Farmer Vicki Jones is living the dream

As promised in an earlier post I am now delighted to share Vicki Jones’ presentation from the Naturally Resourceful Conference in Mitchell this month.

I am confident Vicki’s story will move you just as much as it did me

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Hello my name is Vicki Jones……………………

Yes Jones one of the most common names in the phone book and I am married to a farmer, so I am Mrs Jones the farmer’s wife. I love what I do as a farmer’s wife and am very passionate about the land.

I suppose this came about at a very young age as I grew up on a cattle property on the western downs and even though I initially chose a different path, I have ended up just where I wanted to be. Lucky I guess or you could say well planned.

For the last couple of years as my involvement in the local land care group grew, I found myself volunteering to be the Chair of Mitchell & District Landcare. I did this because I believe in the foundations of land care and not only does it give us access to factors that affect our land scapes and environment it also allows us to be a part of a very important group of people who also have the same goals and love for their land.

For those of us who are fortunate to own a piece of this wonderful country, land care is a major part of our lives. Most of us get out of bed every morning with the intention to care for our land and to make it better for our future generation. We do this because we have too…. we are the ones with the money on the line, we can’t afford to get in wrong, we have to keep searching to make things better. It is easy for others who do not have any money on the line to have an opinion of what we as farmers need to do, or better still what not to do. However it is those of us that are the resourceful ones that are in the pilot seat of our future and chose this life because we can and it’s what we as people of this land do.

 

I will just give you a brief background. After leaving boarding school many years ago I went on to study dentistry and worked for Queensland Health on and off for 20 years having breaks for children and other pursuits. Dentistry is not all it’s cracked up to be as nobody likes you and it actually has the highest suicide rate of all professionals.

I did have a career, but as a wife and mother I always put my family first. For the first 10 years of our marriage we worked and lived on Bruce’s family dairy farm near Toowoomba and as seeming to be the theme of a couple of the speakers I heard yesterday, this was also not what it was cracked up to be.

Bruce had always wanted to have his own cattle property. It was his lifelong dream and as I had grown up on the land it soon became mine as well. After working on the family dairy farm for 15 years it became apparent that his dream was not going to happen unless he did it himself.

In one of a few heated discussions with Bruce’s parents, about our decision, we decided to walk away and make it on our own. Bruce’s dad told him that if he left the family farm to go west, that he would go broke.

So with these words from the man he admired most still ringing in his ears he packed up his young family and moved west. We bought all that we could afford, a small cattle property south west of Mitchell.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of how small. The surrounding properties and the regional average is about 20 – 60 thousand acres and we had purchased 2500 acres. So we don’t have a very big ship, but what we do have is our own boat and we can paddle it where ever we chose. And we chose to do the best with what we have. We could not buy this place and run it like both our fathers would have, because it was not big enough and it needed to pay for itself. If it was not profitable it just became and expensive place to live.

Oolandilla Park” was the beginning of our dream.  The only thing a bit tricky was that it only ran 80 head of cattle. The house had never been lived in, the fences / yards were all falling down and in terms of type of country, south of Mitchell was not a best street kind of suburb. As we found out from all of the comments from the locals. So we had some work to do. We were wondering what we can do to give us the biggest bang for our buck, as we realized that something had to change or our dream was not going to happen.

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With the help of MDLA, Queensland Murray Darling Catchment & farmbis my husband and I were fortunate enough to be involved in a pilot study  being participants in RCS’s Grazing For Profit School in early 2007. Sixteen local farming enterprises attended the course and up to 4 enterprises continued on the Graduate Link and Executive Link modules. We were privileged to have Terry McCosker as our facilitator. We took on this information with great enthusiasm and applied the grazing management principles immediately. This has since proven to not only change our business forever, but also our personal lives. It heightened our awareness of our environment and taught us to love our grasses just as much as our cows.

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When we started to measure our ground cover & grasses in March 2007 we found that we had 23% ground cover and 5% desirable grasses.

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We immediately changed our grazing management to include rotational grazing of livestock, fenced off dams and boundary fenced for feral goats and kangaroos. Don’t get me wrong we still have some kangaroo’s, we just now have a sustainable level. Before they were in plague proportions and not very healthy. The rotational grazing has allowed us to rest each paddock for 12 months of the year every year.

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By changing our grazing management for only 2 years we had been able to increase our desired grasses by 1000% and the litter has improved by 350% giving us an overall ground cover now of 90%. While doing this we were also able to increase our livestock numbers by 325%.

