Dairy farmers making hay while the sun shines

I am watching the forecasts for 2016 Australian farmgate milk price with great interest. Dairy Step Up forecast as processors compete for milk.

harvest Linda Faiers

Photo by Linda Faiers 

It is well known that Australian dairy farmers see costs of production – labor, energy and quality feed for their cows as their biggest inputs cost challenge.  High milk prices and low costs of production certainly mean happy days and provides the genuine quality of life for their families and their cows and necessary incentive to remain in business for the long haul.

Beyond the fairy tale it is also generally recognized Australia has one of the highest labour costs in the world and competing on costs of production alone in the world dairy stage is becoming almost impossible

At the moment Australian milk price forecasts are being predicted based on competition for milk supply between Australian milk processors rather than the traditional focus on international milk prices. Common sense says you can only pay what you can get out of the market place but then of course you cant sell what you don’t have!


Whilst I love to hear stories that sell hope rather than despair I would be very interested to hear from an industry financial whiz on the current maintain the farmgate milk price strategy irrespective of international markets .

Are these milk prices sustainable for Australian processors selling product into the international market place. Is this strategy likely to drag us into the black hole of Calcutta or will it truly fast-track us all on the road to the promised land?

Wow How impressive does this new tool for dairy farmers look

milkey-logoTake control of your milk price

A FREE web-based tool that lets dairy farmers COMPARE milk prices across participating processors

Gary Helou and Lynne Strong – Egos and personalities

I was looking forward to a very uneventful day.  My day started wonderfully, breakfast with special friends and then I got a call asking me if I had seen The Australian today

The caller was concerned that I would not be happy to find myself the farmer face and spokesperson in the front page feature story in the Business Review section that included an interview with Murray Goulburn Chief Gary Helou.  See story here (Note you will need to be an online subscriber to The Australian to view the story)

Well my caller couldn’t have been more right and I am not happy.


Wasn’t happy to see the big picture today 

I was not contacted for the story. The photo is a file photo taken for a different story written by another Australian journalist Sue Neales over two years ago

The blog post quoted was from September last year in which I was commenting on a marketing campaign, not MG’s capital raising activities. I did indeed say I was worried about Gary Helou then because I could see commentators “playing the man” and this is potentially damaging when farmer livelihoods are at stake. I still hold this view.

What I did not say in the blog post was that I thought Gary Helou was thin skinned and I categorically state now I DON’T think Gary Helou is thin skinned

One of the key reasons I started my blog was because every farmer knows that every day the supply chain gets more complex and if farmers want to ensure they are not gobbled up by the challenges and have the capacity to grab the opportunities then we must be as active beyond the farm gate as we are on the farm.

This requires us to invest in developing strong financial literacy skills, having a robust understanding of how to best leverage value from the supply chain and having the capacity and desire to build strong consumer/farmer bonds.

Having an online presence whether it be twitter or blogging or whatever vehicle you choose allows you to start a discussion, learn from others, find other people who share your vision and sometimes drive change. It can also be very cathartic to share your story with others and writing my blog has been in the main a very rewarding personal experience.

I am not a journalist and I will never claim to be and I certainly agree with Mr Helou when he says ‘I don’t like personal attacks. I don’t conduct them on others and I think it’s a terrible state (of affairs).’

I accept that my blog is on the public record and will be quoted from time to time. I stand by every comment I make. However, in this instance, I am disappointed my quotes were used to support a story on which I was not commenting.

I would like to reiterate what I also said in the blog quoted today by The Australian and once again say it’s time to focus on the big issues, not the egos and personalities.  The Australian dairy industry doesn’t need or want to be floodlit in this manner.

We need a strong healthy cooperative culture of working together to get the best outcomes for every-one in the cow to carton process.

We need to focus more on company performance, not personalities.

Murray Goulburn is the largest of our country’s milk processors, with a share of the milk pool approaching 40 per cent. It is owned by 2500 Australian dairy farmers.

Australians want MG to succeed

The Australian dairy industry wants MG to succeed

I want MG to succeed.

You dont have to like me I am not a Facebook status

I dont need to wear glasses 24/7 anymore see previous post here and I didn’t for a while and it was truly awesome not to need them under my goggles when I went skiing.

But I still reach for them when I wake up in the morning. I was thinking perhaps they had just become part of my psyche, a fashion statement, covered up the wrinkles, who knows until I saw this today

Love glasses

That’s what they are. They are my love glasses, my security blanket, they protect from the world. Hail my glasses  and I am going to buy a pair just like these next time

Country of origin labelling have we left it too late?

Has it all become too complex?

