Next Gen Eco Champions fostering life long partnerships with farmers

I have the pleasure of working with Art4Agriculture to help train a team of 5 young natural resource management professionals from Southern Rivers region of NSW. They will be trained alongside the Young Farming Champions to develop leadership and communication skills and become local faces of sustainable primary production and natural resource management.

They will also work with Young Farmer Champions to present Archibull Prize activities in 15 schools throughout the region and work with the students to explore the economic, environmental and social challenges of sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation activities through the ‘Archibull Prize‘ competition.

As part of the project the 5 Young Eco Champions are also paired with 5 farmers to plan and help undertake natural resource management activities on the farmers’ properties. The aim of this component of the project is to help them better understand the diversity of land managers and their priorities and to work side by side with land managers to deliver healthy ecosystem outcomes

Young Eco Champion Renae Riviere recently visited the property of the landholder she is working with.  Renae will be sharing her journey with the readers of my blog. I am confident you will enjoy seeing her progress and outcomes just as much as me  …


Renae checking out some of the revegation work the farmer has undertaken along the river bank

Today I visited the property I will be working on as part of the Young Eco Champions program. The property is about 36ha and it situated in prime dairy country in Jamberoo, NSW. The property is owned by an absentee landholder who lived on the farm for some years, but for various reasons has since moved closer to her workplace.

However she is highly aware of the need for and value of having productive agricultural land in the region conjunction with having a sustainable natural ecosystem.


The property has great views and backs on to a number of dairy farms in the region

The property has remnants of Dry Rainforest flanking the driveway up to the house, but the understorey is dominated by lantana and wild tobacco, which will need to be systematically removed and replaced with local native rainforest species.


Lantana and Tobacco Bush hold up large areas of the hillside and careful planning will need to be undertaken to ensure their removal does not encourage erosion in major rainfall events


The next door neighbour, another lifestyle farmers ( fenced area to the right) also has significant weeds of national significance along the boundary fence

The landholder is balancing the two by leasing the land to a neighbouring dairy farmer who uses it to graze their young stock  as well as undertaking a bush regeneration projects in the rainforest with the help of funding from Southern Rivers CMA and support from Landcare Illawarra.


Dairy heifers enjoy the lush pasture growing on the property 


The farmer has already fenced of the waterways and put in a series of water troughs

The project I am working on will be carried out by an experienced bush regenerator and teams of volunteers from Conservation Volunteers Australia who will assist at major planting events.


We have taken on a big pretty task as you can see from the map with the project area marked in yellow and the area we will be fencing in red

The project area fronts the road, so will be a great example to other landholders in the area of how an environmental rehabilitation project and a working dairy farm can exist side by side. As an added bonus every time the landholder drives up her driveway, she’ll be reminded of what a positive and lasting impact she has had on the biodiversity of her local environment.

This is a very exciting project and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it! As well as coordinating the teams of volunteers, I will be writing pre and post project case studies, I’ll be making a video; interviewing the bush regenerator, the farmer who leases the property as well as the property owner. I’ll also be taking lots of photos along the way so that you can all see what great progress we make!

Coles under siege the choice is yours and the choice is now

I have been moved by the number of farmers from other industries and members of the community who have very vocally come out in support of Australian dairy farmers. Today’s blog post highlights the diversity of these people and shares why they are so passionate.

Firstly Queensland school teacher Lisa Claessen who publishes her own blog Telling Tales has launched this petition to get Coles to rethink the decimation they are raining down on the dairy industry through the milk price wars. Please read it and share it with your friends and most importantly sign it. You can find Lisa’s petition here

Lisa Claessen

QLD schoolteacher Lisa Claessen goes in to bat for Aussie Farmers

Secondly these thoughts from South Australian grain farmer and wheat trader Corey Blacksell


We are all in this together says grain farmer Corey Blacksell

Being a grain farmer in a predominantly export orientated State; one might wonder why I have been so vocal in my support of dairy farmers.

Our property is located 295kms, by road, from the Port of Adelaide. We are predominantly grain growers, but also have a small flock of merino ewes that produce a first cross lamb, annually. We spread these operations across our 4640ha property. We began farming in our own right on July 1st, 2008.

So why does that mean I should be vocal in my support of the dairy industry? Apart from being fellow farmers, there are far deeper economic and principled reasons for my support of the dairy industry.

Firstly, I put my farmer hat on. As a grain producer in the predominantly export supply chain that is South Australian grain, it is my aim to remove myself from that supply chain. Having built on farm storage there is no point in participating in the export supply chain. In excess of $80 tonne ($40 freight and $40 storage and handling) are removed to form my farm gate price. Located on the SA/Vic border I aim to access the Victorian domestic market, a market that’s in equilibrium for supply and demand in an average season.

