Reframing the “woe is us” messaging in agriculture

Todays big question

What do you think it would take for agriculture to reframe its messaging from

“woe is us”


“If you aren’t part of the solution you are part of the problem”?

I am a sixth generation dairy farmer who was told growing up by my father “never learn to milk a cow”  It was a message that resonated and I listened  and obeyed and chose a career pathway that the world told me would always provide a reliable income for my family and provide opportunities that my siblings and I didn’t have growing up on the farm.

You can imagine the shock/horror feeling I had when six months into my marriage my partner got an offer to go back to his dairy farming roots.

It was a very difficult conversation to have. He was so passionate about the opportunity but the messages I had received as a child rang very loud alarms bells. Those messages meant that despite wanting to support his dream I did everything I could to convince him neither of us should be milking cows for a career.

My pleadings were to no avail, He began his new career as a share farmer on a local dairy farm and the messaging I had received as a child told me I would be required to work very long hours in my off farm career to ensure the bills were paid on time

Twenty five years later I bought my career skills and knowledge of financial literacy, consumer insights and marketing back to the farm so we could grow the business to allow our son to join the dairy business.

What I discovered was a whole new exciting world that for some reason the dairy industry and agriculture wasn’t sharing beyond the farm gate

A world where science, research and technology was available at a level that the medical world I came from couldn’t even dream of. The level of knowledge of ruminant nutrition and capacity to collect data was phenomenal. If only they did this amount of research on human nutrition or doctors got the holistic training vets and agronomists received.

In the following twenty years working in the agriculture advocacy space I have asked myself over and over again . Why are we keeping all this science, research and technology a secret.

Why do we prefer the “woe is us” messaging

Why do we prefer to tell the world things like the average age of farmers in this country in 58 when we know those ABS figures don’t tell the real story.

Why is agriculture so focused on sharing negative messaging . Last week I was part of a workshop where the participants were asked to list all the reasons why young people don’t choose careers in agriculture. I was shocked, surely I must have heard wrong. Surely the industry is across the knowledge from the world of social science that tells us the dangers of reinforcing the negative.

Why do we engage experts to tell us how we can make the most of the opportunities in the world of agriculture and then ignore their advice?

What do you think?

Is it time to reframe our messaging?

What would that look like?

For years I have been been looking for courageous industry leaders who do that.

Meet the forward thinking David Carter CEO of Austral Fisheries. This is the first of a series of Leadership is Language interviews Dione Howard deputy chair of the Youth Voices Leadership Team is doing with David.

What do you think it would take for agriculture to reframe its messaging from “woe is us” to “If you aren’t part of the solution you are part of the problem”?

By the way – those opportunities for a rewarding career in agriculture abound. My advice is only choose to farm if you have strong financial literacy capability ( or some-one on your team who does) and be committed to life-long learning and growing

As an aside I got up early this morning and walked around the garden I started creating 40 years ago around the house on the farm that I lobbied hard not to live in and I experienced great joy. We are a product of our life experiences and I have found you often learn most from your greatest mistakes.

  1. Neil Barr 2014 Where are the young farmers  
  2. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones Source
  3. Bray and Cay 2018. Room To Grow 

Finding your tribe – the coalition of the willing

Earlier in the year, pre COVID,  I signed up for an international leadership academy and committed to journaling my journey .

I am now six months in and this week we are reviewing our personal and professional vision. Its well recognised to lead others we have to be able to lead ourselves.

Agriculture has a plethora of excellent leadership programs that teach people how to lead themselves. What agriculture needs is pathways to teach people to lead others. Its no wonder we all work in silos. Its hard to be what you cant see.

Success for me professionally is to develop future leaders who have the confidence and skills to lead teams.  I epitomise the statement “we teach others what we want to learn.” Or in my case I get others to teach my team  what I want to learn, so I can join the team.  I am very grateful I have an extraordinary group of young women on my team who I trust implicitly to accomplish what needs to get done and more. Its scary what Team Branding and Team Innovation are achieving this year.