Have we lost so much manufacturing capacity that we will need 10%, 20%, 30% rules ad infinitum to provide Australian consumers with the knowledge that the key nutritional ingredient is produced by Aussie farmers and it doesn’t go overseas and back in some form or other in order to be sold in this country?

Let’s take a look at some of the complexities as I understand them (and apparently there a buckets and buckets of them)

  1. The 5% rule – where ingredients do not have to be declare if they make up less than 5% of the product…..problem for country of origin and for those avoiding certain foods
  2.  Take a look at some prominent milk manufactures skim milk which is Skim milk + Skim milk powder. Apparently that’s to make it look whiter amongst other things. There is nothing wrong with skim milk powder. It is wonderful stuff to drink when you want skim milk and don’t have access to fresh milk and add to other food stuffs but should the liquid skim milk in our supermarkets be labelled ‘fresh’
  3.  Another dairy example. This time the 10% rule apparently Australia exports salt from SA to NZ to be processed for cheddar salt it is then returned to Australia for cheddar production – and cheddar is at least 10% of this salt – and the proposed changes would exclude Australian cheddar being labelled as such…ie the “imported” salt would be reclassified to represent imported. Please dont tell me we can’t process salt in this country?

I am putting my consumer hat on today and what a funny bunch of consumers Australians are. The current conundrum has been driven by a Hepatitis A outbreak currently attributed to frozen berries produced in China and Chile and packed in China.

The government’s answer to voters concern about providing safe food in this instance is Country of Origin labelling

On other hand we recently had a child die and others become very ill from what is believed to having consumed E.coli (a very nasty bacteria for young children and the frail) from raw milk produced and packaged in Australia milk yet there is a furore from some consumers and suppliers of raw milk that the government is mandating all milk should be pasteurised.

Professor Bill Bellotti makes some excellent points here  including

The unfortunate reality is that the big retailers can often source food cheaper from imports than from domestic farmers. The big retailers defend this practice by pointing out consumers benefit from cheaper food. While it is true that price is a major determinant of food purchase behaviour, it is not the only one. Other drivers include taste, convenience, and ethical considerations. One of these ethical reasons is a desire to support “local” farmers, however local is defined. So on the one hand many consumers want or need cheap food, on the other, for some at least, there is a desire to support local farmers and rural communities with their food purchases. This ethical dilemma is brought into sharp focus by the Hepatitis A contaminated berry crisis.

I often make high protein, good carbs and good fats smoothies for lunch with frozen berries


  •  Fruit – most often banana and mixed berries
  • Milk – full fat
  • Plain Yogurt – no added sugar
  • Whey protein powder
  • Linseed
  • Bran – Note to self don’t add bran if you are not going to drink it straight away


I have traditionally kept frozen berries in the freezer for when I don’t have fresh fruit Yesterday I was cleaning out my freezer and found two boxes of these 

McCains Berries

The box proudly declares on the back McCains have offices in Australia and NZ

McCains Offices

On the side of the box it tells me these berries are a product of Chile.

Product of Chile

Like the many naive Australians I had always made the assumption McCains sourced and packed Australian berries in Australia.

As I have regular booster shots to top up my original Hep A injection I decided I would risk putting the berries in my smoothie. Don’t start me on people who don’t vaccinate their children. How serious will this situation get before we have to have a law to save the naïve ( and their children )  from themselves

As Bill rightly says

Contaminated berries are obviously not good for our health (although in principle snap frozen food retains nutritional quality). Imported berries most likely have a greater environmental footprint than locally produced ones…  and the current market and policy settings are clearly unfair to Australian producers, although presumably Chinese producers benefit.

Becoming food literate entails acquiring knowledge across these issues, forming an ethical stance, and making deliberate food choices.

As a consumer I want greater transparency without the need to take my magnifying glass to the supermarket and putting 1 day a week aside for shopping and reading labels on every side of the box

As a farmer I look forward to a labelling system that meets needs of the consumer as well as mine.


Looks like I am not alone in trusting a system I know little about

According to this story in BRW the Patties’ recall shows the risks of substandard supplies to hospitality businesses.

Jim Barritt used to bake berry muffins for guests staying at his Sebastopol motel on the outskirts in Ballarat in regional Victoria. One afternoon in mid February he logged into Facebook and discovered the frozen fruit he used was subject to a recall.

“The sad reality is that I used Nanna’s products because I trusted the brand implicitly, partially because I lived in Bairnsdale for 16 years before moving to Ballarat when we bought this motel,” Barritt says. “I was sufficiently confident in the company and its products that I didn’t even think to check the source information on the packaging as I foolishly believed that the product was grown and produced in Victoria.”

