Farmageddon Indeed?

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

Farms Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cows in Paradise

Early adopter farmers are agriculture’s biggest threat

This year as part of The Archibull Prize students in schools across NSW and QLD are studying and reflecting on the biggest challenges facing agriculture in this country.

We have told the teachers and students those challenges are:

  • Climate Change
  • Declining natural resources
  • Food and Fashion Waste
  • Biosecurity

We have left out the most immediate challenge and the most important because the program itself by default addresses this

That problem is consumers are increasingly concerned about the way their food and fibre is produced

Surveys continually back up the following

Consumers want  Safe, affordable and healthy food

Consumers are concerned about

1. environment

2. animal welfare

3. chemicals in food

4. Farmers ability to make a living

I have dedicated the last ten years and the next 20 years of my life to showing consumers that they can have faith in the way food and fibre is produced in this country

I am lucky enough to work with a wonderful team of supporting partners and advocates helping me do this including agriculture’s rising stars

The biggest barrier to achieving major gains in building trust with consumers is our farmers themselves. There is a culture in agriculture that values quiet achievers and frowns upon being proud and loud

Too often I hear those early adopter quiet achievers say that the farmers talking in the media do not represent the majority and are not walking the talk whilst they are at home doing what they do best and don’t need to share it.

Let me tell you early adopter quiet achievers. You are the biggest threat to agriculture in this country and I put it to most of you that like me ten years ago you are very proud of what you do and would be delighted to talk about it if you had the confidence and skill sets to do so.

I have spent the last ten years building my confidence and skills sets and now help others by sharing my journey and providing them with the same technical experts that I was lucky enough to have access to.

Let me share with you what I believe the problem is.

You can break farmers up into the following demographics

  1. Innovators
  2. Early adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

Interestingly enough you can break consumers up into the same demographics. Looking at mainstream technology – love this graph but can’t understand why it wasn’t the girls who were the innovators. See postscript

clip_image002

In agriculture the early adopters get their information from the experts and other farmers follow by having conversations with and witnessing the successes of the early adopters. We have all heard the stats –  9 out 10 farmers learn from other farmers.

Agriculture’s big problem is early adopter consumers have great difficulty accessing agricultural experts or early adopter farmers prepared to share their journey so they get their information from the internet. In a lot of cases that’s a very scary thought. Dissemination of information in the community occurs in just the same way as it does in the farming community. Early adopters (or thought leaders) are highly respected by their peers and listen to what they say.

So I rest my case. Like it or not Early Adopter Farmers is time to come out from behind the bushel and it you were like me and want to build your confidence and skills sets –  lobby the organisations you pay levies to for the access to technical experts to help you Because in reality this is the only way you can save your fellow farmers from extinction.

Self driven extinction by our lack of across the board acknowledgment that the consumer is King and Queen and without their support we are wasting our time and money and our physical and emotional energy

Postscript.

I just love twitter my question as to why girls weren’t the innovators re the iPhone the brains trust on Twitter tells me and you will love this-  its because boys watch porn online that’s why they are innovators. Bit confused but amused

Now there is a research topic for the scientists – Online porn the driver of innovation

It’s about telling the story in the right way, for the right audience. Because after all – don’t we all love a good yarn?

There is an interesting story behind why I started writing my blog. I just happened to find myself in a workshop full of agricultural industry communication managers who declared the best people to talk about agriculture are farmers ( very true) and they should all write blogs ( beg your pardon- surely you are not serious??? ).

I was furious. Yes farmers are born bloggers. Of course we are – we are jacks of all trades. There is nothing we can’t do and we shout it from the roof tops.

Well the first thing we farmers need to learn is to stop telling everyone we are experts at everything and start outsourcing the expertise we don’t have.

Whilst I was a bit nervous that my blog “when farmers are their own worst enemy’ yesterday would incur the wrath of the gods it turned out 100% of my readers agreed that perhaps dairy cattle stud breeders aren’t the ideal people to be the face of our industry at the event of the year that attracts almost one million of the most important people on the planet – the people who buy what we (farmers) produce.

From all the feedback I received from dairy cattle exhibitors, exhibitors from other industries, farmers, the media  and the general public everyone agreed that being the face of your industry is a specialised skill not suited to the majority. This feedback clearly indicated agriculture had sooner rather than later think very seriously about how stud exhibitors and agricultural shows fit into their industry strategic, communication or social licence plans.

