Australian Farmers can supply us (and the world) with so much more than food and fibre

With 21st Century thinking and smart government policy there are many new and exciting opportunities for Australian farmers to thrive in a world of big data, a community screaming out for clean energy options and developing countries with a burning thirst to soak up our knowledge as well as our produce.

A number of our Young Farming Champions work with, share their knowledge and learn from farmers in developing countries. A number of them have taken advantage of the Crawford Fund scholarship support to engage in international research, development and education for the benefit of developing countries and Australia.

Young Farming Champion Sam Coggins has just landed a job with ACIAR and this article by Professor Andrew Campbell CEO of ACIAR is a great opportunity to share the work they do and the exciting opportunities for Sam in his chosen career in the Australian agriculture sector .

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Sam Coggins taking his knowledge and passion for the Australian agriculture sector to the world 

Agricultural aid is in Australian farmers’ interests

Andrew Campbell, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research considers the pragmatic reasons why well-targeted aid, especially in agriculture, is in the long-term best interests of Australian farmers and rural communities.

Why should Australian farmers support overseas aid?

Especially agricultural aid – doesn’t that just give a leg-up to our competitors?

Well, no.

Leaving aside moral arguments that overseas development aid is ‘the right thing to do’ for wealthy nations like Australia, there are also pragmatic reasons why well-targeted aid, especially in agriculture, is in the long-term best interests of Australian farmers and rural communities.

Specific examples of benefits from aid flowing back to Australia described below all stem from the direct experience of ACIAR – the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

ACIAR was established by the Fraser government in 1982, out of a recognition that Australian agricultural, fisheries and forestry science has much to offer developing countries in our region as they seek to feed their people and develop their economies.

ACIAR is an independent statutory authority in the foreign affairs portfolio, reporting directly to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.  I am just the sixth CEO of ACIAR in 36 years.  We have enjoyed remarkable stability over that time, enabling us to build very solid long-term partnerships from east Africa to the Pacific, developing many projects that have delivered benefits back to Australian rural industries and communities.

Last week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop launched our new 10-year strategy.

In many ways ACIAR is similar to Rural R&D Corporations, in that we organise and fund research, but our focus is overseas, taking Australian science to developing countries in the Indo-Pacific region, and we work across livestock, crops, horticulture, fisheries, forestry, land, water and climate.

Australian farmers and rural communities benefit from the work of ACIAR in several ways:

  • At the most basic level, as an exporting country, we do better when the countries in our region can afford to buy our products.  As economies develop and people get richer, they consume more meat, dairy, fruit, processed cereals, sugar, wine and wool, and they demand higher quality food.
  • Australian scientists working on pests and diseases in developing countries can help to manage risks and limit the spread of major problems before they reach Australia.  In doing so, they also get opportunities to work on problems that thankfully don’t (yet) exist in Australia, enabling them to build skills in detection, diagnosis and control of exotic diseases.  This has proven of crucial value for Australia, for example with Panama Disease in bananas, and Newcastle Disease in poultry.
  • ACIAR investment in collaborative breeding programs gives Australian industries access to new varieties.  For example, seven new citrus rootstocks were recently released into the Australian market, developed from disease-resistant and salt-tolerant Chinese cultivars through a collaboration with NSW DPI funded by ACIAR.  Germplasm used by Australian wheat breeders to release high performance varieties to Australian growers draws heavily on material from CIMMYT – the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico – funded by ACIAR and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
  • ACIAR-funded fruit fly research directly helped mango farms in North Queensland, when exports to Japan were withdrawn in 1995 due to fruit fly incursions. The Queensland DPI was able to develop postharvest treatment protocols for Australian mangoes much faster because of their work for ACIAR in Malaysia, resulting in approval to restart exports at least six months sooner than would have been possible otherwise.
  • ACIAR often supports Australian researchers to work with partners in neighbouring countries to tackle a shared challenge.  The strength of our innovation system leads to new technologies being trialled and adopted first here. Research on growing tropical tree crops, such as mango, jackfruit and cocoa, on trellises for greater productivity and cyclone resistance, led by Queensland DAF with support from Horticulture Innovation Australia and ACIAR, is now offering trellising as a potentially transformative technology to Queensland growers. Research to tackle productivity problems associated with plant viruses in sweetpotato crops in PNG, has led to virus therapy techniques and virus-free planting material being adopted as the foundation for a more productive sweetpotato industry in Australia.  Techniques developed by Prof Peter Harrison from Southern Cross University to restore degraded fringing coral reefs in the Philippines (by stocking hatchery-reared coral larvae at the time of larval settlement into enclosures over the reef) are now being trialled on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • ACIAR is an important source of applied research funding for regional universities and state departments of primary industries, with major flow-on benefits for regional centres like Wagga, Armidale, Orange, Lismore, Toowoomba, Gatton, Roseworthy, Mildura, Yanco, Townsville, Hobart, Darwin and Maroochydore.