Dairy makes up approx 50 per cent of the cattle that consume feed grain in Australia, consuming around 1.5 tonne per head per year according to Dairy Australia. There are 1.6 million dairy cows in Australia (2010/11). This equates to approximately 2.4 million tonne of feed grain per year Australian dairy cows consume. The value adding of grain, into protein, creates a domestic demand for my grain and leaves the dollars in Australia and this is a win win for my family and my community.

Secondly, I put my consumer hat on. The permanent discounting of fresh food, by the supermarkets, is placing at risk the supply of Australian grown food, food that is universally accepted as being of the highest quality and integrity; food that the shopper can buy with confidence.

In an age when prices only go up, I ask myself how it is fresh food prices are coming “down down”. Who is paying for this deflation? Further to that, who will pay for this in the future?

The future may not be higher prices, but lower quality for the same price. Cheap food today will not create cheap food in the future. Cheap food will mean imported food, from countries with standards lower than our own. No one can demand a consumer pays for quality, but consumers must have the option. The risk is this option will be removed by the duopoly. That’s right, you will be given what Coles and Woolworths decide they want to sell you. They will want to sell you the things that make them the most margin.

“How can this be” you ask. Easily, it’s happening now and no one is even aware of it. The best eating and tasting fruit and veg do not make it to the shelf. Only the fruit and veg that creates the best value for the seller makes the shelf. One dollar milk is another example of best price, and not best quality.

Australian consumers now have a clear choice; cheap food leading to imported food of questionable quality and integrity or Australian produced high quality food.

The choice is that stark.

Perhaps a quote from The Conversation regarding the car industry can give us an insight into the future of Australian food production, minus the subsidies. You exchange manufacturing for agriculture!

If Australians want an auto industry, they must be prepared to pay for it – as ever – through the tax system. If they don’t, then they must also shoulder the consequences: a depleted skills base; a hollowed-out manufacturing sector; major job losses in every Australian state; and the decimation of a large number of regional and urban towns.”

It’s our choice now.

This great animation from the Hungry Beast opens the lid and exposes how Woolies and Coles are taking over OZ in leaps and bounds

Tree Huggers Unite

Our guest blogger today is the gorgeous Megan Rowlatt who is a finalist in the National Young Landcare Leader Award and a Young Eco Champion and part of the Clover Hill Dairies eco team .  

Hi my name is Megan Rowlatt, and I hug trees

Profile Pic eroo

Jamberoo Tree Hug


No really. I do. All the time. See…

RNP tree hug

Royal National Park Tree Hug

Positano italy tree hug

  Positano Italy Tree Hug

Grand Canyon tree hug

Grand Canyon USA Tree Hug

Growing up in the NSW coastal town of Corrimal with my mum, dad and younger brother, I had a wholesome childhood. Playing with other kids in our street until the street lights came on, climbing trees, playing in the bush along the foothills of the Illawarra escarpment after school, visiting local swimming holes in the national park, and with regular camping trips and family holidays to a range of destinations, this set the foundations for a keen sense of adventure, a desire to travel the world, and a love of our natural environment.

.Nan and pop from my dad’s side resided in a beautiful little country town called Crabbes Creek on the north coast of NSW. I spent many of my first years in the crystal clear creeks with my dad and our family dog and over the years developed an emotional connection to the landscape, particularly rainforests and fresh water bodies. I’m a sucker for a rope swing and a swimming hole.

Megan and Dad

1 year old me and my dad in Crabbes Creek, NSW.

Growing up I was a keen bushwalker and still am. I love climbing things, especially mountains (even though I am secretly a little bit scared of heights. But don’t tell anyone. I like to look tough).

Path of the Gods, Amalfi Coast – Italy Austrian Alps Royal National Park


Kosciusko National Park NSW (me and my bro), Whistler Mountain Canada, Füssen – Germany

I’ve travelled the world (but not nearly enough of it) and love learning about other cultures, exploring new environments and letting my mind flow over the possibilities of where life will take me next. I love laughing, and I mean laughing hard, and I always surround myself with people who make me smile. But I always come home. There really is no place like home and travelling abroad and living away for a period of time helped to develop a deep appreciation of just how amazing our country is. Sometimes I am so awe-struck by the beauty of our landscape it gives me goose bumps. And when you love something so much and want to make sure it’s there for future generations to enjoy, you get involved.

My home…

My favourite swimming hole, Royal National Park

Megan (4)Megan (6)



Megan (1)

Exploring the creek line, Royal National Park

My home (7)Lagoon


My local beach at sunset, and local lagoon North Wollongong, NSW


My home (4)

My bike 


My home (8)

And this is the view I am greeted with every time I come home from traveling.

After finishing high school I decided that I wanted to complete a degree in primary teaching figuring the lengthy school holidays would satisfy my desire to travel and allow more flexibility in the amount of time I could take off, but soon after commencing a Bachelor of Education degree I developed a love affair with my science electives. Through my first year of study I was so torn, I was spending more time with my two environmental science electives than my education subjects and things were getting out of control. After breaking down in tears to my dad one night crying “I don’t want to be a primary teacher anymore I want to be an environmental scientist (insert sooky stressed face)” he looked at me and plainly said “why are you crying you weirdo? If that’s what will make you happy, do it” and so I did, and immediately made the leap into Bachelor of Environmental Science degree’s arms at the University of Wollongong. (See ya education, you just weren’t the right one for me).