Cotton Australia is the peak body for Australia’s cotton growing industry. Currently Cotton Australia is seeking Young Farming Champions. The role of a Young Farming Champion is to be the youth face of their industry.

Young Farming Champions are people who

  • Are passionate about the agriculture industry;
  • Want to share stories with urban Australians to improve their understanding of sustainable food and fibre production, and in turn improve their understanding of urban consumers;
  • Are interested in being trained to speak confidently and charismatically to school students, the general public and fellow industry leaders;
  • Want to become part of a network of vibrant, young rural people who are encouraging consumers to value, be proud of and support the Australian farmers who feed and clothe them.

As part of the application process applicants are asked to write a blog post for Art4AgricultureChat. Obviously candidates like today’s guest blogger Andrea Crothers below will stand out from the crowd BUT being the face of your industry IS a skill that can be taught.

It definitely isn’t a skill everyone will master but it can be taught (by technical experts) if you want it badly enough. I for one wanted it badly enough that I was willing to put my heart and soul on the line for it.

I will never claim to be a journalist but my blog is a testament to my passion and commitment. My content in this documentary is testament to the years of technical expertise I sought to fine tune my message and do my very best to do my industry proud

I will also be the first person to acknowledge when people like Andrea come along we need to grab them with both hands and celebrate them.

Andrea is just one example of the very talented young people in the Cotton industry putting their hands up to take up this offer. She may not be chosen for the Young Farming Champions program as they may decide to use her talents elsewhere but they will see her for what she is an expert in her field and one hell of a story teller.

What all agriculture industries need to ask themselves is:

  • How do we identify the talent?
  • How do we engage the talent?
  • How do we invest in the talent
  • How do we nurture the talent?
  • How do we retain the talent?
  • How do we sustain the talent?

Well the answer to that must start with asking the talent and there is no denying there is plenty of it out there

Meet Andrea Crothers …….. 

Incredibly driven, cheeky and willing to talk to just about anyone.

 Andrea Crothers  (3)

Andrea ( on right) and colleague standing in a field of cotton 

As a journalist for one of Queensland’s leading agricultural news outlets, I thrive on telling other people’s stories. So when faced with the daunting task of sharing my own, I thought I’d better turn to my own friends to give me some descriptors. The words competitive, tenacious and occasionally blonde (not all together thankfully) also ranked highly.

Based in Brisbane, I enjoy the best of both worlds as I frequently hit the beaten track to share some of rural Queensland’s cracking yarns for a living. So how does a dandy lass from Dirranbandi end up here? Well, nature and nurture both played a part.

I was five years old when I made my first big life decision.

My father was planting one of his first ever cotton crops on our family owned and operated property, “Booligar”, 44km south-west of Dirranbandi.

Unaware he was sowing the seeds for a family love affair with cropping’s white gold, he happily allowed his three young children – my two older sisters and I – to ride alongside him in the tractor cab.

Typically, it was a small and confined cab – one that usually only has room for the operator in centre position, a small and patient passenger to their left, a lunch box and water bottle by their feet, and a mixture of clunky tools and oily rags thrown into the limited space behind the seat.

So wedged behind the tractor’s driver’s seat, I lay head-to-toe next to my eldest sister, Caitlin, cramped up against the back window with Dad’s tools.

Meanwhile, our other sister, Lauren (my twin) was proudly perched on the passenger seat beside our father.

There and then I decided if I was going to be doing laps in that tractor all day, I wanted to upgrade to prime position where I could be amid all of the action. That’s something that has carried through my entire life.

Andrea Crothers  (2)

 Virtually raised in the back of a tractor, I developed an early love for cotton.

 Backed by 150 years of family farming

It was the 1990s. My parents, Douglas and Lorraine Crothers, in partnership with Dad’s brother and his wife, had recently completed purchasing the family property only to be thrashed with one of Queensland’s worst droughts on record.

The original block was purchased by two brothers, Henry and Thomas Crothers, in 1864. Backed by three generations of Crothers’ brothers, mothers and others, Dad always said how special it was to live and work the very same land our ancestors had for what is now 151 years.

Prepare Plant Produce

It’s in his hands and in his blood – Dad’s the fourth generation to live and work on “Booligar”.

