A case of obscured vision… Guest post by Julian Cribb

One of my many hats is being a director of the Dairy Research Foundation which is involved in all sorts of exciting research which includes Future Dairy which bought Australian farmers the Robotic Dairy. You can see the trials being undertaken at the Sydney University Research Farm at Camden here

In honour of the upcoming Dairy Research Foundation Symposium keynote speaker Julian Cribb has agreed to write me a blog post

I draw your attention to this reflection from Julian on our shallow society where people like Craig Thomson take centre stage and the real issues stay in the dressing room

“Back in the 1960s, we’d clearly seen an emerging world food crisis and had launched the Green Revolution to prevent it, lifting global food output by almost 200% in barely 25 years.

Our failure to repeat the miracle in the 2030s and 40s was down to a loss of foresight – we were so obsessed with the trivia of society we simply failed to see what was going on around us. Especially, we failed to make the necessary investments – in knowledge, in skills and in sustainable urban and rural food systems.”

A case of obscured vision ……….

A Case of obscured vision

Dear Children: this is a picture of an Australian policymaker of around 2012 formulating a national food security plan.

I think he is saying something like “She’ll, be right, mate!” but it is hard to be sure, as the voice is rather muffled.

Anyway, you’ll understand that this picture explains all the famines, hunger-wars, failed states, shortages, refugee tsunamis and shockingly high food prices you are experiencing in 2050. Terribly sorry but, besides stuffing the climate, we also didn’t do enough to ensure you had a sustainable food supply. We simply couldn’t see the dimensions of the problem and we left it far too late to do enough to prevent it.

Of course, looking back from 2050 it is blindingly obvious:

– After losing 1 per cent of our farm land a year for the past half century, to degradation and city sprawl, there isn’t enough left to grow double the food

– We ran out of water to grow food in the 2030s, thanks to the megacities and giant resource companies stepping in and taking it off the farmers

– Oil prices went off the chart when the Saudis staged an ‘Arab Spring’ – and food prices went with them. Most farmers and truckers couldn’t afford fuel as we simply hadn’t bothered to develop a sustainable source of transport energy. Several megacities of 20m+ people starved.

– Ditto fertilisers. After the Moroccan revolution (and they supplied two thirds of the world’s P) most farmers simply couldn’t afford it, leading to a yield collapse, especially in high-tech cropping systems.

– After cutting back on agricultural R&D in all western nations for quarter of a century, farmers were left in a massive technology pothole – another reason yields stagnated.

– Two degrees of global warming, accompanied by greater droughts and floods made traditional agriculture much more challenging almost everywhere, cutting food output by around 20%.

This is all rather strange, as we knew that food demand would double by the 2060s, driven by growing populations and rising living standards. Back in the 1960s, we’d clearly seen an emerging world food crisis and had launched the Green Revolution to prevent it, lifting global food output by almost 200% in barely 25 years.

Our failure to repeat the miracle in the 2030s and 40s was down to a loss of foresight – we were so obsessed with the trivia of society we simply failed to see what was going on around us. Especially, we failed to make the necessary investments – in knowledge, in skills and in sustainable urban and rural food systems.

In short, we had our heads up our arses.

Those of you who are by now clutching the ejector seat handle and demanding an escape from this horrible world of the future should front up to the DRF2012symposium to find out how we’re gonna do it!

You only get to hear the good news if you take part.

– Julian Cribb

Something in it for everybody!

Todays post is by guest blogger Dr Neil Moss our farm consultant and one of the great team of experts who shared their vast experience and knowledge with the participants at our recent Field Day

Neil shares his field day banter with you ……….

One of the great privileges of working in dairy consultancy is being able to observe and collect innovations and exciting ideas from successful farmers in one location, and then mould, adapt and apply these to a wider variety of situations with other farmers that are also willing to innovate and try new things.

Dr Neil Moss and Dr Richard Eckard share the benefits of planting legume pastures with Field Day particpants

Dr Neil Moss points out the stoloniferous habits of some his pasture

Our recent field day at Lemon Grove Research Farm was a great example of just this concept. For many years I have been working together with clients on their farms  developing pastures that break away from the norm and start to cover some of the gaps in their pasture production and risk management systems.