As part of my vision statement I set myself a list of things I wanted to make progress on

My list:

Lynne will:

  • Relate to others better
  • Lean into difficult conversations.
  • Build her capacity to understand other people, what motivates others, how they work and how to work cooperatively with them.
  • On making progress with dot point 3 build a coalition of the willing to engage in #CollectiveImpact 

  • Be a better listener – be fully present in conversations
  • Learn the tools to provide better clarity when I brief some-one on a project (hence difficult work conversations will be minimised)
  • Embrace that fact that we all make decisions driven by emotion first and will strive for emotional balance 

Your emotional system can give you an advantage in decision making if you make proper use of it. Many people think of their emotions as something they have to manage or control rather than something upon which they could capitalize.

I am mega excited with the people and organisations who have put their hands up to be part of a #CollectiveImpact model to develop future leaders who have the confidence and skills to lead teams.

Yesterday I was thrilled to share my journey to lean in to difficult conversations when the fabulous Kwame Christian delivered a Negotiation and Conflicts Skills workshop ( thanks to funding from Soroptimists International Griffith) for 18 of the team .

How good is it to work with this man. So committed to #genderequity,  #racialequity and #socialjustice

We all know “Alone we are smart. Together we can be brilliant” works.

What do you think are the barriers to #CollectiveImpact mindset in agriculture?

What am I doing with my one wild and precious life?

This week I am reading The Power of TED – The Empowerment Dynamic by David Emerald

“Your life is a kind of laboratory where you’re constantly experimenting with your own higher knowing, always increasing your capacity to design the life you choose. Human beings must create; it’s hardwired. The question is, are you consciously creating or only sleepwalking through your human life?”

The book starts with a fabulous forward by Lisa Lahey and this quote from Mary Oliver

I found this extract very powerful.

“Some people are delighted by the question’s reminder that their lives are in their own hands, while for others, it is a novel but wonderful idea that they could actually plan to do something with their lives.

One way is to see ourselves at the mercy of those around us, and the other is to see ourselves as having agency over our lives. We can move back and forth between these two mindsets, though people seem to operate predominantly from one or the other.

People find it hard to ask for help for many different reasons.

Asking for help is hard.

Our individual development needs to be nurtured, and that an ideal environment is one that both supports and challenges us. Too often, we go without both of these conditions. If I could wave the proverbial magic wand on behalf of each of us becoming our best selves, I would make it so we could ask for help and we could do so before things go terribly wrong, or before we feel overwhelmed and excessively stressed from being in over our heads. Living out of fear not only keeps us small but creates a dynamic in which we keep others small as well. We limit our own potential as well as the people around us. We lose a connection to our vision and purpose. Developing our capacity to take responsibility for our lives is an achievement that needs to be cultivated. If we did so, we would be able to use our one wild and precious life to create something meaningful. We would be available to support other people to do the same. And together, we might intentionally participate in our communities (in our home, our work, our neighbourhoods) to do something bigger than any of us individually could.

If we could develop our capacity to plan and live our lives fully, we would feel less like victims, helpless to solve the problems other people make for us. We would no longer feel so exhausted from fighting, feeling badly about ourselves for not fighting back, or for believing that we are not good enough. We would have energy to create more of the life we want.

Go find the community, even if it is just one other person, to provide you with what you want, need, and deserve.”

Dairy Industry Culture Change – opening Pandora’s Box

When Young Farming Champion Lucy Collingridge recently interviewed Michael Bungay Stanier (MBS) she put to him a Wool Industry challenge.

MBS used the Drama Triangle concept to frame his response ( Lucy’s full interview with MBS will go live on 8th Oct 2020.)

Australian Dairy Farmers President, Terry Richardson’s OP-ED last week put the Australia dairy industry’s toxic culture front and centre. 

Word on the street is there is no shortage of people who agree with him. 