Having spent all of my life growing up in the Illawarra I began to get itchy feet and was craving a change of scenery so I moved to the Gold Coast in 2003 and transferred to a Bachelor of Science in Ecotourism. Working with people has always been in my nature, I spent many years working in bars and hospitality. Interacting and meeting new people was the biggest attraction for me in this industry so it was only natural that I would enjoy studying a degree which offered opportunities for me to explore the tourism industry as well as develop skills and knowledge in environmental science.

After spending four years away from home and taking advantage of the beautiful warm weather QLD has to offer, I began to miss our coast line (seriously, we really do have the best coastline in the world).

My home (3)

See. It’s pretty amazing. (Me and my best friend)

I returned to Wollongong and was immediately employed as a casual Visitor Services Officer with NPWS working at Royal National Park. Being casual, I had some spare time and I wanted to continue to develop my knowledge around natural resource management (NRM), so I began to volunteer with Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) where I started to really become aware of regional environmental issues. A position as Landcare Community Support Officer came up during my time as a volunteer with CVA. Looking at the selection criteria I didn’t think I had a chance but I applied anyway. The next day I had an interview and the day after that I was employed! Almost five years on, I am still loving the role.

Funded by Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and hosted by Conservation Volunteers Australia, as the Landcare Community Support Officer for the Illawarra region, my role is to assist Landcare volunteers, private landholders and farmers, as well as the wider community to develop skills and knowledge around natural resource management. This includes delivering training to build capacity of volunteers and individuals working in natural areas to carry out quality on-ground activities, engaging new volunteers into Landcare, managing and distributing online resources through newsletters, social media and a range of websites, and applying for a variety of grants to carry out environmental projects in the Illawarra region.

This job couldn’t be more perfect for me. I get to travel around the region and meet and work with loads of wonderful people. I love my volunteers and the groups I get to work with, they are just beautiful. I also am fortunate enough to be able to travel around the state for meetings and forums where I have an opportunity to share my experiences and be inspired by other NRM professionals and volunteers. I find managing online resources and developing resources such as newsletters satisfying as I am able to apply my own creative flair to these products.

Some of the places I get to see for work…

Bermagui River

Bermagui River at sunset NSW

Little Blowhole

Little Blowhole, Kiama NSW


Albion Park NSW

But after attending my very first state Landcare forum in Queanbeyan I was surprised to learn that there was a real lack of young people in the Landcare movement. Many existing groups were of retirement age and no significant new recruitment was occurring. So I started to question why this was the case and why I had been attracted to volunteering and what was lacking that was deterring younger people from joining.


In 2009 I set up Illawarra Youth Landcare and run the group in my own time. Illawarra Youth Landcare is a Landcare group exclusive for young people aged between late teens to early thirties. We travel around once a month and visit an existing Landcare or Bushcare group in the Illawarra and assist them with their on-ground work. This gives the host group an opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with a younger generation and volunteers are able to explore the region and develop awareness about the environmental management issues we are facing. In addition to local projects I also organise overnight expeditions to other parts of the state. We partner up with other organisations and look at what other environmental issues persist beyond the Illawarra. These trips allow for volunteers to bond and develop friendships while giving something back to the environment.

To date we have a membership of over 70 people and over 120 followers on Facebook. Volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds and are motivated for all different reasons to volunteer with the group. The key is flexibility, variety and opportunity for a fun social experience. It’s all about having a good time because at the end of the day, if it’s not enjoyable people are not going to become involved. I wouldn’t. Landcare is just as much about the people as it is the environment, and gen Y are generally time-poor and prioritise study, career and social commitments. So it’s difficult to gain any long term commitment from volunteers of this demographic. So I simply try to cater to this.

Over the last few years we’ve been involved in some amazing projects, a highlight for me was the Hawkesbury Source to Sea paddle we did with Willow Warriors in 2010. On this extremely hot (43 degrees in fact) weekend, we paddled along the Colo River working with a range of different Landcare and Bushcare groups. The weekend was jam packed full of swimming, kayaking, more swimming, rope swings, BBQs and a few beers (which I also love), fishing and oh yeah, some bush regeneration and a whole lot of laughing!

Here’s a short video of our adventures so far…



In 2011 I was awarded the Be Natural Young Landcare Leader award for NSW and am now a finalist in the National Landcare Awards as the NSW representative under this category. This is a huge achievement and being nominated means a lot. But living in a country as beautiful and diverse as ours, I could never stand back and not be involved in making it a better place for future generations to enjoy the way I did.