While I have great admiration for agricultural economists, benefit:cost ratios tell only a fraction of the story of why investing in agricultural aid in our region makes good business sense for Australia.

 Andrew Campbell, CEO, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

All over the world, evidence over the decades since World War 1 has shown that investment in agricultural research delivers great returns, within and between nations.  ACIAR has a fine tradition of measuring and tracking the impact of our investments.  Some projects deliver exceptional benefit to cost ratios.  For example, clonal improvement of eucalypt and acacia plantation genotypes in Vietnam delivered returns of around 80:1, and vaccination of village chickens in east Africa delivered returns of around 60:1.

Perceptions that our aid helps competitors to out-compete our own exporters don’t hold up under closer examination.  Smallholder producers in developing countries rarely compete in the same high-value markets as Australian exporters.  The gap in most instances remains very large, and reducing it somewhat usually creates opportunities for Australian industries.

For example, Indonesia wants to become self-sufficient in beef, and ACIAR is funding the University of New England, CSIRO and the University of Queensland to help lift beef productivity and production in eastern Indonesia in particular.  But beef self-sufficiency for Indonesia remains a very long way down the track.  In the meantime, they will need many breeding cattle from Australia and multiple linkages with the northern beef industry in particular.  Building these links will help Australian exporters and producers.

Mangos are another example.  Market studies around the Asia-Pacific, led by Griffith University in collaboration with the Australian Mango Industry Association, with input from state and territory DPIs and support from ACIAR, have shown how mango markets are differentiated by seasonal time slots and price points, local market preferences and varietal characteristics.  Innovations in pest and disease management, flower induction and post-harvest handling can bring benefits to the mango industry in Australia and in partner countries.

Overall, over the last 36 years, using very conservative assumptions and only counting the benefits that can be quantified and costed, the ACIAR portfolio has delivered benefits at least five times greater than our total expenditure.  Many benefits from more recent projects are yet to be fully realised.

While I have great admiration for agricultural economists, benefit:cost ratios tell only a fraction of the story of why investing in agricultural aid in our region makes good business sense for Australia.

Being a trusted science partner across our region, helping neighbouring countries to tackle some of their most pressing problems using Australian know-how, is a very tangible, practical demonstration of our commitment to regional security, prosperity and sustainability.  In doing so, we learn a lot and we develop new capabilities that help our own industries, and in the long term we create more and better market opportunities for Australian farmers.

In short, the 2.5% of the Australian overseas aid budget managed by ACIAR delivers terrific value for Australian farmers, rural industries and rural communities.

Andrew Campbell is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research

Do our politicians care about us?

Its pretty easy  to think about the world and be cynical. I know at my age I can certainly write a list of the people who have let me down.

But we all know selling despair, ruminating  on the people you wished hadn’t crossed your path and on what could have been gets us nowhere. On the other hand selling hope and focusing on a bright future by engaging and working with the people who share your vision keeps the fire burning in our bellies

I keep the fire burning in my belly by surrounding myself with exciting young people. Young people in schools, young farmers and young activists for social and environmental justice .

Last Friday night  I attended the NSW ACT Young Achiever Awards to support Young Farming Champions Anika Molesworth and Joshua Gilbert who were both finalists in the Environment and Sustainability Category   

Anika Molesworth

Anika Molesworth Winner of  the Environment and Sustainability Award

Millennials and the generation before them don’t exactly  get the best wrap and are often described as self absorbed .  Reading the bios of the finalists in all categories  certainly drew everyone’s attention to a group of young people and their support networks who are turning  the self absorbed label on its head.

Why theses young people do what they do  and how they do it is both fascinating and inspiring.   Last year’s winner in the opening speech said something that gave me food for serious reflection. This young lady is a very passionate member of AYCC who lobbied their peers to sign up and vote at the last election. She quoted some phenomenal numbers as a testimony to their success.

She expressed her motivation by saying  something along the lines of “politicians don’t care about young people and young people don’t care about politicians”. She went on to say part of the mission of AYCC is to show young people how important it is to care about politicians and what they do and don’t stand for and to vote for the one’s that align with their values

Do politicians care about young people.? Do they care about us?  I think they do but I can certainly understand why people in general wonder what they do stand for. How do we fix a system where it appears that too many of our politicians only care about the needs of big business and the powerful people and not enough about the quality of life and well being of everyday Australians?.