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 After a while the wattle suckers and a few other species started to come up pretty thick and we became a bit concerned. We had neither the time nor the money to address them.

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We left them alone and concentrated on what we did want and not want we did not want and that was grass. As we were monitoring our grass we discovered that the suckers were changing. A scale/moth/grub or something was getting into them and they were slowly dying. Where the woody weeds had been the grass was higher and thicker.

We also noticed that due to the higher stock density that the cattle were now changing their diet to include some of the woody weeds. Things were happening that we know not much about, but however were changing for the good.

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During this time we have also been monitoring our microbial activity and water cycle.  The microbial activity and fungi within our soils are becoming more evident and the water cycle is increasing positively. This has allowed us to have an increase, in usable rainfall. Rather than having water running away, we now have moisture retention with less rainfall.

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We are always on the lookout for worms and what’s happening in the soil and until this year we had not found any live worms, but when we did we celebrated. These things are the life blood to our soils and if we can have an increase in cattle numbers and have worms popping up in the paddock then we must be doing something right.

Map

Until a few weeks ago we did not know that this map existed. Our eldest son was doing an assignment at school and he found the map. As you can see it clearly shows what’s happening with the ground cover and the moisture retention.

Other things that we have done to increase our profitability have been courses such as

  • KLR Marketing
  • Low Stress Stock Handling
  • Advanced Stock Movement and Dog School

One of the courses that we have been attending for the past 4 years is the Livestock Movement course which introduces the working dog into the enterprise. We have learnt so much form these courses and implementing the strategies, has made such a difference to our bottom line that we have fallen in love with the working dog an now have our own registered stud “Dunyellan Working dogs” and have been training and breeding kelpies and collies for sale as  a hobby. Like we needed something else to do.

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So, the big question is, are we there yet, have we achieved our dream? Well not quite, with everything that we have implemented we are not quite viable, but are pretty close. We do realise that we need to have a larger scale, however with what we know now, we definitely know it’s not about how much land you own but what you can do with it.

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Bruce and I have always built our lives on goals and trying to work out in what direction we need to go next, which is the most beneficial to our lives and our business. We know that it does not matter where you are today in this state of your lives or business because that is only a temporary indicator.

This conference is helping to provide the tools for you to take the clay of your life in your hands and mould it to your dreams. Just like moulding real clay, it’s not about the results but the process of the moulding that counts. Look and speak in the direction that you want to be and never look back.

 

Without these opportunities and courses we would not be where we are today. So, thank-you to MDLA and QMDC for allowing us to move our business forward.

 

The Great Debate

In the spirit of ‘history is written by the victors’ it gives me great pleasure to reflect on my participation in the “Every Australian child should be taught Agriculture at school” debate at the Waite Institute last week.

A big thanks to the losing team Team for the Affirmative from L to R  below
Associate Professor Amanda Able, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, University of Adelaide, Mr Ian Joseph, Chair, Agribusiness Council of Australia, Nick van den Berg, Second year student, Bachelor of Agricultural Science, University of Adelaide

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and hugs and kisses and bubbles for the victors Team for the Negative Professor Derek Leinweber, Head of School, Chemistry and Physics, University of Adelaide
and of course me (Lynne Strong, National Program Director, Art4Agriculture and Farmer) and Dr John Willison, School of Education, University of Adelaide

As you can see it was a great opportunity to dress up. Derek and John donned the garb of plumbers (and later subsistence farmers) whilst I got to play teacher and wield a big cane

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Moderator  Dr Paul Willis, of Catalyst fame and RiAus, reminded the audience that the participants may be arguing a case that did not necessarily reflect their views however in my case my argument for the negative certainly did reflect my views. As you can hear the debate in full here  I would like to use this post to take my views one step further to where I believe agriculture should be investing its time, energy and money.   

Before I do this I would like to say I agree wholeheartedly with a great point made by Speaker 1 for the affirmative Nick van den Berg who very wisely said “Every student should have a sound understanding of the world they live in and their impact on it“

Its over 50 years since I started school and at that time and for the next twelve years it was overwhelming acknowledged the greatest threats facing the world was the conflict in the middle east and fundamentalist religion. Yet I could have taken every single subject offered on the curriculum through my primary and secondary schooling and none of them would have even touched on anything that would have helped me or my peers deal with the consequences of either. I imagine 99% of school curriculums were the same and perhaps that is why they are both still as big a concern as they were fifty years ago. 