Now that Terry has opened Pandora’s Box – What next 

My experiences have shown me the Australian dairy industry ( at all levels) has spent so much time perfecting the drama triangle it has no concept of what its world would look like without it   

As Lucy and MBS have highlighted the agricultural landscape isn’t alone in favouring the drama triangle over the TED model. We all can default to this culture when its the predominate culture.  How do we reframe the toxic negativity?  How do we help victims become creators, persecutors become challengers and rescuers become coaches ?

When boiling the ocean isn’t an option perhaps dairy might like to take a leaf out of the NSW Local Land Services model and provide extensive personal and professional development for their team members  to be resilient to the negativity and help farmers who are entrenched in persecutor or victim mode to have outcomes focused conversations.  

What can we do?

We can all boil our own glass of water by learning to recognise Drama Triangle patterns and call them out 

Great example from Unions NSW today on Twitter. Sounds like some-one is feeling undervalued. Classic mix of Victim/Rescuer and maybe even a little bit of persecutor/finger pointing thrown in for effect.     


Build a reputation for practicing generosity and watch the good stuff show up

In the Leadership is Language webinar series our Young Farming Champions have the opportunity to host a webinar and interview some of the world’s foremost thought leaders on communicating how we can show leadership by the language and communication styles we use. 

Our guests challenge us to change the way we talk as leaders by learning the language of creativity, collaboration and commitment. They  illustrate the powerful intersection of communication and leadership and offer simple steps to transform your thinking, your influence and the lives in your span of care and how we can reinvent our leadership style to meet the evolving demands of the new marketplace.

Young Farming Champion Lucy Collingridge recently found herself interviewing Michael Bungay Stanier who holds the title of No 1 World Thought Leader on coaching and is the author of *The Coaching Habit*.

Lucy’s interview with Michael will go live on 8th October. In the meantime here is a little snippet of some beautiful wisdom for all of us where Michael channels the work of Adam Grant saying

Build a reputation for practicing generosity

If you have an open heart good stuff tends to show up


BTW Great blog here on Givers, Takers and Matchers ( the you scratch my back I will scratch yours people )  

Video of Adam Grant’s Core Messages

What does it take to be tough on the Issue and kind on the person

Having the courage to be a voice for things that matter to you can be liberating .

Finding a safe space to find your tribe and have the confidence to have conversations with people who have diverse views can be scary.

Its also an opportunity to learn how to have polite discourse.  We are the product of our life experiences and learning to acknowledge the emotion, be curious and invite joint problem solving is a rewarding journey.

I am still a work in progress.

“Freedom of speech does not give you libellous freedom. Trolls, stalkers, haters, and bullies all need to check themselves — social media is not and never has been a place to threaten or libel — and if people are using it that way (and have no doubt, they are), they need to do some serious reflection as to why they are behaving that way.” Source


The best things in life are on the other side of difficult conversations.

Our organisation is completely run by volunteers. A small dedicated group of people who do the heavy lifting on behalf of everyone else

This year it is these 11 young women.

They have different motivations for their choices, different needs, and different career and life goals.

I am also a volunteer and I know its human to want to feel appreciated

I also know fair is not equal and the world does not always make it easy for people to feel valued for what they do.

For the last six weeks I have been struggling with a choice that has to be made.

My number one priority is that choice ensures that the people who are doing the heavy lifting on behalf of our organisation are being valued.

I looked forward to me making fair decisions that value the people I value.

I also know that if all participants in the conversation are going to move beyond where we are, we have to be willing to look towards a new future and what each participant needs to get there.

“The best things in life are on the other side of difficult conversations.” Kwame Christian

Today I would like to express gratitude for the people and organisations we work with that are committed to genuine relationships 


The road to profitability – If farmers were customer focused what could they learn?

Road sign to profitability

Farmers are in a unique position, everybody who eats is a customer. If farmers were customer focused what could they change about the way they engage with agricultural education in schools ?

I was a kid who spent most of my time in the classroom looking out the window wondering when I was going to be inspired. Its been a joy for me to find myself in a position to design and be part of a team that delivers agricultural education programs that begin by asking students what they want to learn about 

In 2020 what they want to learn about can be put into six categories.