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It was a colourful and diverse group of farmers who stood in Neil’s pasture salad bowl 

The field day wasn’t just a great chance to showcase some of these great pastures and how we go about getting them. It was also a great opportunity to explore how farmers’ ideas and observations can be captured and developed into farming systems, and how individuals that think “outside the square” and challenge conventional wisdom can shift “out of the box” concepts and techniques into the mainstream with benefits for many.

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The participants got some backgrounding from Lynne Strong

Using some concepts and techniques that I originally observed on a farm owned by David and Audrey Moxey on the Mid-North coast of New South Wales (Thanks guys!!) we are now working in just this way. Some great on-farm ideas based on Dave’s experience and a little innovation have now been morphed into a widely adaptable pasture system that may have substantial production and environmental benefits for those that can apply them. David had successfully negated some of the production challenges posed by low summer feed quality by including lucerne, chicory and plantain- tap rooted legumes and herbs with great summer growth and feed-quality, in his planting mixes. We had been sowing these with ryegrass to drive more winter and spring growth but this system was still exposed to summer grass invasion and the need to use significant amounts of nitrogen fertiliser to get the most out of them.

Now it was time to think and adapt! What if we used more winter active chicory cultivars dropped the ryegrass out and started to control some of the summer grass weeds with selective herbicides! It worked a treat.

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There was plenty of discussion and networking opportunities

The run-up to the GFC saw a near tripling in price of nitrogen based fertilisers. Linked closely to the petro-chemical industry, it was clear to see that one of the key future “risks” we were facing was “nitrogen shock”- and believe me, many were shocked at how high the prices went and how exposed their systems were. Coupled with this, a growing understanding and acknowledgement of the potential environmental and greenhouse effects of high nitrogen fertiliser use was raising eyebrows – it was clearly time to observe, adapt and act!

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Tracey Bob and Vicki thought it might be worth a try in Berry and Pyree

The Strong’s at Jamberoo are fantastic innovators and have been great clients to learn and grow with over the last 12 years. When we discussed these new pasture strategies and some of the benefits they may bring, they could not wait to give it ago. Taking considerable risk they dedicated 12 hectares to some new plots and away we went. For two years we worked to refine the system, adding clovers and modifying our winter agronomic strategies to see where we could shift the feed production curve to. We had what we thought were some great successes and picked up a few lumps and bumps on the way.

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But now we needed validation. We needed to be more certain that what looked, felt and seemed good was actually delivering! Testimonials and feel good stories (has anyone out there ever read a bad testimonial????) were and should never be enough to persuade farmers to drop what is tried, tested and true and expose themselves to even more risk! We needed a bit of data. Here’s where we were lucky enough to apply for and successfully receive some research funding through the Caring for our Country grants program.

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Marcelle from DAFF interviews Martin Royds

We could now put some numbers to what we thought was happening allowing farmers to make better decisions based on observations with real infield “controls” for comparison.

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We still had a few weeds to tackle

So what have we found so far? We have appear to have a resilient pasture system that is giving us as much feed (this year anyway) as the traditional kikuyu based pasture system commonly utilised on the coast. The feed quality is dramatically improved and most importantly, our nitrogen fertiliser usage has dropped by over 50% at this stage. Weeds can still be a challenge! This linkwill take you to the presentation of our full results to date.

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Farm field days are a great way to present information and stimulate cross pollination of ideas. We had many farmers there, some from dairy, some from beef and small holdings, some with conventional farming backgrounds, others pushing in different directions with organic and biological ideologies. The great thing was that the barriers that seemed to exist between these farming “churches” appeared to subside allowing all to ask question and share ideas- farmers learning from farmers, picking out what may or may not work in their farming system!

The day was all about interaction. Interaction between farmers and those from the services sectors, between representatives from government and environmental bodies and the educational institutions. Personally, I really enjoyed the interaction with all the attendees.

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Stephen and Richard in the dairy at Clover Hill

I also got a buzz from bouncing off the other guest speakers attending the day including Richard Eckard and Steven Weidemann who were only too happy to step into the fray and openly share their knowledge and experience as well! I hope everyone enjoyed the day as much as I did!