Sadly I don’t think many school curriculums today have the capacity or leeway to provide today’s children with the balance of soft and academic skills to allow them to function at the highest level in tomorrow’s world

As a farmer I know there is nothing more important for agriculture than a science literate population making informed choices about sustainable food and fibre production and consumption but reducing the diversity of the curriculum and making Agriculture a mandatory subject and forcing kids to study it is not the answer.

If our kids are going to get this message

  • THAT food is a topic of social and economic importance
  • THAT responsible agriculture production and food consumption are crucial to world stability
  • THAT farmers underpin our health wealth and happiness

Then we need to be ALL selling this message and selling it well and that will not be achieved by teaching agriculture in isolation. It can only be sold by ensuring the next generation has food literacy skills through teaching the interconnectedness of food, health and the environment and embedding it right across the curriculum.

So where should agriculture should be investing its time, energy and money?.

The second speaker for the affirmative Ian Joseph quite rightly said ‘if we continue to do what we have always done we are going to get what we have always got and that is going to lead to a lot of problems’. In this case I believe doing what we have always done is  agriculture’s compulsive drive to ask others to find solutions for us.

Yes the average age of our farmers is 57. So too is the average age of rural doctors and no-one is suggesting every child should study medicine at school. Forcing kids to study agriculture at school is not going to encourage kids to become farmers. How many students who go to schools where religion is compulsory become members of the clergy when they leave school? 

Agriculture, its time to recognise

  • It really is up to the agricultural sector itself to make the industry more attractive to young people and remove some of the barriers that prevent them from entering it more easily.
  • an aging workforce is endemic to rural and regional Australia. We firstly have to make rural and regional Australia attractive to our young people.
  • we have to have the best farmers in the world and we need to invest in them
  • there is no-one more qualified or inspiring to educate next gen about agriculture than our young people who are living the dream. We need to invest in our young people.

This is why I started Art4Agriculture which now has a proven track record of   

  1. Having a whole-of-agriculture collaborative vision, and encouraging a willingness by the sector to engage in two-way conversations with industry, government and community.
  2. Identifying and training a national network of articulate, well-educated, highly visible young people telling the positive stories of agriculture.
  3. Raising awareness of, and support for, modern farming practices
  4. Ensuring the community see farmers as innovative, caring and committed to supplying ethical, affordable and nutritious food and fibre to Australia and the world.
  5. Enhancing the image of farmers and farming and encouraging young people to consider careers in the agrifood sector.

Agriculture lets invest in what is working and leave our teachers to teach what fascinates them and if that just happens to be agriculture that’s heartening.  After all the word ‘educate’ means to bring forth out of not to stuff full of. 

Mirror Mirror Do you like what you see?

Last Saturday was no ordinary day in the life of this dairy farmer and the Bundanon Siteworks event FUTURE FOOD FEAST A DAY OF TALKING, EATING & DOING still has my head spinning.

Gretel Killeen was a last minute replacement for Jenny Brockie as the panel facilitator which required a green room huddle to allow her to get up to speed on who the panel was and what motivated us. What was great about this was it meant the panellists also got insights into each other. It soon became obvious the afternoon would open my mind to many new ideas and concepts that I was positive would be equally exciting to the audience.  

Gretel Killeen 

Gretel Killeen filled in as facilitator after Jenny Brockie broke her arm

Mike McCallum

I was lucky enough to share a lunch table with fellow panellist and future architect Mike McCallum who as it turns out also has an extensive background in the dairy industry

Lynne Strong and the Panel

The Panel: LtoR Gretel Killeen, Lynne Strong, Jared Ingersoll, Mike McCallum, Jodie Newcombe, John Crawford and Ingrid Just.

I was there to share my story and listen and learn and did just that. The conversation went for more than 2 hours and to do it justice I am asking each of the panellists to write a guest blog. You will be excited to know Chef Jared Ingersoll and Mike McCallum have already been asked and agreed.  

To start of off just a few thoughts from me.