I love asking the teachers what inspired their students choices. People can have a big impact. In Queensland the choice for schools to investigate dairy is being driven by the dedication of a young dairy farmer called Brian Cox ( if only the dairy industry could clone Brian)

When you ask young people to share with you what they care about its easy to understand why they want to take a deep dive into water (and sustainable fashion)

The interest in peri-urban agriculture varies depending on where the school is located and often what agricultural education programs they have participated in, in the past. The dairy industry has a lot to be grateful for in the work of John Hutchison and Deanne Kennedy

Investigating careers in agriculture is (in the main) being driven by passionate agriculture teachers and students who feel agriculture as a subject is highly undervalued by the education system and they want to see it get the same respect as other science subjects such as physics and chemistry

Farmers are in a unique position, everybody who eats is a customer. If farmers were customer focused what could they change about the way they engage with agricultural education in schools ?

If you were an Australian farmer what would you grow?

Australia is the hottest, driest inhabited continent. So dry 35% of our landscape is classified as desert

If Twitter is a benchmark, there is no shortage of people with opinions on what we should not grow

I am the program designer of an initiative that is building a smarter agriculture sector through the next generation.

We see people as agriculture’s greatest resource and our programs are supporting agriculture’s succession plan by:

  1. Identifying and training agriculture’s emerging leaders who we call Young Farming Champions. We provide our Young Farming Champions with a smorgasbord of opportunities to apply what they learn and multiply their impact.
  2. Attracting the best and the brightest to the agriculture sector through our in-school programs. The Archibull Prize and Kreative Koalas

Our work with schools has shown us that young Australians are highly capable of solving tomorrows problems today. In 2020 the foundation principle  of The Archibull Prize model is inviting students to identify agricultural issues important to them and their region, spend three to six months doing a deep dive into their identified issue and putting their solution forward to our judges in the form of a Sustainability Action Project report and as an artwork.

Part of our organisation’s commitment to the students and teachers is to collate the latest research on their area of investigation and connect them with experts in the field

Agriculture can be incredibly grateful for the gaps in documented research the student’s area of investigations have highlighted in 2020. The big one being peri-urban agriculture.  Australia is the most urbanised country in the world. 89% of Australians live in our cities.   Most of those urban areas are located on our most productive soils and it appears no-one has done a significant body of research on how we can support dairy farming on our urban fringes.

The other interesting topic that is proving challenging for me is Regenerative Agriculture. It is a term that means everything and nothing. It is a farming concept all farmers aspire to. Everyone wants to build organic matter and water holding capacity in their soils. It is not new. Once Australian farmers realised that European farming principles did not suit our fragile soils our farmers have been looking for better ways to farm. There is no one size fits all. To learn from the experts and each other ( 9 out of 10 farmers learn from each other) our leading farmers come together in producer groups across the country

To show the students the diversity of farming systems and landscapes and how farmers are learning from each other and experts I invited farmers to share with me the Best in the Business Grass Roots organisations (with websites) they belong to.  Here is my work in progress list

Sustainable Farming Systems for High Rainfall Areas
Vic No Till Farming Group
Birchup Cropping Group
South Australian no till farmers
Hart Group
Central West Farming Systems
Mallee Sustainable Farming
Grower Group Alliance
Best Wool Best Lamb
Leading Sheep
Irrigated Cropping Council
Riverine Plains Inc
Partners in Grain Q
Stirlings to Coast Farmers

Check them out.

You will be proud of what Australia farmers are aspiring to achieve

* AgZero2030 classify themselves as an agriculture sector-led movement progressing climate solutions

Today the sun is shining on the rain and the rain is falling on the sunshine

“Is the spring coming?” she said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Meet Penelope. She is a petite little thing. She likes to climb the mountains and get their good tidings.

She likes to play peekaboo and wink at me through the fork in the lemon scented gum. She maybe the centrepiece but it is the frame- the bark on the tree that reminds us “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”

Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. 

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring