims become creators, persecutors become challengers and rescuers become coaches ?

When boiling the ocean isn’t an option perhaps dairy might like to take a leaf out of the NSW Local Land Services model and provide extensive personal and professional development for their team members  to be resilient to the negativity and help farmers who are entrenched in persecutor or victim mode to have outcomes focused conversations.  

What can we do?

We can all boil our own glass of water by learning to recognise Drama Triangle patterns and call them out 

Great example from Unions NSW today on Twitter. Sounds like some-one is feeling undervalued. Classic mix of Victim/Rescuer and maybe even a little bit of persecutor/finger pointing thrown in for effect.     


Is it time for a new roadmap for agricultural education?

The Primary Industries Education Foundation (PIEFA) recent survey results of young people and their knowledge of the origins of the food they eat and the natural fibres they use suggest we may need a new roadmap for agricultural education in Australia.

Agriculture has been documenting the problem for a long time and the results from his survey appear to show little change in knowledge of the paddock to plate process since the 2011 PIEFA survey.

What could a successful customer centric business model for agricultural education look-like?.

Agriculture is a business so let us have a look at best practice business principles

  1. Find out what customers want and how they want to buy it. 
  2. Debate and adjust your offering to better match what customers want. 
  3. Align your business model to how your customers want to buy. Don’t start from how you want to sell. Start with a new understanding of the real customer need, their search process in finding you and their most desired learning model

What does success look like?

If you are a wool producer or a cotton grower would a program that achieves this excite you?

or this

If you want to raise awareness of the diversity of careers in agriculture would a program that achieves this excite you?

To learn more about The Archibull Prize visit

This result is particularly interesting as the PIEFA survey (see page 16) noted that according to their survey “Agronomist was the most poorly understood career and many students would not be exposed to this job title although it is significant in broadacre cropping industries.” It would appear from our program impact studies there is great merit is showing young people who they can be in agriculture.

If your want to get teachers excited about careers in agriculture would a program that achieves this excite you?

Who is already doing it well?

The only way to know who is doing it well is for industry to measure the impact it is having in schools. As the PIEFA survey shows its time to measure OUTCOMES in preference to OUTPUTS  

Would it be smart to work with the people already doing it well and help them multiply their impact?

This is a no brainer and there is no shortage of people/organisations already showing huge success. Time to signpost those people

Some examples include:

A great collaborative model of aligning your business with what your customer wants to buy are the industries who are building partnership with the Centre of Excellence in Agriculture located at Western Sydney University.

If you want to engage teachers, invite teachers to help you design your offering. I have personally found working with teachers a very rewarding process.

Being customer orientated is a mantra for Australian Wool Innovation (AWI). Understanding what young people care about and want to learn about has led them to create a new series of resources on the eco-credentials of wool and a series of soon to be available factsheets on the following on Microplastics & biodegradability, Natural capital and Greenhouse Gas accounting

AWI will also shortly be releasing as series of great case studies around wool producers that use restorative land management practices and how that positively affects the environment. You will find them shortly on their Learn About Wool site

A mega shout out from me to the farmers in Western Australia behind the new AGZero2030 initiative. As the PIEFA survey shows young people see acting on climate change as a high priority and the AGZero2030 team is setting the bar showcasing what WA Farmers are doing

Speaking of the PIEFA survey  

Should the world of agriculture be concerned about these statistics?
• As per the 2011 study, 30% indicated yoghurt is made from something other than animal product.
• One in six students did not know that bacon and scrambled eggs are animal products.
• One in four students do not know that leather shoes are made from animals
• Over 30% of students did not know that books or pasta are made from plant material.
• Over 60% of students did not know that denim cotton used to make jeans is a plant material.

I am not concerned. The best advice I got when we started Picture You in Agriculture was this

“The mobile phone is the most complex engineering feat on the planet. You don’t need to know how it works to value it”

Perhaps another question we could ask ourselves is what outcomes do we want from agricultural education?
Is knowledge of the paddock to plate process what we want to monitor and evaluate?
What else could be more important?

What I know is young people are very interested in learning how to ensure that the safe, affordable, nutritious food our farmers are producing is getting to ALL the people who need it. We can all be very proud this is front of mind for young Australians. Read their stories here

Success will come from a focus on a bottom up approach driven, informed by the wants and needs of farmers and teachers and a genuine desire to collect data, experiment, tweak and signpost success

How are you pivoting in the pandemic?

Today I particpated in the most beautiful, joyous zoom workshop. I was almost thanking COVID for bringing all these wonderul people together.

First some background  thanks to my gorgeous friends Jenny and Angela I am huge fan of the Belvoir St Theatre and our group have shared many wonderful lunches, plays and post play debriefs over the past few years.