  • I know there are a million things I can do to reduce my footprint and I am always saddened that people see our present and future challenges as wicked problems – i.e. too big for them as individuals to make a difference. As Jarod said “ broad scale change starts when one person does something”. By the way here are some things you can do http://www2.acfonline.org.au/
  • I am amazed that people think there is always a way to make the planet fit the the lifestyle we have created for ourselves and refuse to believe that what we think is good for us is too often not good for the planet. For example the suggestion that we protect prime agriculture land and reduce our footprint by more people living in one house or our buildings should go up rather than out and we share white goods and cars was met with shock horror by one audience participant and he was very upfront about it. 
  • I cant believe how many people must think farming is easy. There was a suggestion from the audience that the answer to prime agriculture land being gobbled up by housing was for the government to pay the people in the houses incentives to grow food on their land. Isn’t that subsidised farming and just when will these people find the time and where will they get the skills sets?  There was the idea that instead of supporting rural and regional and remote Australia everyone moves to the cities and urban agriculture will grow all our food. We then let rural, regional and remote Australia go back to the “way it was” and it be a community space. Wouldn’t the  government love that one. With farmers now looking after 61% of the Australian landscape imagine what a huge impost looking after all that land would be on taxpayers let alone the infrastructure et al required to grow all our food in and around millions of people.
  • I am always saddened by some people’s perceptions of modern farming practices and that their knowledge comes from things they had heard or read about rather than seen. There was mention of factory farmed cows being fed cement dust and the answer to everything was to farm organic. As Professor Crawford reminded people there was no evidence to show that organic per se led to better environmental or animal welfare outcomes. Poor old cows got a bit of bashing as usual. People forget or are unaware that only 2% of Australia is suitable for growing crops and what a great job cows in Australia do maintaining the thousands and thousand of hectares of rangelands in this country and no-one in Australia is chopping down rainforest to graze cows
  • I was pleased to see people do value farmers and believe we should value food at its true price and panellist Ingrid Just from Choice talked about the “heart and the hip” scenario and I look forward to her sharing that with you.
  • I was pleased to overhear that I was not the “usual angry farmer”. Its disappointing our farmers are often perceived this way. It was very obvious the community would love to work with us to achieve a value chain that really values people from paddock to plate.   
  • I was also found I had a lot to learn for the diverse knowledge of the other panellists and I am very pleased to be able to off them space to share that with you in the coming weeks

Back to “Mirror Mirror do you like what you see?”  Pam Green posed this question in her summing up of the panel discussion. Here is what Pam saw as the key take away messages

  • There is a coming storm of many ‘peaks’ – water, soil, oil, current centralised systems, biodiversity. There is only one water, one planet.
  • A functioning, healthy environment is the key to health, well being and prosperity.
  • A raised awareness/mindfulness/shift in consciousness is essential.
  • Awareness, education and making it easy and economical is key to enabling good choices.
  • There is a need to develop new traditions to support new values – real value of food in social, cultural, environmental and economic terms.
  • Growing ideas as well as food important. Artists are innovators and develop creative space for change.
  • There is a need for better awareness of true account for use of natural resources – what is the carbon or environmental footprint of food production what are the transparent trade offs in land use change for housing, mining, other uses? National environmental accounts to be viewed along side of our national economic accounts.
  • The importance of connectivity – joined up thinking about the whole web of life. Humans are part of this web but we need to manage our change of the rest of the biosphere with the future in mind.
  • We need to envision the future, map a path to it and start the journey.
  • Local leadership is critical. We are on the cusp of a new age of networked and distributed economy and society.
  • Society is the mirror of our collective humanness

Mirror, mirror on the wall, do we like what we see? We are the change we seek. Well said Pam                

By the way for those of you not familiar with the venue Bundanon is Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s gift to the Australian people. The property managed by a Trust includes the Bundanon Homestead site and the Riversdale site and is located on 1,100 hectares of pristine bush land overlooking the Shoalhaven River, near Nowra in New South Wales, two and a half hours south of Sydney. The Trust’s Board of Directors reports directly to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, who in turn appoints the Chairperson and the Directors.

Bundanon

Bundanon House

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Arthur Boyd’s studio at Bundanon – photo by Keith Saunders

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We had tea at the Riversdale Education Centre in this amazing building designed by Glenn Murcutt. Yes that is the Shoalhaven River you see in the background and I thought I lived in paradise.

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The Riversdale Exterior 

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There are art forms everywhere you look

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There was something for everyone

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Local foodie and cafe owner Cathy Law manned the Green Box Stand

 

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We dined on Bundanon Beef and Farm Manager Henry Goodall created a Paddock to Plate video which was available for viewing in the Bundanon Homestead.  He also tanned the hide which is the rug you see on the floor

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The farmers Henry Goodall and Lynne Strong ( proving she has a very big mouth)

 

There is more to come

Dreams that are good for the Planet

As part of our Great Ocean Road sojourn we spent a night at The Great Ocean Rd Ecolodge.EcoLodge

Our hosts Shayne, a former dairy farmer with a Science degree majoring in natural resource management and his partner Lizzie, a zoologist have fulfilled a dream to create an Ecolodge that celebrates our natural resources and what a great way to be reminded just how special our natural environment is.

Shayne and Lizzie have also established the Cape Otway Centre for Conservation where their flagship project is the search for the highly vulnerable species the Tiger Quoll

Tiger Quoll 

The Tiger Quoll had not been sighted for over a decade in the region however recent physical sightings confirmed through identification of quoll scats have caused much excitement. The Tiger Quoll is mainland Australia’s largest, and the world’s longest living carnivorous marsupial and is also rumoured to be living in the rainforest at Clover Hill with local lifestyle farmers saying they are killing their chooks.

Quolls are vulnerable to decline for a number of reasons.They require certain climates and habitats and tend to live in low densities, and don’t have long lifespans  It is believed the biggest threat to the quoll is habitat destruction. Conservationists like Shayne and Lizzie are using population monitorings and public education to preserve the species as well as a dedication to preserving their habitat.

Some quoll populations have common latrines and this had led to innovative techniques to locate them. 

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Shayne Neal trades cow poo in search of Tiger Quoll poo

Shayne is currently training dogs to locate quoll latrine sites, including this guy below who was determined not to let me photograph him. Apparently the dogs will become obsessed by latrine sites and Shayne is currently waiting on research permits to test out this technique which will hopefully locate and provide opportunities to put collars on the quolls for monitoring and research and help protect this native endangered species 

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Guests are also invited to assist with the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife and believe me they are very happy to get involved.

“Conservation begins with just one tree planted, one child instilled with a passion for the natural world, and one little orphaned koala rescued”

Feeding the Koalas 2 

German research intern Sabina feeds what I believe is most divine animal on the planet one of its 3 daily milk feeds.

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Friendly kangaroos enjoy the short sweet grass on the lawn in the early mornings and late afternoon.

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When I was about 8 I had my first visit to Taronga Park Zoo and my parents bought me a soft toy Koala just like this one and I still have it

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It was an incredible experience to get so close to these little orphans who will be released back into the National Park when the are big enough. They are fed milk 3 x daily and feast on the leaves of the Eucalypt Vinimalis otherwise known as the Manna Gum.

We also had the opportunity to feed the Silver Gliders who are very happy to lick a mixture of honey and ants directly from your fingers

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Dinner and breakfast at the Ecolodge is cooked by the gorgeous Kylie and it is a great opportunity to engage with the other guests

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Our chef Kylie

During our visit we met three very fit friends who have been enjoying walking tours together for 25 years. A delightful mother and daughter originally from Sri Lanka and a young couple with a very unique story. Jesse and his gorgeous wife are also camera fanatics a bit like me 

Jessee

Jesse who is American met his Australian wife via the internet after three years of playing each other on the video game World of Warcraft. Jesse an IT specialist was originally  a bit peeved to find his clever opponent was a woman but is one happy man now.

I took a little video footage of Sabina feeding the Koalas – so cute

Thanks for the hospitality Shayne, Lizzie, Kylie and Sabina. Michael and I found the Ecolodge and its treasures a very special experience indeed.

Find out more here www.greatoceanecoldge.com.au

How will I spend $50K

This week I was honoured and humbled to receive agriculture’s newest and most prestigious accolade The Bob Hawke Landcare Award in front of 850 people at the Sydney Convention Centre.

 

As you can see from this picture I was pretty chuffed

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Me with National Young Landcarer of the Year and Young Eco Champion Megan Rowlatt

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The adorable John Carter from South East Landcare and Megan

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It was Michael’s first outing since his big op and he was determined to be there and he was pretty pleased that he pulled that off

The award comes with two extraordinary opportunities. Firstly I will receive a prize of up to $50,000 to develop my  knowledge and skills in sustainable land management and secondly I will also have an honorary position on the Australian Landcare Council for a period of two years.

So you may ask what am going to do with $50K. Well firstly I wont be spending on me .