AYCC have got it right. It’s up to everyday Australians to hold our politicians accountable and that starts with making sure we have the right politicians in office and support fiercely the one’s who align with our values.

Congratulations to Anika Molesworth, a fierce campaigner for #youthinag and the viability  and resilience of Australian farmers and social and environmental justice

Anika’s acceptance speech – its easy to see why she is in demand as a keynote speaker 

 

 

Little vs Big Agriculture – are objective views lacking??

grist

Foodies I need help.

The Picture You in Agriculture team has paired up with the Intrepid Landcare tribe to create and deliver a program that builds on the success of the Art4agriculture initiatives – The Archibull Prize and the Young Farming Champions to help young people in schools get their heads around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and take local action

Schools participating in the Kreative Koalas program ( note landing page only at this stage)  will partner with Young Sustainability Ambassadors (Expressions of Interest open here  ) and investigate and reflect on seven of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

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We are finding ‘Responsible Production’ tricky. Coming from generations of primary producers that these days would be seen as Big Agriculture, my mission is to show the Little vs Big Agriculture story is not a binary argument – Good vs Bad or Romantic vs Reality or Sustainable vs Non-Sustainable or Non-Sustainable vs Sustainable but a continuum. I am looking for objective views and some great cases studies on both Little and Big Ag.

Landline is an obvious choice for content but no-one has yet identified OZ food bloggers/journalists of the likes of  Tom Philpot from Mother Jones, Nathanael Johnson from Grist  and  Helena Evich from Politico for me

Do we have food journalists that write level-headed assessments of Australian agricultural systems in plain English?  If the answer is yes – please share them with me

HT Richard Heath and Dr Heather Bray

Identity crisis and stereotypes – farmers with akubras and bandy legs

cool urban dude with surfboard

Image credit

The Art4Agriculture team have created a complementary program model to The Archibull Prize that will allow us to roll the program out nationally. The students participating in the program will be investigating and reflecting on the theme

Feeding, Clothing and Powering a Hungry Nation is a shared responsibility

with the word ‘power’ referring to farmers potential to provide the community with renewable energy sources

FarmerAnnimation_Man

So of course we needed  a logo and I briefed  the graphic designer who happens to be male and he comes back with

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Okay so this was James stereotype of a farmer – love the bandy legs

Okay James farmers can be women too

So James sends me this

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So girl farmers have bandy legs too !!!!!!

So then I said OK lets make it a partnership and James comes back with this

Archibull Connections

then we thought about it some more and we thought lets have the farmers on one side of the plug and people from the city on the other

So how should I brief James?

What does a stereotypical urbanite look like. Does he/she evoke images of super cool people with 9 to 5  corporate careers who surf after work and party on the weekends ??????

Update 

The sage minds on twitter have delivered me a solution – farmer Gus Whyte has proposed a salute to the middle man.  I will ask James to replace the farmers with  a tradie wearing hi viz. But still have the problem of sex and ethnicity

Tradie wearing hi viz

Further reading

Miranda column: The glamorous face of farming

Some serious food for thought  –  Identify crisis – the default setting 

What my readers are saying

Everyman need a canoe

Everyman needs a canoe ht JK

Active wear

According to TE our cities are full of people who look like this

Why are Aussie farmers out of love?

Did you catch -Gregor Heard, Fairfax Media grains writer recent opinion piece reprinted below? Why are Aussie farmers out of love?

I like to throw this idea out there. Its us not them – we don’t get out enough – people DO love us.  And whats even better I have the hard data to prove  it

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Why are Aussie farmers out of love?
Jan. 27, 2016, 9 a.m.Opinion
JUST what have Australian farmers done to be so disconnected from the broader community?

In other nations across the globe, people involved in the most fundamental industry of all, food production, are respected as the primary plank of a functioning society.

Yet here in Australia, broadacre farmers cop a bum steer in terms of community perception.

They are variously described as whinging farmers being propped up by hard working city folk or mercenaries ruthlessly jeopardising the health of a nation in search of additional profits through the administration of veritable witches’ brews of toxic chemicals.

As those living in rural communities know, nothing could be further from the truth, but these ill-informed ideas have a damaging effect on the Australian agriculture industry across a range of issues.

But why does the Australian urban public seem to have so little time for farmers?