Back to Lynne

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Let’s not forget the gorgeous man who always not only brings the lunch he cooks it too

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and serves it. Big shout out to Phil Monaghan and Weston Animal Nutrition

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and special thanks to Phil Duncan from Bishops Nowra and Carl Pratten from NAB Nowra who sponsored the drinks. This is Carl talking to Albion Park dairy farmer Craig Tait

Will there be more money in non-farming than farming

There was lively debate on the panel session of dinner event component at our Field Day. It is well known that Mick Keogh from Australian Farm Institute has a fairly conservative view about the benefits for farmers from the Carbon Farming Initiative. Keen to put forward a balanced  perspective we invited Stephen Wiedemann from FSA who says he sits in the middle and already has some projects for the pig industry in the pipeline that may deliver for farmers. And at the other end of the spectrum to Mick was Louisa Kiely the glass half full girl on the panel and co-founder of Carbon Farmers of Australia who have developed a trading model for soil carbon which gives farmers access to markets before the formal Emissions Trading Scheme begins.

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Dr Richard Eckard Mick Keogh Dr Neil Moss Stephen Wiedemann and Louisa Kiely provided a lively debate

I was MC for the event and currently waiting on the photographers in the room to send me pictures so I can share some of the insights from the podium and the floor with you. Not forgetting Department Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry taped the entire event ( not sure how long that will take to be a wrap).

Dinner at Jamberoo School of Arts

Lots of questions from a diverse audience

So I thought in the meantime I would share some of Mick’s humour  on the CFI with you.

This excerpt comes from  If I get paid for not having cows, can I get paid a lot more for not having a lot more cows?

There has been a steady stream of publicity about farmers starting to make money out of carbon farming, but it seems the only way to actually generate real money will be by destocking cattle. This begs the question – if I plan to have a lot of cattle then agree not to, can I get paid more than if I just planned to have a few cattle then decide not to?!!

A rough estimate is that each adult cow generates approximately 2 tonnes CO2-e per annum, so each cow not run on a property presumably could generate $46 in offset credits in the official carbon market from July 2012 – presuming that by then a Methodology involving destocking cattle has been recognised under the Carbon Farming Initiative legislation.

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Whether or not such a methodology will be accepted is an interesting question! Destocking cattle on one property will reduce national beef production, resulting in higher prices (all else being equal) which will encourage either Australian or overseas cattle producers to increase their cattle numbers, with the result being no net change in cattle emissions in the atmosphere (a phenomena known as ‘leakage’).

If a destocking methodology is recognised under the Carbon Farming Initiative, it raises some interesting questions for livestock producers. For example, if destocking credits are calculated based on a reduction from current cattle or sheep numbers, the best thing to do would be to absolutely stack on stock fence-to-fence, at very high stocking rates, then undertake to get rid of them all! This would generate a lot more credits in perpetuity than would be available for someone with low stock numbers.

In fact, there would be many opportunities generated by such a development. A business opportunity could quickly emerge for properties where stock from farms involved in generating destocking credits could be sent for ‘holidays’ in case the auditor was due to check that stock numbers had been reduced. Conversely, a good market could develop for rental stock – stock that could be ‘borrowed’ for a short while to prove high stock numbers prior to destocking!

Australian farmers have long been envious of their European friends, who for many years have been able to generate money by not farming. Finally it seems the Australian Government has taken up the idea!!

Using the power of poo to save your farm, no bull

Guest post today By Justin Huntsdale ABC Illawarra

It’s not cheap, but you won’t be ‘wasting’ your time – a Jamberoo farming conference has been told using the nutrients from livestock dung could help lower your fertiliser bill and help the environment.

 

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Justin Huntsdale ABC Illawarra gets the lowdown on Dung from Steve Weidemann

Where we see livestock dung, agricultural scientist Stephen Wiedemann sees a great source of nutrients for your crop or a way to power your home.

Animal dung is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – all fertilisers a farm spends significant money on – and much of the time it ends up biodegrading in the paddock or in a sewerage system.

“We like to see waste as a liquid fertiliser,” Stephen said.