The 11,253 hectare (27,800 acre) property had always been a sheep and cattle station, with diversification into cropping coming later.

It was with the harsh drought of the 1990s, followed by a humdinger of a flood in 1996, that pushed the family to fully explore intensive row cropping to ensure Booligar’s financial sustainability.

They planted their first cotton crop, irrigated, late in 1996 when I was only three years old.

 Andrea Crothers  (1)

 1997: Donald and Douglas Crothers (Dad) with their first cotton crop. Photo: Queensland Country Life.

Like most farm kids, we pumped poly pipes to irrigate the crop as early as our little hands could fit over the mouth of the siphon (my competitive streak proved handy in racing my sisters to complete a water shift).

With my cousins, we’d wake early to walk up and down furrows, chipping weeds out of the cotton fields in the cool of the morning.

There was also the dreaded stick picking – walking up and down bare developed paddocks to clear remaining timber that would affect machinery and equipment working the field.

These tasks, though arduous at times, were always made worth it when we saw the crop progress.

In March, the familiar white specs of cotton would creep across the green glow of fully grown crops.

Bolls of fluffy white gold burst open until the entire crop was a field of glorious white. And every year, when we jumped in the cotton picker with the contractors, grasped a big bundle of cotton spilt on the module pad or reviewed the ginned product with Dad; we shared a sense of pride in producing something magnificent from the land on which we lived.

Cotton is my life  (2)

 Cotton is Queensland’s fourth highest-value cropping commodity, but the most rewarding by far at “Booligar”.

Cotton is my life  (3)

 Cotton picking at St George and Dirranbandi occurs March-April. The introduction of round module pickers (pictured)in the last few years have greatly improved efficiency and safety.

 A craving for rural storytelling

ABC radio playing in the background, politics frequenting dinner conversations, and the Queensland Country Life newspaper received in the mail were all symbols of my childhood that have driven my thirst for rural news.

My burning desire to find out ‘why’, and how issues affect those on all sides of the story, drove my parents crazy throughout my childhood.

Being sent away to boarding school on the Gold Coast – the complete opposite of my one-teacher primary school at Hebel – was a fantastic opportunity to gain greater understanding of urban Australia. It also helped me unconsciously create contacts to open the dialogue of communication between the regions.

One might say the beach is hard to turn your back on, but studying near the ocean has only made me appreciate the country even more.

This was particularly realised when I returned to Dirranbandi for a working gap year in 2011.

Stepping off the family farm and into a corporate farming operation just up the road, I took the opportunity to work on Australia’s largest cotton producing property, Cubbie Station. I was the only female in my team, but that didn’t stop me from getting in and having a go. The region is recognised for producing some of the best quality fibre in the world. What stuck is that it takes an entire community to earn that badge.

A few years later I was able to combine two loves – cotton and journalism.

Returning to the region on university holidays, I did a bug checking season under a local agronomist. We’d start at 4.30am, trudging through muddy cotton crops all day to collect field data.

Cotton is my life  (1)

Bug checking cotton during its growth involves extensive data collection from which an agronomist will consult a grower on crop care.

Any spare moment I had I was in the office of the local newspaper, where I focussed on using my local knowledge to bring more agricultural stories through.

Andrea Crothers  (7)

Reliving my grape harvest days while covering a story for the local paper.

 It was one of many internships I eagerly completed over 10 months – including WIN News Sunshine Coast, WIN News Toowoomba, and Queensland Country Life – before being offered an interview with my current workplace.

Andrea Crothers  (6)

Catching up with good friend and WIN News Toowoomba Chief-of-Staff Caitlin Holding at the Brisbane Royal Show in 2014 – one year after she’d encouraged me to pursue a career as a rural reporter.

 And now I couldn’t be happier! Working as a rural reporter has further ignited my passion for agriculture and rural Australia.

It has granted me a position to interact with all areas of the industry. What I have learnt so far is driving my ambition to make rural news a greater part of mainstream media.

Andrea Crothers  (4)

 I’m very fortunate my work takes me across the state to shine a light on agricultural stories. Pictured here with a colleague in cotton seed at a feedlot near Roma.

 The bigger picture: putting rural news in focus

It’s clear family farming has been important in shaping Australia’s agricultural landscape.