All of that stopped with COVID and we have all being doing our bit via donations to ensure the Belvoir can ride out the pandemic.

When Belvoir’s online workshop, Body & Voice Fundamentals in Camera led by Anna Houston popped into my Inbox  I thought it looked interesting and signed up more to support them rather than something I would attend.

I got a reminder yesterday, noticed I was free at the appointed time and tuned it.

Anna did the Harry Potter wizard wand thing at the beginning. If you could wave your magic wand what outcome would you like from this workshop?

As it turns out the same two magic wand moments that resonated for me resonated for Anna and she made it happen for these two people.

We all want to be the best version of ourselves and as these people said “its hard to hide on zoom when turning your video camera on is mandatory for a meeting”

Our Young Farming Champions have had the opportunity to particpate in workshops with people who come from the same background as Anna. I have seen how their lives have changed from the opportunity.

I wish every introvert had an Anna in their lives. There may just be a place left for you

Food for Thought. Is your COVID19 food security crisis management plan inspiring you to become a backyard farmer

I thought of my wonderful Australian leadership coach Zoë Routh from Inner Compass when I saw this article. Like me and my chickens, Zoe’s chickens bring her great joy.  
Is COVID19 inspiring you to think more about the things you alway took for granted like always having access to safe, affordable nutritous food?
  • What is your new food security plan?
  • What are you growing at your back door you werent before?
  • Have you got a House Cow or are you thinking of getting one?
There is no shortage of House Cow candidates in my region ( Ieven have them at my front door)  but trust me milking them by hand is quite a challenge and very grateful for all the dairy farmers who get the milk from cow to carton and I can use my talents for other things.
If having realiable access to fresh eggs and chickens look more like your thing then here is some great info on How to build a chicken coop

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My chickens live in luxury with the chicken coop built out of repurposed materials from some of  house renovations and turning the old orchard and veggie garden into a chicken run  

Chickens are perfect for an apocalypse because not only will they provide you with delicious eggs and fertiliser for your garden, they will help you stave off boredom.


Your chicken house can be made from anything that provides shelter.
Your chicken house can be made from anything that provides shelter.

Chickens are perfect for an apocalypse because not only will they provide you with delicious eggs — about 250 eggs per bird a year — and fertiliser for your garden, they will help you stave off boredom. Chickens are hilarious. When you’re feeling depressed about not being able to watch your favourite band perform live, the chickens will lift your spirits with the way they hunt and chase whatever enters their space. But first you will need a chicken coop. This structure has two parts.

The house protects them from the rain, wind and sun. The run is their main play area. You will need some chicken wire to build a fence around the run. It should be about 2m high with a floppy top leaning outward, so any fox or cat attempting to climb the fence will simply fall to the ground under its own body weight. Similarly, the wire should come all the way to the ground and at least 30cm across the surface of the ground on the outside of the fence, so any dog or fox trying to dig their way in will hit the mesh.

Wrap the wire around star pickets, and posts in each of the four corners. Allow 3sq m for each chicken inside; we don’t want a battery hen operation. Your chicken house can be made from anything that provides shelter. I’ve seen everything from old trampolines to Portaloos and old cars. For a simple house, join together a couple of pallets with star pickets, add some sturdy branches as a perch and whack on a piece of corrugated iron for the roof. Your chickens will compact the soil very quickly; to stop them skating in their own poo, lay down 20cm of straw or sawdust over the area to absorb the manure. This will smell much better and provide a home for worms that your chickens will delight in scratching out.

A final word: start with at least three chickens. Eventually one will die and you don’t want one to be lonely. Even chickens struggle with isolation.

Survival is the reason it is critically important to put rural, regional, remote Australia in the centre of our thinking and actions

Investing in Young People

Did you know ( I didn’t) if young people in rural, regional and remote (RRR) Australia had the same education opportunities as young people in urban environments we could increase the value of our GDP by a whopping 50 billion dollars 

I am currently working on a large funding application that will allow Picture You in Agriculture to deliver their programs that empower young people to solve tomorrow’s problems today to clusters of schools in rural, regional and remote Australia.

The ability to deliver to clusters of schools is important because

  • It values the time as well as the expertise of our Young Farming Champions who are both role models, mentors and program facilitators for students
  • It values the combined expertise of teachers in RRR.

Our teachers are a highly undervalued cohort. If teachers feel undervalued its because they are. In urban schools large numbers of teachers are being asked to teach a subject they havent been trained to teach. In fact 50% of geography teachers are history trained. In RRR that becomes a nightmare where they are required to teach multiple subjects to multiple year levels. 