You can check out more about Illawarra Youth Landcare at

Following in their footsteps

Excitingly the recent State of the Environment report has show  Australian farmers have made some major inroads in their farm environmental stewardship outcomes through a strong commitment to Landcare principals   

Most of Australia’s land environment is managed by one of three groups: state and territory agencies responsible for public land of various tenures, family and corporate agricultural and pastoral businesses, and Indigenous Australians.

The effectiveness of management has improved for most land uses, particularly those that are most intensive. While land–management practices have improved during the past few decades, in agricultural systems the loss of soil carbon, and soil acidification and erosion, are problematic and may have major impacts on production.

However, there is a serious gap in both the professional and the technical capacity necessary for effective land management. This gap will increase and its consequences become more acute as we face the challenges that climate change will bring to land environmental values and production systems.

Obviously if our farmers are going to achieve the best environmental outcomes they must have access to the best advice and have the opportunity to work side by side with natural resource management professionals  With this in my mind Art4Agriculture have accessed Caring for our Country funding to role out the Young Eco Champion program for 2012/13 This program will train a team of 5 young natural resource management professionals from Southern Rivers region of NSW. They will be trained to develop leadership and communication skills and become local faces of sustainable primary production and natural resource management. See Erin Lake our 2011 Young Eco Champion in action here

Eco Champions will work with Young Farmer Champions to present Archibull Prize activities in 15 schools throughout the region using a range of authentic and contemporary learning tools that allow young people to explore the economic, environmental and social challenges of sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation activities through the ‘Archibull Prize‘ competition.

Today our guest blogger is Heather Gow-Carey one of our exciting Young Eco Champions


Here is Heather’s story ………………….

My name is Heather Gow-Carey. I am 22 years old and am currently undertaking honours in my fourth and final year of an International Bachelor of Science (Geoscience) at the University of Wollongong.

Photo 1


I grew up in the rural community at Dignams Creek on the Far South Coast of NSW. Environmental and natural resource management has always played a huge part of my life. The influence of my parents’ professions in the direction of my educational career has subconsciously shaped my decisions and their support has been unwavering at every stage of my development.

Photo 2

Helping out tree planting on the Hawkesbury River when I was just learning to walk.

I was born in Western Sydney but moved to the South Coast with my parents when I was two years old. They were looking to get away from the city and pursue their goals in setting up South Coast Flora, a native bushfood nursery. It is this specialised plant propagation that first introduced me to the theories behind environmental management. As long as I can remember I have been helping out in the nursery, going to markets and assisting mum out in her botanical pursuits collecting seeds and cuttings to be used in the nursery.

Photo 3

 Out collecting seeds with Mum.

My father was involved in the National Parks and Wildlife Service for a number of years and now works as the Landcare Community Support Officer throughout the Eurobodalla Shire. Hence my weekends as a youngster were filled with farm visits, tree plantings, weed control and numerous conferences and meetings. Luckily I had my younger brother to have tree planting competitions and someone to hang out with when dad had to attend to business matters. From both of my parents I have developed a love and a respect for the environment that I value immensely. It has shaped my love for the outdoors and even though I have had to move away to attend uni, I love going back home whenever I can.

Photo 4

 Playing in Dignams Creek when I was little.

About 15 minutes away is the closest town, Cobargo. It is a small town that has earnt the name of the ‘working village’. There are around 500 residents if you include the many farms around the area and there is a very strong sense of community, with all of the locals willing to pitch in to help each other out. I was part of the swimming club, soccer club, rugby club and scout group, as well as always exhibited and volunteered for the annual Cobargo Show. The show was and still is, one of the highlights of the Cobargo calendar. Even though it is such a small town, the show always draws large crowds in competitors, exhibitors and visitors and is well known as a quality agricultural show. There were several years where I made it my goal to enter every youth section in the pavilion, and even many of the open sections. When I was about 12, a prize was introduced for the junior exhibitor with the highest overall point-score, so I busied myself making arts, crafts, jams, baking, growing fruit and veggies, even entered some prime compost to take out the top prize!

Photo 5

The Cobargo main street.

One of my other interests is art. When I was little I wanted to grow up to be an artist, but soon learnt that most artists don’t get rich and famous until they are dead! So I had to rethink my career ideas. I was lucky enough to be involved in the Jindabyne Sculpture by the Lake exhibition – a competition for local artists held each Easter Long Weekend and with  from my art teacher I first entered at the age of 14.

I had always felt very strongly about using water responsibly and hence, I made a giant plug that floated out in the middle of the lake to inform people of my water-saving message. This was a great opportunity to raise awareness about the scarcity of water and the fact that we all rely on it so much, and yet we have so little that is actually able to be consumed.

My community involvement continued throughout high school, being involved in several sporting groups, community groups, the Rural Volunteer Bushfire Service and more Landcare activities. There was hardly a weekend or week night spare in my schedule! I was recognised for my efforts on Australia Day 2009, being awarded the Narooma Young Citizen of the Year.

Photo 6

After being awarded Young Citizen of the Year.

My HSC helped to shape what I chose to study and the last three and a half years of university really have taught me so much about the different areas of physical geography, human geography and the ways in which people interact with their environments. I have all of the theory behind me; I just need to put my ideas into practice.