In fact, the berries were grown in China and Chile, packaged in China and sold in Australia

Barritt’s experience shows how most of the food supply chain still relies upon trust between suppliers and customers. For Barritt, he’s not sure when the berry muffins will be back on the motel’s menu. “From now on the key focus will not be on price, rather the origin and I have certainly learned not to be complacent when it comes to sourcing products for either my guests or my family,” he says. Last weekend he made his first batch of muffins using fresh, locally grown berries.

See full story How to avoid the fate of Patties Foods, the company behind the Hep A berry scare

When you think of farmers and the challenges they face do you feel empathy or sympathy?

To me agriculture has made the big mistake of thinking that sympathy sells. Does it?

Here is a little consumer interview snapshot I have edited from the recent Appetite for Change documentary hosted by Lynton Tapp that was shown last Saturday on Channel 10.

It would appear from this snapshot that people feeling sorry for us doesn’t necessarily translate into increased sales of the products we produce. But lets leave that for the moment

I get regular calls from people in rural Australia who would either like to seek my advice or access the talented Young Farming Champions team and/or use The Archibull Prize material to underpin a ‘paddock to plate’ or ‘field to fibre’ appreciation awareness event they would like to run in their region.

I had such a call yesterday and I did what I always do and ask a couple of questions for which the answers are important to me personally. Invariably the answers are the same and they sound something like this

  1. I want to be able to explain to people in a way that makes sense to them why I want to farm.  Think back to the consumer comments in the footage above and see my footnote below
  2. I want my region to be proud of our farmers and support them.

Interestingly enough nobody ever actually says I want people to feel sorry for our farmers and support them which is how we have too often marketed ourselves in the past

Yesterday I spoke with an education expert who is reviewing The Archibull Prize school entry and exit survey for 2015 and she asked me what was the ultimate outcome I wanted the survey to show. I said I wanted the exit survey to show the students have a much higher level of understanding and appreciation (post participating in the Archibull Prize and meeting the Young Farming Champions) of the challenges and constraints farmers are under to produce safe,affordable and nutritious food for families here and overseas.

Equally importantly I want to raise awareness and create a buzz amongst the students that not only are farmers prepared to partner with the community to overcome these challenges and seize the opportunities that come their way we are actively inviting the community to join us

Before I sat down to write this post I noticed my mobile phone was flat and I needed to charge it. I looked at the phone and my computer that always seems to be at the end of my fingertips. I asked myself  ‘Do I need to understand ( or be educated about) the “Production line to Palm” process to appreciate these devices and buy them?’

And of course the answers was ‘No I don’t –  I just want them to be safe, affordable and available’

Whilst students and teachers participating in the Archibull Prize certainly get a clear awareness of the paddock to plate process it has become very clear to the Art4Agriculture team and the Young Farming Champions that this is not the key essential learning that is going to generate the pivotal partnerships and support for agriculture and our farmers. The success of the Archibull Prize and the Young Farming Champions programs is underpinned by the fact that they are programs that reach out to the community and start two way conversations.  These programs have well and truly started the conversation and farming communities around Australia are embracing the model as the phone calls I receive show me every day

As my previous post found here asked it’s what agriculture as a whole does next that we now need to work on – that’s where the huge gap is and I have no idea who is prepared to put their hand up to fill that gap

Talking about starting conversations. My girlfriend rang me from the supermarket the other day after watching the Appetite for Change documentary and she said ‘it’s taking me three times as long to shop. Every time I pick something up I am checking to see if I am buying Australian made and supporting Australian farmers’

How many Agriculture generated marketing campaigns do that? I know the Archibull Prize and the Young Farming Champions do and this campaign obviously has.

So Agriculture is time to rethink the way we market ourselves on a grand scale because placards that say #standup4farmers don’t do anything for me as a consumer marketing campaign. We could spend a lot of money and survey consumers as they come of the supermarket to see if it does anything for them.  We could but its time to spend our limited marketing dollars wisely. Let’s look at what works, invest in those programs, and build on the conversations and grow the partnerships

Paraphrasing the words of Ian Plowman

Wisdom and creativity can be found anywhere. All we need to do is create the conditions within which that wisdom and creativity can blossom. You can achieve the solutions through unlocking the knowledge, insight and creative talent that lies dormant in your organization, association or community.

Footnote:  Why do I I want to promote agriculture?

I get  asked this question a lot  and I too used to find it hard to explain.  This infographic does it beautifully and now I smile and say to people – can you guess the bit I haven’t nailed yet.


How would you market Australian Agriculture?

Brand Australia – how do we promote it?

A question that has been posed so many times by government, agriculture industry bodies and farmers for over 60 years.  A question that we still don’t seem to have an answer for on a scale large enough to have impact. Lots of ideas, lots of in house conversations and lots of bright minds like Craig Davis giving very smart advice.