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You look at the US, a similar culture to our own, and the nation celebrates the importance of those who produce its food. Here, however, the disconnect between country and city means the majority of urban dwellers have no idea of the work and financial risk required to put food on the national table. Kaniva, Victoria, farmer Wal Meyer has an interesting theory on how farmers have lost the public relations battle. He believes that the very phenomenon that theoretically should have improved relations between mainstream farmers and the metro public has worked against it. The resurgence in interest in where food comes from, driven in part by Australia’s seemingly insatiable appetite for reality cooking shows, should have seen the public thanking the Australian farming community some of the safest food in the world.

Partially, we did see increased appreciation of the role of the farmer, but only a certain segment. The public latched onto key phrases such as ‘organic’ and ‘rare-breed’ raising small scale, niche market growers to the level of minor celebrities.

Well done to these guys and they are certainly making a go of their enterprises and producing some fantastic food in the process. But as Mr Meyer lamented, this success often comes at the expense of other farmers. “People keep talking about organic this and that, and saying how bad for you conventionally farmed food is, when the facts are, that all Australian food products pass through a rigorous screening process before it is declared safe to eat.”

Another issue for those interested in environmental issues is whether organic farming is more sustainable than systems using herbicides. Certainly, it is a nice warm and fuzzy feeling to know no chemicals have been used, but the situation is not so cut and dried. Organic grain production systems rely heavily on tillage, which in turn creates problems with erosion and salinity.

As the crop protection lobby argues (of course with its own interests to the fore) it is likely that judicious use of herbicides and synthetic fertilisers may be better for the planet as a whole. But perception is all, and at present conventional farmers and livestock producers are often pigeon holed as ‘factory farmers’ without a proper analysis of their methodology.

Farmers cop a similar bad rap when it comes to the processed foods that land on consumers’ tables. There is no doubt artificial preservatives and colourings are best to be avoided, as any parent of a child who has partaken in too much red cordial will attest, but nutritional issues with food on the supermarket shelves owe more to the manufacturing process than to the raw food the food processing sector is provided with.

Advocacy groups are out there arguing agriculture’s case, you see the Grains Legume Nutrition Council promoting healthy grain products and agriculture as a whole must continue to invest in these initiatives that bridge the gap between producer and consumer. Only then will we see a similar level of respect afforded to our primary producers as in other nations.

Source -Gregor Heard, Fairfax Media grains writer

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Its time to listen to the stats and get off the couch and get some sunshine, avoid the selective hearing trap and talk to people and actually listen- its amazing what we might find and I can assure you it will be good for the soul

How many ways can you tell inspiring tales from the farm

I have had a very inspiring 3 week road trip which started with an invitation to judge the Spirit of the Land Farm Art Sculpture’s competition. You can see my photos of this amazing event here

Following the Lockhart Festival I joined The Archibull Prize artwork judge architect Wendy Taylor on her yearly whirlwind tour searching for the WOW Archie. Poor Wendy this year proved to be very stressful – the wow factor was off the scale as you can see here.

For me as a farmer the highlight of this trip is talking to the teachers and students and listening to their journey and finding out the impact the program has had on them, their school and the wider community.

Did the students and teachers and farmers have the courageous conversations we all need to have to ensure Australian farmers can continue to feed and clothe Australian families in the highly challenging environment we find ourselves in on so many levels?

The big threats to reliable access to safe, affordable and healthy food in this country like increasing and prolonged extreme weather events, declining access to land, water and non renewable energy sources, food waste, biosecurity risks and and increasing consumer concerns about modern farming practices.

The students looked at all these big ticket issues and many more. They created artworks, they blogged and they animated and wow did they have courageous conversations,  They have thought boldly . They have  shown they have  the courage to drive change and find new and better ways of doing things . Mega kudos to them and their outstanding example to the rest of us

Lockhart Public School

These little cuties from Lockhart had such a great time making pom pom sheep 

The Archibull Prize is a very costly program to run as you can imagine.  Australia is a big country and transporting life size fibreglass cows doesn’t come cheap. Many people donate their time and expertise to ensure the program is delivered on behalf of farmers everywhere to the level of significance our wonderful Australian produce deserves

In fact the Young Farming Champions – some of Australian agriculture’s most inspirational young people donate thousands of hours between them to gain the skills and knowledge to go into schools participating in The Archibull Prize to tell agriculture’s story and share their values, hopes and dreams for a bright future for agriculture in this country

Interestingly enough it was Cotton Australia who was the first industry to put their hands up to participate in The Archibull Prize. Always an industry that thinks outside the box they could see the potential of using a blank fibreglass cow to tell the story of cotton. Although I must admit it did take me a while to convince them the award shouldn’t be the called The Archiboll Prize. Just to show you what I knew about cotton at that time I had to ask what a ‘boll’ was

Let me show you how inspiring an innovative vehicle, a blank fibreglass cow, an exciting young farming champion and some great classroom resources can be to tell Cotton Tales in a way that resonate with the people that matter – the people who buy what farmers produce and I am not even going to show you the artwork yet

The Many Faces of Cotton

Investigating the Australian Cotton Industry

and this

Did you know Australian Cotton is the best in the World?