Even though I am not from a farm in the traditional sense, I feel as though my upbringing really has shaped the person that I am, and what I would like to achieve out of life. Through this program I hope that I can encourage and support young Australians, and especially those in rural areas, to become involved in natural resource management and sustainable agriculture.

Wow we looking forward to working with young lady as you can imagine

The Young Farming Champions program is funded through the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program. Art4agriculture thanks you for believing in us  


A Very Wicked Problem

I am reblogging this from Art4AgricultureChat because I am very interested in what my Clover Diaries Diary readers have to say about this  

Today’s guest blog 1 is by Gerry Andersen who is the Chief Executive Officer of Foodbank NSW.


Gerry has also been involved with the RAS of NSW for the past 25 years and is currently a RAS Councillor and Chair of the Sydney Royal Dairy Produce Committee. I had the pleasure of working with Gerry and the superb team from the Sydney Royal Dairy Produce Show in February this year when I had the honour of stewarding in the ice cream judging section. See the post I wrote about my day here

Gerry’s work with Foodbank has perfect synergies with the ethos of the Archibull Prize where we ask participating students to reflect on sustainable food production and also their role in sustainable food consumption. I am confident like me you will be astounded by the amount of food that is wasted in this country and as a farmer producing some of this food that ends up in landfill it breaks my heart. It will also break your heart to read about the other end of the spectrum that Gerry shares with us in this post. It just beggars belief that this can happen.

Each year two million Australians will rely on food relief and around half of them will be children who often go to school without breakfast or to bed without dinner.

Are the lucky ones so self absorbed and we live in our own little worlds and forget what really matters?. I just don’t know. What do you think?

I do know that as a farmer I am very proud of my fellow farmers participating in the Waste Not Want Not program.

This is what Gerry has to say………………..

Waste not; want not

Food waste is a complex social, economic and environmental problem that is having an increasingly negative impact on our world.


There’s no doubt that when it comes to food production, Australia truly is the lucky country. We live in a plentiful country, with some of the world’s most abundant fresh produce and skilful, efficient farmers. Each year, Australia produces enough fresh food to feed 60 million people – that’s nearly enough to feed the nation 3 times over.1
However, recent figures suggest that 4 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in Australia.


Of this, 1.38 million tonnes is business food waste and 2.6 million tonnes is household food waste. 2


This surplus food could feed millions of Australians every day. Food gets wasted because we buy more than we need; we cook more than we need; and due to demanding quality standards a lot of produce is discarded because of appearance, despite the nutritional quality still being very good. These food waste facts are startling alone, but when coupled with the fact that 1.2 million Australians do not have access to a safe and nutritious food supply, the situation is staggering.

Many of us eat well and enjoy a varied diet, so it seems strange to be discussing food shortages for Australians; however, for many, access to food is a critical problem. Each year two million Australians will rely on food relief and around half of them will be children who often go to school without breakfast or to bed without dinner. This is where Foodbank, the largest hunger relief organisation in Australia, comes into the equation. Foodbank is a not-for-profit, nondenominational organisation that seeks and distributes food and grocery industry donations to welfare agencies to feed the hungry around the country. The food goes to hostels, shelters, drop-in centres, school breakfast programs, home hampers and emergency relief packages for people in need. Last year alone it redistributed enough food for 28 million meals.

I became involved with Foodbank in 2009 taking up the role of CEO, following retirement from the food manufacturing industry three years earlier. I enjoyed entering the workforce again, and in particular working in the charity sector. Foodbank was initially formed to redistribute wasted food products from Australian food manufacturing and retailing sectors. However, recently the focus has moved to the farming industry.

Foodbank’s Waste Not Want Not program is a unique project that delivers otherwise wasted produce from the Riverina farming community to the tables of hungry families throughout NSW and the ACT. Since the program began in 2011, over 400 tonnes of produce from the Riverina district has been donated. There are plans to roll out the program in many more areas in NSW by 2013. Farmers, including small producers, can donate their fresh fruit and vegetables products that are in excess to demand or not quite up to quality standards, as they are still nutritious and very desirable to feed needy people. Our most common donations from farmers include oranges, pumpkins, onions, potatoes and grain.

There is still a long way to go to achieve an Australia without hunger, but we, as an agricultural community, can play a part to reduce the waste and hunger that exists.


Waste Food Hierarchy

This is a very wicked problem that each and everyone of us has an opportunity to make a difference  

For more information on Foodbank and how you can become involved Visit

1 This article first appeared in RAS Times July 2012.

2 Australia and Food Security in a Changing World. Report of the Prime
Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC)
Expert Working Group, 2010.

The Power of Language

Today’s post has been written by Angus Whyte profiled beautifully here by Fleur McDonald in January.