What I would like to do is look at change and what drives change and what hinders change. I would like to look at this from three different angles. Firstly young people, secondly my generation and thirdly farmers in my region. My project will be cross industry and I look forward to meeting lots of new and exciting and dynamic thought leaders and doers in the agrifood sector.

I firmly believe farmers of today do not have the opportunity to access and develop the skills sets that will allow them to survive and prosper in 21st. Firstly we have to acknowledge that producing great food and fibre just isn’t good enough any more. Secondly we have just got to get out there more and build relationships with all the key players and pivotally get intimate knowledge and understanding of how the supply chain works.

We have got to be able predict what our customers are thinking before they think it.  We have to be able to predict what the processors and manufacturers are thinking before think it and we have to be able to predict what the supermarkets are thinking before they think it. We have to be at least one step ahead of the curve every step of the way. This will require expertise farmers have not traditionally had access to and my commitment to my fellow farmers is to change this paradigm in my lifetime.

My vision is for an exciting, dynamic, innovative and PROFITABLE agrifood sector that our next generation best and brightest see as a  career of first choice. My mission is to turn my vision into everyone’s vision and this will require government, industry, the community and farmers, in fact the whole of supply chain working side by side.

First stop for me is the Bush Capital next Tuesday where I have meetings with policy and decision makers as well as the opportunity to attend the DAFF Youth in Ag Think Tank and hear what the bright young minds see as the way forward for agriculture in this country

Let me re-share this reflection with you on why I farm and why I live and breathe my mission

I am often asked why I like being a farmer and to be honest it was never my lifelong dream to farm. I farm today because the people I most care about in the world farm and they are in it for the long haul.

I grew up on a farm and even though I enjoyed being hands on in the day to day running of the farm and the lifestyle that comes with it the idea of being a farmer was most definitely not on my list of top 10 professions.

I have been back on the farm for ten years now and I will be the first to admit farming is a highly rewarding profession for a multitude of reasons.

Today I will list just a few

Firstly farmers are an essential service, they feed people and whether people admit it or not everybody wants to be needed.

Secondly farming today is a very risky business and I like the mental intensity, the constant review process, the drive to get up each day and do it better. The fulfilling challenge of balancing productivity, people, animals and the planet

Thirdly inspirational people farm. Feeding, clothing and housing the world now and in the next 50 years is going to require an extraordinary effort. This means we need extraordinary people to take up the challenge. When I work with inspirational people, they light my fire, feed my soul and challenge me to continue to strive to make a unique contribution to agriculture and the community.

and then there is this

the satisfaction you get when you have managed to farm in a way that balances the needs of the rainforest and the animals who live there

Lynne In The Rainforest

with farm productivity that allows you to supply 50,000 Australians daily with milk whilst at the same time ensuring your cows cow remain happy and healthy.

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the buzz you get when next gen share the passion and commitment

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the fascination of watching generations of cows tread the same path each time they walk into the paddock

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the amusement you get when the cow who detours to the water trough

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then charges down the paddock like a teenager to ensure she doesn’t miss out on the sweetest grass

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and the special relationships you develop with the people and the animals in your team

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the satisfaction of working with next gen

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Why I farm

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to turn this

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into this

reveg east laneway

then this

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and today

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Picasso Corner a triumph for community partnerships, biodiversity and the farm

and then the raw reality of watching the circle of life each day. When the chickens you nurtured  from eggs are killed and eaten by a goshawk (thanks to twitter verse for identifying my nasty bird) and wake up next morning and remember the chickens got three weeks of a great life they wouldn’t have had without you interfering with nature. Even if in the end it was nature who decided they would play a different role in the food chain .

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I love to farm because its real, there is a true sense of place and time. There is an purity and an innocence that comes with a respect of the land that feeds us that living and working in the city will never deliver.

BTW Thank you so much to everyone for the emails, phone calls, flowers, twitter you have all been so wonderful with messages of congratulations. Totally overwhelming xoxoxo

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Ag Youth Think Tank

I am looking forward to attending this event next week immensely. All those bright young minds with a positive vision for the agrifood sector.

Ag Think Tank

Taking of bright young minds how proud was I too be sitting next to the National Young Landcarer of the Year winner at last nights award ceremony.