But just as the Crothers’ family have adapted their lifestyle to ensure our property’s sustainability and continued business growth, so is the need to adapt the way agricultural stories are told.

There is a thirst for rural affairs news in metropolitan areas – there’s no denying that.

But the content needs to be digestible. Our goal as rural reporters hoping to penetrate mainstream media is to package agricultural news stories in different ways, for different audiences.

That doesn’t mean becoming public relations tools for agriculture. Rather, it means finding those great stories within the agricultural industries and sharing them.

You only need to look at cotton to see there’s an abundance of content: adoption of biotechnology, pest management practices, global market competition from synthetic fibres, demand for increased water efficiency, succession planning and the role of foreign investment in agriculture.

It’s about telling the story in the right way, for the right audience.

Because after all – don’t we all love a good yarn?

Andrea Crothers  (5)

  

When farmers are their own worst enemy

The Sydney Royal Easter Show has been running for the last 10 days. The show attracts close to one million people every year

It is a phenomenal opportunity for farmers to engage with “showgoers” aka general public aka consumers. Those all important people who buy what we produce.

Sydney Royal Easter Show - the audience

Our audience – Opportunity gained? Opportunity lost? Source  

I have been exhibiting at the show since I was eight years old and been involved in various community engagement activities at the Show for the past 10 years.

2008 Dairy activities in Cattle Pavilion

Farm to Fridge Painting Wall

Farm to Fridge Activities

As a farmer in reality I should see exhibiting as a community engagement activity – shouldn’t I?

For example if I was a dairy cattle exhibitor impacted by $1/litre milk sales

  • I would be signing up to be at the show on the most popular days at the show for the general public.
  • I would be doing everything in my power to have conversations with everyone who walked past to show them that I am one of those people that supply their families with nutritious, affordable and safe milk.
  • I would do everything I could to show them that I care for my animals.
  • I would be doing everything I could to show them that I am passionate about the scarce natural resources that my cows graze on.
  • I would do everything I could to ensure those people who walk past me and my cows at the show go home with an emotional bond that makes them think twice what milk they select when they walk into the supermarket.

Last night I had a call from some-one I know well in marketing. It was a very blunt phone call.

He said ‘Has your industry ever thought about the fact that your dairy farmer stud cattle exhibitors at the Sydney Royal Easter Show are doing it more harm than good?”

I said “What do you mean?”

He said “I wandered around the stud dairy cattle pavilion for 45 mins watching how the dairy farmers engaged with the general public. Whilst some do genuinely engage when they are spoken to, the rest give off this elite aura and some are just plain rude”

I did jump to their defence and said meekly “well they have put in a great deal time, money and effort to get their cows there and they are all pretty much focused on the blue ribbon and tend to find the general public a distraction”

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Sadly he is not the first person to say this. So what does our industry do to engage with the public?

Well our industry doesn’t do anything but the RAS of NSW certainly does and the face of both of these very impressive activities are young people very passionate about the dairy industry who aren’t farmers.

There is the Dairy Farmers Milking Barn promoted as

an interactive and fun experience for the whole family. With demonstrations throughout the day, showgoers can learn about how farmers care for cattle, what the animals eat to stay healthy, milking hygiene and how dairy technology has advanced over the past 200 years.

Showgoers will also have the opportunity to hand-milk some of the gentle, good-natured cows and interact with the farmers.

I have stood and watched as Luke and his team entertain and inform the crowd and it’s outstanding

Also on offer for showgoers and equally popular is the Dairy Farmers Working Dairy promoted as an opportunity to see the on farm technology that is second step in the process of getting milk, butter and cheese from the grassy meadow paddock to the breakfast table?

In an amazing display of modern agricultural technology in action, The Dairy Farmers Working Dairy offers a behind-the-barn-door look at the workings of a modern dairy.

Showgoers will see state-of-the-art machinery in operation, watch as cows are milked and see how today’s dairy farmers monitor their herd for maximum performance.

Visit The Dairy Farmers Working Dairy and the nearby The Dairy Farmers Milking Barn for a look at the incredible changes that modern technology has brought to the business of agriculture.

At the Dairy Farmers Working Dairy the showgoers get to see the exhibitors cows milked.

The face of the Dairy Farmers Milking Barn is a young veterinarian and multi-media megastar Cassie MacDonald

Cassie MacDonald working dairy

– again like Luke and his team she gives a world class stellar performance.

But do these exhibitions leave a long lasting emotional bond that translates into branded milk sales? After all they are pitched as the opportunity to see the technology?

Technology is a thing. Extensive social research tells us people relate to people

Are the dairy cattle stud exhibitors doing themselves more harm than good?

Well that’s a question for industry and ultimately those farmers themselves to decide and do something about.

Milk Bottles

Milk is milk no matter how it is branded or is it?

BTW Other industries are doing some amazing “showgoer’ engagement activities at the show. I will blog about those shortly

Footnote

This post has had 50 Facebook shares in 15 minutes of it being posted. Many of these comments are very concerning. Are showgoers idiots? I don’t think so. How many stupid questions would farmers ask if they went to their workplaces. Why cant we see that the difference between farmers and everyone else it we were lucky enough to grow up surrounded by agriculture . Its time to show some respect and thank the people who buy what we produce and stop wasting massive opportunities like this one Facebook Commentsand this Facebook posting from Robin says it all don’t you think?- if you are going to turn up make the most of it

Robin on Facebook

Agriculture – an endangered species

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kildare Catholic College

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

Footnotes

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

 

 

 

Show me a farmer who doesn’t care

When the term ‘social licence to operate’ first came on the radar for agriculture in this country about six or seven year ago everyone looked wise and then rushed to the nearest bathroom to ask Dr Google what it meant

It’s one of those terms like sustainability that has a mind blowing number of definitions. 90% of them in a lingo nobody understands and far too many people used that excuse to put it in the too hard basket

For me as a farmer having a social licence means the community trusts that I care as much as they do about the environment, producing safe food, my employees and my animals that they don’t feel that it is necessary to ask the government to create an ad infinitum list of red and green tape regulations to make sure I do the right thing

The NSW Government has pulled social licence well and truly out of the too hard basket and put it very visibly on the table as part of their AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY ACTION PLAN DISCUSSION See here

I was very honoured and excited to be part of the discussion on the four social licence policy items proposed in the Industry Action Plan at the SOCIAL LICENCE TO OPERATE – CONNECTING WITH COMMUNITY workshop yesterday

I was also so proud to have one of the Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions as a speaker at the event. Josh Gibert’s topic was ‘Social Licence the Narrative’ and wow did Josh do a fantastic job. I will blog Josh’s presentation on Art4Agriculture Chat

Pip Courtney facilitated the event brilliantly and a number of actions were put forward at the end of the day.

I personally have no concept of why many of our farmers are tip toeing around social licence. After we all want the same thing as the community and our consumers.

Safe, affordable, nutritious food and quality fibre produced by people who care

Find me a farmer who doesn’t care because if you can that person doesn’t belong in agriculture and they need to be told that. I am confident that will be a very short list.

Agriculture has not told its story well and as a result we are often seen as a sunset industry in this state, Minister Katrina Hodgkinson MP, Director General Scott Hansen and their team are determined to shine the light on agriculture again.

Our farmers have a very important role to help them do that. Let’s start by making our journey a partnership with the community

After all we do want the same thing

Safe, affordable, nutritious food and quality fibre produced by people who care

Lets tell our story, take community on the journey with us and the narrative must be underpinned by why we do it.

MERCURY.WEEKENDER. Pic taken at Clover Hill Dairies Jamberoo for Two page feature and history and future of Clover Hill Dairies ..pic of Lynne Strong feeding some calves. pic by sylvia liber. 6 September 2006. job number 00065069 SPECIALX 00065069

Why am I feeding our calves?. Marian MacDonald tells you why here

You can find the AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY ACTION PLAN  here 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proud to be a farmer, but tired of having to defend my farming practices.

Its been a very interesting week

Last night the RAS of NSW held an agriculture teacher professional development workshop at which I got the opportunity to showcase the work of Art4Agriculture.

It was great fun and I learnt a lot. I met a crocodile farmer in the US and one in the Northern Territory via video conference technology, sampled crocodile meat for the first time and met a crocodile

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I have also had a very inspiring week travelling north with the 2014 Archibull Prize art judge Wendy Taylor to Queensland to see the students’ bovine masterpieces. And what masterpieces they are. You can see them on Facebook here

The students’ artworks this year reflect on their interpretation of how sustainability and agriculture and the community can partner to help feed the world and reduce food waste

Wendy and her husband Craig are both architects and their firm red blue architecture + design has a particular passion for site specific, environmentally sustainable solutions for new houses

As my regular blog readers are aware I am particularly frustrated by how confused the world is about what the word sustainability actually means and what it takes to achieve it. See previous post here

So I asked Wendy the question ‘Do people in general actually understand what the concept of sustainable housing is?’

Wendy said to me ‘well I can honestly say no-one has ever come to me and asked me to design the smallest house I could to meet their needs’

Let’s be honest with each other – we don’t get it.

To be sustainable we all have to be committed to reducing our footprint on the world and we all have to be committed to doing it together

Which brings me to “What’s making me cranky at this point in time?”

This week its Marie Claire and Sustainable Table et al. See Page 279-280 November 2014 Marie Claire

Those well-meaning but naive almost evangelistic people who believe and promote that you can put farming practices into boxes like artisan, boutique or organic = good for you. Whilst conventional farming = factory farming = not good for animals and the planet and people

If you just happen to be like the majority of family farmers in this country who grow food and fibre for the commodity market so that Australians from all economic backgrounds have the opportunity to afford it you are then perceived by label association to automatically fall into the ‘unsustainable, unhealthy, or unethical’ category.

If we are going to meet the challenges of feeding the world and reducing the abomination that is food waste then this rural idyll mentality has to stop.

The story should be about farmers engaging with consumers and the importance of eating real food, rather than highly processed food. Not about promoting one farming practice over another

Australian farming families are mums, dads, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives. They’re just as interested in the environment and what they feed their families and animal welfare, as people in cities. They just happen to be farmers, growing some of the world’s best real food and fibre and they are feeding 20 million people here and another 40 million people overseas.

Let them get on with it. Enough I say. Lets not pitch farmer against farmer. Let’s work together to help all farmers be the best possible farmers they can be.

BTW This article is well worth a read – To feed the world in 2050 we have to change course

Creating communities with essential fabric, heart and soul

Last week it gave me great pleasure to present on the Future of Landcare with a focus on engaging youth at the Australian Landcare Conference in Melbourne.

lynne Strong Landcare

Thanks to Peter Piggot who snapped this shot of me on the stage

In today’s post I would love to share with what I had to say in words and pictures. I hope it gives you food for thought and I welcome your feedback

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I do what I do because I love this country

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I care deeply about the farmers who look after 60% of its land mass

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I am very proud that those farmers produce 93% of the food that Australians consume.

I am however very concerned that in this country we waste a whopping 4.5 million tonnes of food a year yet 2 million people can go to bed hungry every night. That is almost 10% of the population

Most of us take for granted that Agriculture feeds, it clothes us and it puts a roof over our heads

Yet very few people are aware of how challenging it is to do this when every year you have

1. Declining natural resources – less land and less water and on top of this

2. Increasing consumer expectations about how food and fibre should be produced

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As a farmer I am very concerned that so few people recognise the ramifications of this country being the hottest and driest continent

AND the consequences of scarce water resources and poor soils meaning the other statistic that really worries me is less than 6% of this country is suitable for growing crops.

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I am also passionate about youth. Some people would say I am almost obsessed about youth, identifying talented youth and engaging them and nurturing them.

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There is a pool of great young people keen to play their part in Landcare.

I know this because I have the pleasure of working with a number of these wonderful young people every day

We need these young people and we must value their contribution

We need to work at developing new and exciting opportunities where these young people can make a positive and expanding contribution.

This may mean a rethink of how Landcare operates and what Landcare is and does.

I believe Landcare can have a pivotal role in regenerating communities at the same time as regenerating the land.

To do this we need to support our young people

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If they are to continue stepping up to the challenge and putting themselves out there and we do not support them when they have a negative experience then we may lose them.

It we get it right it’s not just the environment that benefits – our people our communities – the health, wealth and happiness of this great country – are the big beneficiaries

To get it right our young people need training, mentors and supportive networks if this is to be a success

Today I want to share with you one such success story

The Young Eco Champions project was funded by Caring for our Country support in 2012

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The project saw us saw shining the light on a highly innovative and exciting partnership of young farmers and young people in natural resources management who were working together.