The power of Language

A Robert Brinkerhoff Illustration

The post has been prompted by two posts I wrote recently. Firstly on Art4agriculuture Chat about Young Farming Champion Stephanie Tarlinton’s recent speech at the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium which saw her voted the favourite speaker of the day. Scroll half way down the page past my background info to read Stephanie’s very powerful speech she titled the “Conversations of Change”. The other post referred to a presentation at the same event given by Dr Jude Capper that prompted this post on Clover Hill Dairies Diary “Little Golden Book Farming” 

This is what Gus has to say ……..   

Interesting that language can mean different things to different people; it can bring people together or divide them. When farmers talk about new technology they are talking about GPS technology that allows them to plant, fertilize or spray exactly where required, or telemetry systems that allow them to remotely control waters, maybe even individual animal ID systems that feed the animal its exact requirements. All technologies that have helped reduced food spend as percentage of income in Australia from 50% to 10% in the last 100 years

Applications of Computers in Sustainable Agriculture

When consumers hear new technology in agriculture they hear “triffid like” GM plants or the latest spray that will kill everything, even hormone growth promotants that will turn stock into the incredible hulk, well green anyway.

Horrors of GM

The question might be; “how can the language show the reality?” The reality is that farmers and consumers both want the same thing – healthy, nutritious, ethically produced food and fibre that was grown with the best interests of the planet in mind” 

agriculture 0012

Lets have a look further at how we may be using the same language; when consumers want food produced “like the way it has always been produced, the old fashioned way”, and the farmers want to be able to produce a good product “without working 8 days a week 30 hours a day, the old fashioned way”. When farmers talk about “efficiency gains” they are talking about being able to produce the same product with less of a carbon footprint and still make a margin aware that the “terms of trade” are constantly reducing.  Remembering whilst the cost of food had gone up 40% in the last ten years (CPI has gone up about 50%), the farmer’s share has gone from 20 cents in the dollar to 17.

Total Productivity

Total factor productivity (TFP) in Australian broadacre agriculture and farmers’ terms of trade: 1953–2004.Source ABARES


When consumers hear “efficiency gains” they seem to hear “factory farms” or that farmers have found a better way to make even more money than they already do. These thoughts conjure up images of cruelty and money hungry, both traits that are disliked (and rightly so) in our community.


To bring the language together if consumers think that farmers must invest in the environment regardless of the cost then consumers must show the environment the same respect and seek produce that is raised consistent to their values, then buy it, regardless of the cost. I put it to you that if farming was so easy and you can make so much money then why are less than 1% of our community involved and that is decreasing every year?

I must admit I know that we can produce food and fibre in a way that means consumers and farmers needs are met, even exceeded. You will notice that I will not mention money when I’m talking about needs. Consumers have no more right whatsoever to expect food at a reasonable price if they don’t believe farmers have no right to get paid a reasonable price for their produce. Everyone involved in the production of food through to eating it, should be aware of the social and ethical values of living in a community. The “carbon tax” is an attempt to place an economic value on something that we as a society should value, which is the living within our means and not having negative external impacts on the environment.

When we purchase an item we should ask ourselves: Has this been produced with respect to my personal values of welfare, health etc.? Has the item been produced without external impacts on environment, community etc.? These values can’t have an economic value placed on them and yet all talk about the long term health of the planet and the community.

When we buy food you can look to “make an investment in your health and future” or you can see it as “a cost that needs to be reduced as much as possible.” I believe that we as a society are so used to eating poor quality food that is “cheap”, if we based our decisions on food quality we would need much less and actually save money.

Count Nutrients not calores

Just so that we are all taking the same language we as consumers need to build closer relationships with our producers so we understand how our wonderful food is produced, then we can make “value based” decisions when we purchase. As you are all aware large supermarkets are service based industries that don’t produce anything and they make it very difficult to build a relationship with your farmers. So you should find vendors that can tell you who, how and where the food is grown, tell you its story, then you can make a judgment on the values of that product before purchase. This way you can ensure that you aren’t just making a good investment in your own health, also that of the broader community and the planet.


Remember the statement “no man is an island”, our dollars dictate our values so if we truly want to see change then we need to understand that our choices impact on others, we are all part of the same community on planet Earth.


The Author: Angus Whyte lives with wife Kelly and 8 year old son Mitchell at “Wyndham”, a 12,500ha pastoral property on the Anabranch River 85km north of Wentworth NSW.  “We consider ourselves “graziers”, in that we turn plants into money through livestock and we don’t mind what sort of livestock we run. Our attitude to farming is simply to work with nature rather than against, so we no longer have weeds, we have “plants with stories” that we can learn from and our aim is to make our business simple and our ecosystem extremely complex, the more complex the better.”

If you would like to join in the conversation on Twitter Gus tweets as @GusWhyte and farmers and their extensive and diverse networks discuss all things food and fibre under #agchatoz

Recently farmers have been concerned about how we are being stereotyped see I am not Happy Woolies and we are adding #proag to our tweets ( when there is room- I mean 140 characters is pretty tight at the best of times) to discuss this.

FYI #proag is short for professional and caring farmers 

Ausagventures Steph Coombes First Day at the Dairy

Our guest post today is from Stephanie Coombes who has come to the rescue in our hour of need. Refer previous post

Posted on June 19, 2012

Hello from Clover Hill Dairies!

Yes, i am in Jamberoo (NSW) working on a dairy farm! Does this girl ever sit still i hear you ask? Clearly not!

My friend and industry mentor Lynne Strong gave me a call last week and said they were a bit short staffed, as her son and daughter in law were on their honeymoon, and seeing as i was due to come to the farm for a workshop in a few weeks, how would i like to come early to work? Well that was that, i jumped on an aeroplane the next morning, and caught the train down to the south coast of NSW.

Paradise. Lynne always says that Mandelyn Holsteins (home of Clover Hill Dairies) is her little piece of paradise and she is not wrong. The farm is superb, lush green rolling hills. natural rainforest, and ocean views. Shame it’s a bit on the cool side (oh Bahrain and your hot weather how i miss you!).



So… my job at the dairy. Lucky girl i am, i get to look after the BABY COWS!1 Yes… BABY COWS! Oh gosh, haven’t i already posted enough videos and blogs about baby cows? Trick question, because the answer is no! You can never post enough about baby animals (I’m planning to go visit some lambs next).

Anyway, so at the farm the babies are looked after from a very young age. Between birth and moving to the grown up (teenagers) paddock, they go in 5 different areas around the farm, which have been designed to cater to their social, health and nutritional needs during the different stages of growth.

First up is the ‘colostrum’ shed, where the iddy biddy little babies go. They are all bottle fed cow milk, including fresh colostrum. Colostrum is the very first milk the cow produces after birth, and it is filled with all sorts of goodies, which give the babies immune system a kick start. It is essential that the babies have the colostrum, as it reduces their chances of getting sick.


After a couple of days they go into the ‘duck’ shed (i have no idea why it is called that!). They have these adorable individual little stalls with heaps of wood shavings to make it all warm and comfortable. They also have see-through walls, so they can see their mates and talk to each other. It is here in the duck shed that the babies are gradually weaned off of cows milk and onto powdered milk. The process takes around 9 days, and is taken in small steps. This isn’t just to get the babies used to the taste of the powdered milk, but to allow the microorganisms in their stomach to adjust to the new formula.

After the duck shed they go into the ‘hay’ shed, where they are still fed powdered milk, but are also introduced to pellets and hay. There are a couple of pens in the hay shed, all in a row, so as they get older they move up the shed. Sort of like a primary school, you move from kindy to the junior block, to the middle block, and then to the senior block.


Now i have to write about this awesome piece of technology that allows the dairy to raise these calves efficiently, without having to spend all day every day hand feeding. It’s an automatic milk feeder that works with the electronic tags in the calves ears. So every calf has a tag, and it is put into the software system. When the calf comes up to the feeder, the machine reads its tag, and knows how much it has had to drink that day, how many times it has come up looking for a feed, how much it drank yesterday, and how aggressive it was during feeding.


Louise show me how to operate the computer and check the data

What is really cool though is that you can go through the computer and see how much every animal has had, so you can pick up if anything is starting to get sick, or needs more help learning how to use the machine etc., because you cant run 24 hour CCTV on the calves!


Robotic Calf Feeder

After the hay shed, the “pre-teen” heifers go out into a grass paddock, where they are supplemented with hay and pellets. Then once they are big enough to have babies, they go out to another paddock to do that (gosh from the size of these babies, i think a human baby doesn’t look so bad now!).


So my job is to feed all the babies each day and make sure they are comfortable and healthy. I love feeding the little little ones, as they can get quite curious and eager to play. They suck on anything and everything, so never wear half decent clothes around them! On my first afternoon i was having a lay down in the pen with them, and they were all crowding around me trying to figure out why i was laying on the floor. I thought it would be funny to let them chew my hair…. so i did. I mean, they were chewing all my clothes too, so what more was a pony tail?…. WRONG. That night as i washed my hair, a good chunk of it fell out in matts! Yuck! They actually chewed my hair off! Now I’m already down half a head of hair from the boat trip, so i couldn’t believe i was losing more!!

Playing with baby dairy calves



Stay tuned for more about life on a dairy farm!

Sudoku farming

Today I am delighted to share this guest post by Gus Whyte with you.

By way of background Angus and Kelly with 8 yr old son Mitchell Whyte run a grazing property that is 12,500ha on the Anabranch River at Wentworth in far western NSW.  They have been rotationally grazing to repair the landscape since 2001 and have seen significant changes in that time


I first “met” Gus on Twitter and was delighted to see him profiled by Fleur McDonald as part of her 52 farmer stories to celebrate Australian Year of the Farmer.