What an absolute angel Megan Rowlatt is and how exciting is it to have her as part of our team of Young Eco Champions . You can read her story and be inspired here

Megan Rowlatt 

Megan with her award at the NSW Landcare Awards

Milk comes from thistles or is that coconuts

This post is in honour of International Bacon Day which just happens to be today (now I bet you didn’t know that) 

According to Wiki ‘Bacon Day celebrations typically include social gatherings during which participants create and consume dishes containing bacon, including bacon-themed breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and drinks’.

Bacon Day was conceived in  Massachusetts in 2000.  International Bacon Day has now spread to Canada and other countries where it is often held at different times of the year   The record for the number of different bacon dishes belongs to Thomas Green, of Ottawa, Ontario who created ( I don’t think he ate them all ) 12 bacon dishes. This list included candied bacon, maple bacon and chevre points, bacon screwdrivers jell-o style, bacon vodka gazpacho, chili bacon vodka, pork stuffed with bacon, apple and sage, bacon donuts, chocolate bacon brownies, banana bacon cookies, bacon martini, bacon burger sliders and bacon and egg sliders. A veritable pork smorgasbord

The post is inspired by this twitter conversation instigated by Farmers Angel Alison Fairleigh yesterday that believe it or not revolved around bacon and its origins

Bacon 

This reminded me of this picture and then of course who can forget that frightening statistics from the @OZPIEF study that found that too many kids think yogurt grows on trees

Cat milk

Now as you know it breaks my heart that farmers don’t have the marketing power and financial might to tell the real story of agriculture but as you can see there is one hell of a great opportunity out there if we can just get it right.

This week I spoke at the ABARES regional conference in Bega. This is part of what I had to say and a couple of my key messages    

I have a vision for agriculture that is full of promise.

I want an innovative exciting dynamic and profitable agrifood sector. A sector that our next generation best and brightest sees as a career of first choice

I see my role is to turn my vision for agriculture into everyone’s vision

We need smart and articulate and capable people working in agriculture so we can take it to the next level?

We need a supply chain culture that values our farmers

We need government and industry programs that believe in our farmers and invest in them?

We need to identify our young people in agriculture, nurture them and promote them and ensure we retain this talent.

There was a lot of questions from the floor about how we best tell Agriculture’s story with the limited resources and funding we have. It was very clear that the Young Farming Champions program concept truly resonated with everyone in the audience.

But there is nothing more powerful than a living breathing example of the program in action and no-one was more proud than me to see Young Farming Champion Jess Monteith in action on the ABARES panel which rounded off the conference  

Jess Sonia and Lana IMG_5196 

Jess Monteith, Young Farming Champion with Sonia Muir and Lana Mitchell  on the ABARES Bega Panel 

Now this isn’t an easy gig for a young person. Check out the panel topics which included demographic change, agricultural trade and markets in an Asian century, water, energy, trade and efficiency, future producers, labour and skills, future industries (& foods), new technologies and regional development  futures, Agri-tourism, Urban-rural relationships, land-use (conflicts).

When Dr Anna Carr from ABARES asked me to put forward a name that fitted the brief “Non farming background, young face – someone who has energy to burn and ideas in abundance who will show agriculture in a new context” Jess’ name sprang instantly to mind.

Like me fellow panellist Sonia Muir believes creating a community which is engaged with, & informed about agriculture is our most important job and the way to do this is to ensure we have articulate, well educated, charismatic young farming people telling our story for us.

The question was asked of Jess how do we get the real story of agriculture out there into the wider community

She answered “Engagement is the key, we need a nationwide network of young farming champions like the group I am part of, professionally trained to go into schools and tell our story and agriculture’s story to young people and the community” 

Jess is so right. Who better to tell the real story of food than the farmers, the hands that grow it and the caretakers of the land that produces.   

Its time to get smart agriculture we have a few skill sets to hone but if Jess is an example of what can happen with the right skills sets we could make no better investment   

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

Me

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  

c4oc-pos

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.

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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.

wastegraph

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.

food_waste

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

waste

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.

food-waste-hierarchyHeria

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 www.foodbank.com.au

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.

Farmers Angels – The Alison Fairleigh story

During the last ten years I have met some very special people who I refer to as #angels.

They are knowledgeable, stimulating and inspiring people who have influenced me in a positive way. They have taught me that true leaders encourage and shape future leaders, not followers. They have helped foster the way I am in the present and what I will be in the future. They are people I can look to for advice in the ‘sticky’ times and the good times. They give me words of wisdom, a shoulder to cry on and a swift kick if I need it!