Together they undertook

  • Self and Professional development
  • Project development and implementation of on ground works
  • Community engagement activities
  • Developed multimedia communications strategies and delivered them to share the story with the community

What did this look like?

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We bought together Young Farming Champions and Young Eco Champions and provided them with training including high level media training, leadership and communications skills to deliver their story to community audiences.

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They delivered Landscape scale conservation activities through a mentoring partnership between Young Eco Champions and farmers.

They promoted conservation information to wider community through:

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· visiting Schools

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· holding Field days

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· Creating Case studies

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· Writing Blogs

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· Writing scripts and starring in videos

· And putting masterpieces on the web like this

But wait there is more

The Young Farming Champions and the Young Eco Champions were then able to go into schools as part of the Archibull Prize which uses creativity to teach sustainability

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The aim of the project was to

1. Raise awareness of, and a passion for landcare principles in young farmers, in schools and in the community and equally

2. Raise awareness and understanding amongst young landcarers and the community of the challenges and constraints of modern agricultural systems

What we hoped do achieve was threefold

1. Firstly we wanted to cement the idea that sustainable food & fibre production is reliant on collaboration between farmers and landcarers and the community

2. Secondly we wanted to secure innate/inborn partnerships between NRM professionals & our food and fibre producers.

3. And thirdly we wanted to increase the participation of young people in managing natural resources.

DID WE SUCCEED – OF COURSE WE DID

As Eve Sawyer said ”Never underestimate the power of passionate people”

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Now as I said at the beginning – Most of us take for granted that Agriculture feeds us, clothes us and puts a roof over our heads

Yet very few people are aware of how challenging it is to do this

As you have seen the Young Farming Champions and the Young Eco Champions program in partnership with the Archibull Prize is an innovative and fun way to bring together our farmers and school students to work together to

  • address the challenges of today and
  • develop a road map for a bright future

Increasingly in the future IF our farmers are going to be able to continue to supply safe, affordable, nutritious food and quality fibre – agriculture has to be a partnership with the community.

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We all want to lead a life that matters but we also want to enjoy the process and feel a connection and feel like we belong.

I am a passionate believer that Landcare is a wonderful role model of a community with that essential fabric, heart and soul

If Landcare is to have a solid foundation and to retain its share of budget it too has to have strong community partnerships and broad support.

It’s time to prioritise theses connections. We can’t afford to let them get lost in the crowd.

Like a lot of Agriculture it is time for Landcare to marshal its troops and start telling its story more often and in new and exciting ways.

And the best people to start this conversation are the young people in Landcare who may not be fully engaged in traditional activities.

Each of us needs to ask ourselves the question

If I do nothing different now, what will be the result in a year from now….. And is that okay?

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My vision for agriculture

I have a vision for agriculture I hold so strongly and I am totally unwilling to accept defeat.

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Would you agree with me that if we are going to attract the best and the brightest young people we have to find innovative and creative ways of doing it?

Would you also agree if we are going to retain these people we have to deliver value for them?

The good news is as you have seen there is a solution

I would invite you all

  • Everyone in the room
  • Everyone right across Australia

To join me in investing in the people of the future!!!!!!!.

Lynne Strong  Landcare Conference

I enjoyed the following Q&A panel session and being on the stage with some of the wonderful people who have supported Art4Agriculture from the beginning ( PIEF and Landcare Australia) 

Thank you to Landcare Australia and the committee for giving me the opportunity to showcase some of agriculture and the natural management community’s wonderful young people. They are definitely out there and its my generation’s role to invest in them 

The dangers of farmers choosing to live in a bubble

A lot of farmers I know who grow and produce for the commodity market (i.e. producing food or fibre that is functionally indistinguishable from that of your competitors) live in a self imposed bubble. They farm because they like it, they are good at it and they love the isolation from the rest of the world that it allows them .

Over the last few months I have had this increasingly emotional desire to wrap them all up in cotton wool and protect them even further from the world. There will of course be a lot of them who will say they can look after themselves thank you very much and so they can

I am beginning to think I get out too much or I think/care too much but my gut is telling me its not going to get any easier and more people need to get out of the bubble and have conversations with the people who buy the end products made from what they produce

Let me give you just one of multiples of questions I get asked. Just last week I had a conversation with some-one that I spent 3 days with at a workshop at the Melbourne Business School  who was very knowledgeable on a hell of a lot of things except the ins and outs of grain feeding cows. What he wanted to know was why we don’t say on the milk cartoon/bottle labels whether the cows have been grain fed or grass fed..I was bit ( a lot) shocked by this question. Well to start with it would be very difficult because as you can see from this slide we have a huge variation in cow feeding production systems in the Australian dairy industry

Feeding systems

  This chart describes the range of production systems operating across Australian dairy farms – & how farmers are increasingly becoming more flexible and opportunistic.