In May last year Longreach farmer, entrepreneur and founder of Agrihive James Walker and I found ourselves invited to Heron Island to be part of a discussion that would potentially result in a national/ international  Australian agriculture marketing campaign. A campaign prompting our farmers and the food and fibre they produce and the challenges they face, designed by one of the most powerful NGO’s in the world and funded by a major Australian financial institution

A marketing event that clearly could potentially kick-start a very powerful new partnership era and help shine a light on and create a bright future for Australian agriculture


Surely a dream come true for Australian agriculture.  

Ah yes James and I thought BUT we looked at each other with trepidation. The NGO was the World Wildlife Fund and the key question was would Australian farmers see the big picture vision, would they embrace an unlikely bedfellow, cast off previous grievances and be prepared to form one of the most exciting and influential partnerships ever offered to them?

It’s been an interesting year for me and I am confident equally for James.

We had two choices.

Jump on the train and be part of a magnificent journey to help create a bright future for Australian agriculture or stay on the platform at the station and be left wondering what might have happened if we had taken a leap of faith

Well I can assure you the train ride has been one of the most inspirational experiences of my life. It is amazing – absolutely phenomenal what a small dedicated, cohesive, collaborative, adaptive group of people, who never give up no matter what the challenge and how many knockers they have and are completely focused on the big picture can achieve

Agriculture has so much to learn from these people and so much to gain.  Did we take advantage of this once in a life time opportunity?

Who wouldn’t want to work with the clever and innovative a team of people who put this masterpiece together ?

And how clever is this to get attention. Pick something the majority of Aussies cant do without and no it isn’t food

Well I definitely know our farming organisations struggled and many of our research and development corporations struggled. Whilst internally they saw it for what it was – a potentially watershed marketing opportunity – no-one quite knew how their farmer stakeholders would react and no-one quite knew how to broach it with them

What has disappointed and saddened me is most of our farming organisations and industry bodies ultimately decided to put it in the too hard basket and very few of them even let our farmers know the campaign was happening. Effectively failing to give our farmers the opportunity to make up their own minds.  As a testament to farmer enthusiasm there was no shortage of excited farmers very happy to be showcased as part of the Planet to Plate Cookbook 

What is this event I am talking about – of course we all know Its Earth Hour

Today is the Grand Final.

Tonight more that 6 million Australians will turn off the lights between 8.30pm and 9.30pm to celebrate Australian farmers and the food and fibre they produce and raise awareness of the challenges they face

I have a strong gut feeling that our farmers have been widely underestimated and the train carriages are full of smart farmers who are well and truly on the journey

A call out to all my fellow farmers. Australians care about you – it’s time to say thanks

Have an event – no matter how small – invite friends, cook a meal sourced from great Australian produce and celebrate – turn off the lights and Light a candle

The following is a list of social media opportunities that will allow you to use the power of the internet to reach out and share this event with fellow Australians right across the country

Links that will help you support what others are doing

Earth Hour on Twitter https://twitter.com/earthhour_au

Earth Hour on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/earthhouraustralia

Earth Hour in Instagram https://instagram.com/EarthHour_Australia/

And for all those farmers who jumped on the train a long time ago. I salute you

Project Catalyst farmers, working with WWF-Australia, industry, scientists and Government, are leading the way in reducing the fertiliser and sediment run off that is killing the Great Barrier Reef. Meet the unlikely heroes who show it is possible to take action that is good for the farm and good for the Reef.

Some great reflections on this topic from Milk Maid Marian this morning here

Are MacDonald’s saying humans are more important than chooks ???

I am just not quite sure what to say about this

MCDONALD’S restaurants in the United States will begin serving meat from chickens that are not raised with antibiotics used to treat humans.

Because the struggling fast-food chain is one of the largest buyers of chicken in the United States – McDonald’s sells more chicken than beef – the move is likely to have a big impact on the way poultry is raised and the type of chicken served by restaurants.

The shift to chicken that was largely antibiotic-free would be phased in over two years, the company said.  See story here

In essence are MacDonald’s saying people are more important than animals?

Are they saying people are allowed lifesaving antibiotics but chooks aren’t?

In Australia the types of antibiotics that can be given to animals are very restricted. It’s always been humans come first.

It’s an interesting world we live in full of first world double standards

I was a community pharmacist once and a farmer second

Yes the use of antibiotics by farmers and veterinarians does need to be tightened up but we have far too many people and doctors who need to have a big rethink about the way they pop and prescribe antibiotics first.

Lets start where the real problem is and don’t punish the animals because the humans stuffed up


Are MacDonald’s saying humans are more important than chooks or are retailers forcing industry practice changes because they are both in tune with consumer views and preferences as well as shaping those views and preferences for marketing differentiation purposes.?