I just loved this quote from Gus

 “Our attitude to farming is simply to work with nature rather than against, so we no longer have weeds, we have “plants with stories” that we can learn from and our aim is to make our business simple and our ecosystem extremely complex, the more complex the better.”

 and I have been following Gus and his ethos via twitter closely since

The more I talk to farmers across Australia the more I am feeling the social environment we farm in today is totally foreign to most farmers and many are feeling overwhelmed. Today’s food system offers a wide range of choices that allow consumers to purchase food that meets their needs and is consistent with their values

Consumers have traditionally trusted farmers because they believe farmers share their values but the problem is some consumers are beginning to question if today’s agriculture still qualifies as farming. We are seeing consumer alienation from agriculture and the food system expressed through concerns about nutrition, food safety, affordability, environmental sustainability and animal welfare – to name but a few

What the “concerned consumer” fails to recognise is many of our farmers are torn too. Gus and his family farm on 12,500 ha compared to our family farming on 120ha. On that 120 ha we produce milk that sustains 50,000 Australians everyday. We are proud of that but no matter where we farm, how much land we have to do it on or how much we produce our farmers can only give back what the market place is prepared to pay.

Before you judge your farmers Australia (and the world) please reflect on this. “Never before have so few people fed the world. Never before has food been cheaper in this country. Never before have so many people been able to afford to be so blissfully unaware of this”

When you read what Gus has to say can you doubt in any way that Australia has many great farmers who truly care and share your values ?……

The Gus Whyte ethos….

One of the things that I enjoy is to sit down on the weekend with a nice cup of coffee and complete a Sudoku or two. For those that haven’t played there are 9 rows and 9 columns and each row and column should contain the numbers 1-9. Also there are 9 sections that again should contain the numbers 1-9. I liken this to the environment where everything is interdependent and the change of one number has implications right through the whole puzzle/landscape. Of course there are many more than just nine possible numbers when dealing with an ever changing environment, the challenge is to always come up with the same outcome. Farming can not be done with set “systems” as these don’t always take into account the people, land, animals, the changing seasons and the climate etc, instead we need to focus on achieving the right outcomes using what tools/knowledge we have on hand. That is why in some instances organic accreditation may not actually produce the healthiest foods.


Also like the environment when we focus on one area and do a really good job there, sometimes the other sections may be totally wrong and there is no chance of reaching the desired outcome. When we think of farming we may think of the vocation that aims to  produce the best crop or best wool/meat etc. Aside from farmers there are those that say we should be only eating a plant based diet to improve the welfare of animals, well again this only looks at a small section we need both plant and animals to farm together. One without the other is an incomplete system that will fail.

Few people view farming as the best way to produce healthy food in a healthy environment, while respecting the people and community around them. Maybe we should be seeing farmers as healthy food producers or as environmental regenerators or even nutrient nurturers. While we as the broader community compartmentalize farming we don’t put their real role into perspective so we don’t look to encourage those that fulfil some or all of these roles. As Wendell Berry points out in his book “The unsettling of America” Culture & Agriculture, either we are exploiters or nurturers, there is no in between.

The end goal is for people, animals and the environment to be improving in health rather than the direction they are currently going. The question is “how can we feed and clothe a growing society while looking after the health of us and the environment?” If you say “we are what we eat”, currently you are chemicals, GMO’s & Phosphate fertilizers etc. (yes these are both in the plants and animal products!), while others may be happy with this there are some that aren’t. So how do we change what we currently do to become nurturers and all (people, animals and environment) end up healthier? All of the top businesses/farmers look at the implications of what they do and don’t compartmentalize so let’s extend that a bit.

So let’s start by agreeing on what we see as healthy.; Healthy to me is food that is grown by harnessing Mother Nature to add all the vitamins and minerals required, without the use of any chemicals or fertilizers or by being processed in any way. I’m sure that most would agree that that is very healthy, however how are we going to grow enough to feed all the people?

To put together farming methods that will produce enough food while enhancing the land and retaining wild species will not be simple so will need lots of support from all of us if we would like to be healthier. We can produce more food/fibre than we currently do by harnessing Mother Nature rather than going into battle with chemicals and GMO’s, again that has been proven to be right, we may need to change the concept of farming though. What might drive a change? You ask. Well there is plenty of information around saying that the current food systems we have in place are causing major health problems with depression endemic as well as cancer and many other problems that put enormous drain on our health systems. With drugs only working on the symptoms, surely we need to look deeper at the root cause of these issues. Maybe we will be forced to find out the hard way if we keep doing what we are doing until we reach “peak Phosphorus” in about 2030.

So farmers can be seen as “just exploiters of the environment mining the nutrients & jeopardizing the welfare of animals” or they can be part of the Sudoku puzzle with everything in order, the choice is ours.

You will notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about money as yet, well you can’t put a value on your health or the health and well being of the animals and environment so why would I start. Currently our community puts the mighty dollar above all of the above, we can feed an ever growing world with very healthy food if we start putting some of these issues above money. We can choose to select food on the looks and the “value for money”, or we can start to demand food that is produced more naturally in harmony with Mother Nature, the choice is ours.