How to make a Cotton Calf

And we haven’t even talked about cows telling sheep tales yet

Well check this out

Where there’s Wool There’s a Runway

Weaving the Woollen Dream

And this is just a sample – so glad I am not judging these

BTW Check out the Learn about Wool school resources here 

The farmers’ case for leaving coal and coalseam gas in the ground

These days when some-one asks me to speak at, or judge something they usually request a photo and a bio

The photo part is easy but the bio gets more and more difficult. Yes I can always tailor it for the audience I am presenting to or will be meeting but I don’t even know what to call myself any more.

At the moment as I collaborate with a diverse group of people who are helping to send Young Farming Champion’s Josh Gilbert and Anika Molesworth to Paris for COP21, I am finding myself being referred to as a global campaigner for equity for farmers as we lobby the Australian government for action on climate change.

Anika Molesworth

Australian Young Farmer of the Year Anika Molesworth

What does being a campaigner for equity for farmers mean for me?

It means creating awareness and getting government to ‘embrace the future’ by recognising agriculture does so much more that produce food and fibre.  It creates jobs, grows wealth and vibrant, healthy and resilient rural and regional communities. This is the bright future all Australians want and deserve

It means getting our government to understand climate change is happening and it is a real threat to reliable access to safe, affordable and healthy food not only in 20 years’ time but now.

It means I fully support these comments that agriculture can play a big role in helping deliver the solution

Australia’s food production sector can make a substantial contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and moving our communities, environment and economy to a more sustainable basis.  ….

Farming systems that produce their own renewable energy, and are based on sustainable agricultural practices that increase carbon storage in vegetation and soils, reduce the need for expensive nitrogen-based fertilizer, reduce soil degradation, save water, and protect our natural resource base will have win-win impacts – helping reduce the prospects of climate change to which we cannot adapt, as well as increasing the reliability, profitability and quality of our food supply.

Feeding a Hungry Nation: Climate change, Food and Farming in Australia 2015 by Professor Lesley Hughes, Dr. Martin Rice, Professor Will Steffen

Farmers are perfectly placed to contribute to the solutions to Climate Change. Not only are they on the frontline of Climate Change already, they are innovative, resourceful and determined.

Our Australian farmers are part of a global farming community. They know they have to learn from each other’s successes and failures in order to help us all move forward. Farmers have always been focused on feeding and clothing us, and now they also in a position to POWER us as well using renewable energy technologies.

Its means that I am dedicating every spare minute I have to ensure our farmers are provided with the knowledge, the skills, the support and incentives necessary to help them feed and clothe and power us profitably

With a 2am start this morning catching up on all the things I don’t know that I need to know to be effective at what I do – bloody hell yes did I relate to this story Coal Seam Gas and Country Women #gogirlfriends

Women are very passionate and if you threaten our homes, families and livelihoods we swing into action. Clean water, air and soil are a right for every man woman and child in this beautiful country. We have a right to know how and under what conditions our food and fibre are grown. We owe that to ourselves and our children and grandchildren. The methane is still in the coal seams under the ground so the fight is not over. Sustainable energy is the way of the future. “You can’t eat coal and you can’t drink gas”. Australian agriculture has a huge job ahead feeding the world with only 6% prime agricultural land. If our precious agricultural lands are left unmined, future generations of Australian farmers will still be feeding the world in the centuries to come.

Watch some of these magnificent women here

Where does this leave all the wonderful people who work in the coal industry?

As some-one who has friends with friends who work in the coal industry its is also very important to me that there will be great jobs in clean energy technologies to keep them in work. Here is a great story about Mark Wiggins who after 20 years working in coal and hydro is a coal miner who has successfully made that transition

A career in power generation moves from coal to wind

With the mining boom now at an end, Australia is grappling with a sharp jobs contraction in the coal, gas and resources sectors. As thousands of workers contemplate their futures, many of those in regional Australia will increasingly look to jobs in clean energy technologies to keep them in work.

Wind farms are a logical next step for workers experienced in fossil fuel power generation and that neatly describes the trajectory of AWA member, Mark Wiggins. After 20 years working in coal and hydro, Mark is now Operations Manager at Boco Rock Wind Farm, standing on the Monaro plains, 150 km south of Canberra