“In a dairy or any livestock farm the animals only use a small proportion of the energy they consume, so you can improve sustainability if you can then cycle those nutrients around the farm.”

The Toowoomba-based scientist was speaking yesterday at a conference on ‘Clearing the Carbon Confusion’ held at the Lemon Grove farm near Jamberoo on the NSW South Coast.

The day also involved talks from Dr Neil Moss and Associate Professor Richard Eckard who were trying to help local farmers manage their environmental responsibility while still making money.

And while he’s a bit sheepish about being known as the resident livestock ‘poo expert’, Stephen Wiedemann is serious about making a farm more efficient, starting from the backside.

Putting manure on your domestic garden is something we’ve been doing for decades, but applying that principle to a broad acre crop is a different (and significantly more expensive) story.

“It’s a little bit difficult and expensive but it’s easier if you’ve got a larger farm,” he said.

“Infrastructure is a concern because you’re looking at dams, ponds and other treatment facilities and also irrigators so there is a high capital set-up, but once it’s established, it’s not too hard to manage.”

Balancing a farmer’s books and social conscience is not a new problem, but it’s something that is easier with the advice of experts like Stephen.

He describes his specialty as making the point of connection between the environment and farming.

And as farms become bigger as the demand for primary produce increases, the environmental strain grows too.

“Across the industry there’s a trend to expanding farm sizes, which means more cows on less area and one downside to that is you’ve got an issue with how to manage their waste.”

Stephen says, just like we’d use cow manure to fertilise our garden, livestock effluent can be used to replenish paddocks that are depleted from grazing or foraging.

In Germany, effluent management systems that recycle waste are commonplace, and sometimes used to trap methane which then powers households.

He says these additional benefits are some of the carrots that will sell the message to sceptical farmers.

“It’s a challenge for the industry because it’s capital intensive and you’re looking at longer payoffs, especially when farming’s recently been full of tight margins.

“I know a lot of farmers would like to push it off to the corner, but you have to look at other benefits beyond the cash benefits.

“There’s a positive kickback in terms of lower fertiliser usage, but the overall payback may be more in the realm of six years, and that doesn’t look attractive to a farmer.”

Stephen Weidemann talks to Justin Huntsdale from ABC Illawarra

Will it put money in my pocket

Tomorrow we open the doors of our research farm so the local farmers can see what’s been happening over the fence.

Our consultant Dr Neil Moss will be taking our visitors on a farm walk where he will share our pasture trial results that increase pasture protein and energy, lift milk production by up to two litres a day and use less fertiliser.

The farmers will be asking lots of questions and the first thing they will want to know is what’s it for them and their cows. That is exactly the question they should be asking because farmers are just like the rest of the world their first priority is to feed their families and just like everyone else their work and commitment should be valued at its real price. ( Ditto for their cows)

Neil is using his presentation tonight to set the scene. Would his slides entice you to come?

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The big wet has left us a little worse for wear in more ways than one

All the details for our field day on March 26th and 27th 2012  see Future farming: research puts grass out to pasture are now bedded down. See flyer here

Jamberoo Field Day Lemon Grove Research Farm Flyer

However in typical farming fashion the weather is behaving badly and Lemon Grove Research Farm is under water

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The water is receding fairly quickly however with the trial paddock now reasonably water free after been totally covered in water at 6am this morning

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Mmh its looks like everyone will be coming to see how our pasture recovers from too much  water

The home farm Clover Hill is also waterlogged and sadly the dangers of farming are only too apparent to all the team after this accident this morning that left the tractor a write off and the driver thankfully in one piece

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The tractor after a long slide down the hill, an altercation with some large rocks and a couple of trees and a few double back flips.

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I send a special thank you to John Deere for making tractors that help save lives.

I must be a good person because I am a Christian

I am always fascinated by politicians who have this innate ability to have a media opportunity waiting for them as they come out of church on a Sunday or people who feel it is imperative to state their political persuasion or their religious affiliations or what they eat or don’t eat as if the label alone confers them with character, integrity, ethics and values

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I have great admiration for many people I have worked with who I don’t have any idea if they are Liberal or Labour or Green or Christian, or Agnostic, Jewish or Hindu or vegetarians or carnivores, heterosexual or homosexual or whatever. And I don’t really care. I know them by their actions not their words that they are men and women of integrity and character. This is the type of person who I want to surround myself with and can only be determined by watching their behaviour, their track record over time in responding to all sorts of situations.