The reason being is smart farmers take advantage of what’s best for their farm system and their cows at any given time. The more supplementary grain you feed the more milk you should get remembering this is only cost effective when all the moons align.

When I asked why he thought this was important he said grain was bad for cows and consumers should be able to make ethical choices. Indeed consumers should be able to make ethical choices. The trouble is more and more consumers are making very ill-informed ones. Yes too much grain is bad for cows just like too much sugar is bad for kids. But smart parents like smart farmers are very diet conscious and control the amount  of sugar they give to their kids. Grains (or supplementary feeding as farmers call it) is a great option for cows as its higher in sugar aka energy than pasture and if you can buy it cost effectively it provides the opportunity to produce more milk per cow and this helps to keep milk affordable as well as a highly nutritious staple for families in Australia.

As you can see from the graph 50% of dairy farms in Australia supplementary feed their cows grains to generate 52% of milk production. I can assure you that the 2% that feed their cows a diet of all grains really know what they are doing and their cows are healthy and firing on all cylinders. Its also very important to remember that cows are feed grains not suitable for human consumption and this option can mean life or death for cows in a drought and we have a lot of them in Australia..

I am very reliably given to understand that a lot more is now known about cow nutrition than human nutrition and its safe to say dairy cows in this country have a much healthier diet than a lot of humans. Do we need to remind ourselves that over 50% of people in this country are overweight  You will also be interested to know that the smart farmers employ nutritionists to advise and monitor cow diet.

.Last week I wrote a very popular post on Art4AgricultureChat because I was very concerned (furious) about some other misconceptions that keep cropping up everywhere I go. See here.

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I am glad it  resonated because its more and more critical that people make informed food choices not only for them and their families but also for the planetI

We have got to stop  this ever growing propensity to demonise certain types of agricultural systems out of hand

The media and websites are full of stories about the perils of conventional, large-scale agriculture, pointing to simpler ways of producing food that appear to be more in harmony with nature.

Large vs. small, family farms vs. corporate, organic vs. mainstream, free range vs. housed, grass fed vs. grain fed.The reality is it’s not the system it is how it is managed that really counts.

When it comes to the best approach to natural resource management and animal well-being we need to focus on measurable results that, in turn, will generate innovation and solutions to some of our most pressing problems on this planet. Not the least of which is to provide affordable, nutritious, ethically produced food that allows a reasonable return on investment for farmers that will allow them to feed a future 9 billion people and maintain life on Earth as we know it.

It is not just the community that is putting pressure on farmers. Some farm businesses and major retailers have taken to denigrating other farm management systems as a marketing tool to promote their own.

Judicious use of scientifically validated technology is one of the great advantages developed food producing nations like Australia has over many other countries. We have rigid and well regulated systems and safety checks in place that make our food some of the safest in the world, irrespective of whether it has been derived by conventional or non-conventional methods. If we read the labels and play by the rules we can be confident that the technologies that we use on farm are safe and the food that we produce is superior and as safe as any in the world.

Our farming systems can not be locked into a religious type paradigm of what we think is best .We must continue to adapt to our changing resource base, the seasons and climate, the economy and our markets. We also know that nature does not always get it right and some times we need to use technology to tip the balance back in favour of the farming system and the ever increasing people we need to feed.

We must acknowledge this if we are going to keep feeding our world from an ever shrinking resource base with a market place that continually wants to pay less for food that costs more to produce we must always use technology and innovation smartly. Equally we must consider the collateral effects of its use ensuring that our management and farming practices are at best practice rather than just reaching for the key to the chemical shed or the drug cabinet.

The majority of Australian farmers big and small, boutique or commodity will always aim to produce the best quality and safest food that is grown with the best interest of the environment and animals that it comes from.  Its time to salute everyone of them.

Thank you to the wonderful Deb Brown for sending me this great image to sum up my blog

Deb Brown