I have learnt a great deal putting this application together and I am very grateful to the people and organisations I have listed at the bottom of this post for sharing the research with me 

Below is an extract from Professor John Halsey’s  Independent Review into Rural Regional and Remote Education report.  Its a beautifully written and sobering report and a great call to action. Young people in RRR deserve better. RRR deserves better.


By the year 2050 the world’s population is expected to reach 9.8 billion (United Nations, 2017). For Australia, this means a population of around 35 million and, as we know, there is much debate about how robust this figure is and whether or not a bigger population will turn out to be ‘a good thing or a bad thing or….’ (Parliament of Australia Website, n.d).

So why is it so critically important to put RRR (rural, regional, remote) in the centre of our thinking and actions at all levels of government, in the private sector, and in the social and cultural life of our country?

In a word, survival!

Consider just four facts.

  1. The majority of the food consumed daily in the world, and particularly in the developed world, is produced in RRR areas. Accessing food is already a major problem for nearly a billion people in developing countries. It is also a problem for many in developed countries. The food security of Australia, and the world more widely, is a critical issue and one that we cannot take for granted. Producing food, even if in many instances it has ‘gone the way of high tech’, requires enormous numbers of highly skilled and semi-skilled workers. As Pretty (2002) argues:

Without food, we are clearly nothing. It is not a lifestyle or add-on fashion statement. The choices we make about food affect both us, intrinsically, and nature, extrinsically. In effect, we eat the view and consume the landscape. Nature is amended and reshaped through our connections—both for good and bad (p.11).

2. Secondly, much of the world’s energy is sourced from rural and remote regions and many of the world’s fresh water supplies have their headwaters in rural locations and traverse substantial rural landscapes. In Western countries, between two and five thousand litres of water are used to produce the daily food for a single person (Arthus-Bertrand, 2009, p.134).

3. Thirdly, there is the profoundly important matter of arresting the decline of the natural environment, which includes the effects of climate change, and developing new paradigms for valuing it so that it, in turn, can do what it has always done—sustain life in all its complexity and diversity. To quote Pretty (2002) again:

…an intimate connection to nature is both a basic right and a basic necessity…we have shaped nature, and it has shaped us, and we are an emergent property of this relationship. We cannot simply act as if we are separate. If we do so, we simply recreate the wasteland inside of ourselves (pp.10-11).

4. Fourthly, there is the issue of maintaining territorial security. It is worth reflecting upon how the land mass of a nation will remain secured, as we move into a future with rising pressure on space for human habitation and all the requirements for progressing and sustaining it. Maintaining a purposeful presence in our RRR spaces and places is a ‘soft’ but significant contribution towards national security.

While these facts reflect traditional roles and origins of RRR communities, they are also relevant to employment, innovation and the future–and all are underpinned by education and training.

The national results profile of non-urban students clearly shows there is a significant gap to be made up.

The cost of inaction

Major differences in achievements and successful post school pathways between urban and rural, regional and remote children and young people, have persisted for decades (Review Discussion Paper, 2017, pp 15-18).

Given how much debate continues to swirl around funding for education, it is instructive to consider some outcomes relating to the cost of inaction, of not working to bridge the divide between rural, regional and remote educational opportunities and achievements and those in urban centres.

  • Firstly, research shows that people not in full-time work or study by age 24 and who continue in this way over a 40-year period, produce a cost impact on society of around $412,000 per person. The total fiscal and social cost of a lifetime of disengagement is $69.3 billion, using 2014 figures of 45,700 people (Lamb and Huo, 2017). This amount represents about 15% of all of the Australian Government budgeted expenditure for 2016‑17 (
  • In a similar vein, it is well documented that one consequence of young people becoming disengaged from education before they complete their schooling is a greater propensity for them to drift into crime and then becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. The financial costs associated with this far exceed those of providing a ‘top quality’ education and there are major social implications and costs as well (Halsey & Deegan, 2015).

If for no other reason, education which fully engages young people and nurtures and builds their capacities throughout their formative years is a very sound investment; one which is repaid many times over during a lifetime.


Thank you to 

Dr Cameron Archer for directing me the Halsey Report

Kris Beasley Principal Centre of Agricultural Excellence

Lorraine Chaffer – NSW/ACT Geography Teachers Association

Gonski Education Centre at UNSW who read my mind brilliantly

Kira Jean Clark Regional Skills Investment Strategy Project Coordinator at Cassowary Coast Regional Council

Queensland Government who has done some fabulous work on government’s role in preparing us for the Future of Work

Young Farming Champion and agribuiness lawyer Meg Rice and journalist Mandy McKeesick synthesizers of research extraordinaire