I have also had the pleasure of working with amazing,inspiring and selfless people who don’t farm and chose to spend their non working hours lobbying and supporting  and AGvocating on behalf of all Australian farmers.

I will be inviting a selection of these people who have crossed my path to write guest blogs to share their stories over the next 12 months.

Sadly I have found some farmers (too many) see themselves as victims and fail to acknowledge the wonderful networks of people who support them, appreciate them and fight for them every day.  

I am starting with the angel of all angels Alison Fairleigh  

Alison is founder of the “Farming is the New Black”  Facebook site

Some examples of Alison’s campaigns AGvocating for farmers  

The Great Cafe Challenge

More Questions than Answers

and one from the heart

What ANZAC day means to me

The Alison Fairleigh story………..

13 Feb 2012

I was born and bred on a farm in SE Queensland and into an entire extended family of farmers – from beef cattle production to dairying, poultry and cropping – but I wasn’t your typical farm girl. I did not relish growing up on a farm … in fact, I couldn’t wait to leave, which I did as soon as I was old enough: heading to uni and then, as a teacher, to discover the world.

Like the majority of Australians, I became very complacent about farming and agriculture as a whole, and my attitude didn’t begin to shift until a few years ago when I took up a position with the Australian Agricultural College and moved to north Queensland. While working for AACC I saw, learned and experienced things about our farming sector that caused me to become extremely concerned about Australia’s future food security. Things that the average Australian is completely oblivious too:

  • Once thriving agricultural colleges closing down due to lack of enrolments, lack of support from industry and government policy that just “doesn’t get it”.
  • Farmers encouraging their children to do anything BUT farming because they don’t see any future for them in the industry.
  • Male farmers and male farm workers having one of the highest rates of suicide in Australia.
  • Agricultural workers being drawn away from farming to the high wages available in the mining and construction sectors.
  • Urban-based young people who are eager to work in agriculture but who cannot find support from industry.
  • Governments, both state and federal, de-investing in agricultural research and selling off valuable research facilities and land.

What is the future of food production in Australia if we do not have family farmers growing it?

Do we want multi-national corporations and foreign governments to own and operate our agricultural lands and be responsible for our food production? Some see no problem in that. I on the other hand do. I want to see sustainable agriculture and I don’t trust multi-national corporations to do anything sustainably other than whatever it takes to make mega profits. At the end of the day, farming is a business but at least the majority of family owned farms throughout Australia operate ethically. I want to be able to buy food that I know is produced with the highest degree of environmental stewardship and animal welfare standards.

One of the things that frustrates me so much about campaigns against Australian farmers by certain animal welfare groups is that we can encourage and legislate for the ethical treatment of animals in Australia. If our farmers are forced to leave the industry and we do become a net importer of food, we have no control over how animals are treated in other countries. People are not going to stop eating meat or seafood. If they see it in the supermarket, whether it is Australian or otherwise, they will buy it. While restrictions have been placed on the live export of Australian animals to Indonesia, this does not improve the treatment of animals in Indonesia – in fact, as Indonesia seeks to go it alone, conditions may get far, far worse: Indonesia tests “breedlots” as self-sufficiency solution. That is not a win for animals.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that people who have little understanding of agriculture and farming systems, should be very careful about the long-term consequences of what they campaign for. If we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food; and unless people have had their heads in the sand the past year or so, Australian farmers are being expected to feed a large proportion of the world. What happens to farmers in Australia has global consequences. We need to take care of them and listen to them.

I would never have thought to become an ‘AGvocate’ except for social media. I have used it to speak about the things that concern me and to raise awareness for rural mental health. To my utter surprise, people have listened. If you were to meet me in person, you’d find a woman that country people call a ‘city-chick’ and a woman that city people call ‘country’. I have the best of both worlds and I feel comfortable in either setting which has given me the opportunity to be a ‘bridge’ between the two. It’s been frustrating at times because farmers are not the easiest people to advocate for: they are stubborn and self-sufficient, which is why they are so good at what they do. But I have a vision of an Australia that sees, loves and supports its rural communities as a valuable part of a whole. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely, 100%, definitely worth it!

(Alison now works for the Mental Illness Fellowship of NQ as a Rural Development Officer. You can learn more about her advocacy by visiting her blog: ( www.talkingfairleigh.blogspot.com.au )

Alison tweets at @AlisonFairleigh