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What has this all to do with farming you ask. Quite a bit in fact
Life and business are far more complex than drawing a line and putting “Christian is good” on one side, and “Non-Christian is bad” on the other as one example.

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The same applies to this ever growing propensity to demonise certain types of agricultural systems out of hand

The media is 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. The poultry industry is a classical example. How often do you see poultry advertised as “hormone free”.

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Not only is this is a nonsense as all plants and animals have natural hormones in them- think plant sterols in soy milk, but worse still it casts doubt into the mind of the consumer that all the other chicken on the market must actually have hormones added. Absolute myth. Hormones have not added been to any poultry feed in Australia for over 40 years! You can read all about the Australian poultry industry here

At Clover Hill Dairies we have been guilty of wearing the occasional badge of honour ourselves
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Up until we took over Lemon Grove Research Farm we proudly stated on all our literature that we don’t use herbicides and pesticides.  When we took over Lemon Grove we suddenly found it was easy to say this because Clover Hill didn’t have plagues of army worms and red legged earth mite and nasty broadleaf weeds that grew like wildfire if let do so on the flood plain.

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Judicious use of scientifically validated technology is one of the great advantages developed food producing nations like Australia have 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.

At Clover Hill and Lemon Grove we 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.

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However, 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.

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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 and 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.

Good article by the BBC’s Richard Black on this Farming Needs a “Climate Smart'” Revolution 

On a lighter side – Labels can mean many different things to different people

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and this one

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Heads up on the research

Our second farm ‘Lemon Grove Research Farm’ PL  was leased in 2008 to grow and diversify our enterprise.

In complete contrast to the home farm whose terrain would challenge the fittest mountain goat Lemon Grove’s 68ha of alluvial river flats provides gentle leisurely access to beautiful pastures for our pregnant milking cows

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The lush flats at Lemon Grove Research Farm which is adjacent to the Jamberoo township

Despite receiving 33% less rainfall than Clover Hill (and the occasional flood!), we have managed to increase stocking rate on Lemon Grove by 150% to graze 5 cows per hectare. This has allowed us to achieve a 350% increase in milk production from that farm in the last three years.

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Thank God this only happens every 50 years ( touch wood)

This has  been achieved through a combination of improved feeding in the dairy and via our small opportunity feed pad, improved fertility in our pastures and innovative and exciting agronomic strategies that provide us with  a more even supply of high quality pastures all year round

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Michael standing in our lush first foray into the world of perennial pastures in Jamberoo

This leads us to our first and exciting research innovation which is to investigate the role and performance of perennial non-grass based pastures in coastal dairy farms

We were looking for ways to reduce our reliance on high nitrogen fertiliser inputs due to both its potential environmental impact and exposure to price volatility. We have watched urea ride the price roller coaster over the last five year due to its close linkage to oil price and we only see the upward trend continuing    

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Traditional coastal grass based pastures (summer kikuyu/paspalum; winter ryegrass) are highly dependent on nitrogen  inputs, generally suffer from poor quality and manageability in summer, require re-sowing each year and are limited by root depth in being able to access moisture and soil nutrient and  hence are prone to short term moisture stress. There is also a significant lag (production gap) between rye grass senescing in spring and summer grasses growing well; and between sowing and production of new winter pastures in the autumn

Past efforts to grow perennial ryegrass have ben foiled by insect pests and summer grass weed infestation and dare I say inappropriate management practices .

 

Neil Moss @ CH

 

 

We have been working with Dr Neil Moss from SBScibus for 10 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have been refining these pastures in the Jamberoo environment with our consultant Dr Neil Moss over the last 3 years and on our current trial site we have planted a mixture of pasture based on perennial legumes and herbs

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The trial site is located in paddock 6 with the control site in paddock 5

Over the next 3 years we will share our success and failures (hopefully failures will be few and far between)

This trial is supported by funding from

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