How can we attract, retain and empower high calibre people into Ag to foster innovation? – Seriously its not that hard

From the requests I am getting more it appears my area of expertise is answering the  question

‘how can we attract, retain and empower high calibre people into Ag to foster innovation?.’

Answering the question is a lot easier that agriculture realises and it starts with recognising agriculture can be a phenomenal space to be in

When Nick Hovey first applied to be a Young Farming Champion representing the Sheep and Cattle Industry I did some research into his employers. How exciting would it be to work for the Wright Family at Coota Park at Woodstock – the whole mindset behind their business is just so innovative. I love the way they think, what they do and how they share it and I love the way they identify young people and nurture them.

Reprinting Nick’s blog for Art4AgricultureChat found here

This is Nick’s story ……….

Beef cattle and working dogs: It isn’t often that I’m not talking about either one of these two topics. Or in general…Agriculture and farming.

Nick Hovey (2)

A David and Goliath moment if I ever saw one 

Growing up in three capital cities my ‘fate’ didn’t look like I would end up on a farm. My ‘want’ to be a farmer began at a very early age when my family would make a once yearly road-trip to Gulargambone NSW. Why Gular?? Mum’s sister and her husband lived on a sheep/wheat property there. Uncle Phil took my brother and I everywhere with him for the week that we were there; whether it was simply moving mobs, shearing, drenching or lamb marking, we were always there.

I am the youngest of three children and the only one who ended up on the land. My schooling years were spent in Adelaide, Melbourne and then finally settled in Sydney where my primary school years were spent bragging about our visits to ‘my uncle’s farm’. High school was interesting for me as I went to Saint Ignatius College, Riverview. There were 250 students in my year, of which some were boarders from farming families. I spent some holidays on mate’s properties and we helped out with some of the mustering duties. It was in year nine at Riverview that I was introduced to the Ag program and show cattle. For the next four years I spent plenty of afternoons (when I wasn’t at footy training) down at the Ag plot preparing steers for various shows.

Nick Hovey (4)

Nick Hovey combining a love of the land, cattle and dos to live the dream 

Inspired by being part of the school cattle show team my passion for the sheep industry suddenly shifted to beef cattle. Through the show program I met many people and was fortunate enough to be taken under their wing. After leaving school, I decided to take six months off study before starting at the University of Western Sydney. After the first six to eight weeks of uni I just wasn’t enjoying it and still wanted to be a grass roots farmer. Alistair McLaren saw this and took me in, gave me a job on the Angus stud that he managed and guided me in the right direction. It was then that I managed to finally get my first working dog.

Somehow in the year of 2011 I managed to wrangle two jobs (Tobruk Sheep Station and Sweven Angus) along with TAFE at Richmond. Tobruk was a great experience, which gave me the ability to hone my public speaking in front of what were mainly Japanese, Chinese or Korean tourists whilst doing something that I really enjoyed. It gave me the opportunity to get my Kelpie dog working in the yards, learn to shear and also teach people how to crack a whip and throw the odd boomerang. The days at Tobruk were rewarding, Sweven were challenging and TAFE started to give me a step up.

The progression onto a large sheep breeding operation in the Goulburn district was a challenge. I was still seen as that ‘city kid’ and many people didn’t think that I could do it. However, I am grateful for the time that I had both there and then in Illabo on a mixed enterprise in 2012 that my bosses had the faith in me. I will never forget the night in the Illabo pub where I was told ‘well, from the city you must be not much chop eh?’. It is the paradigm of thought such as this that has helped me to strive to be the best that I can possibly be.

I still loved the idea of showing cattle at Sydney Royal, however 2012 was my final year and I haven’t looked back. At the beginning of my employment at the Chudleigh’s property in Frogmore it was very clear that I would not be allowed to show cattle at the Sydney due to shearing. By that stage I had completed a Holistic Management course, which really opened up my eyes to using the ‘tools’ of our trade in a different manner. The idea of regenerative agriculture and the ability to capture and store carbon in the soil  through the use of planned grazing management and recovery periods has really appealed to me.

It feels like I have packed a lot into the five and a half years since leaving school, however I have appreciated the opportunities and experience that have been put to me and have tried not to let one pass me up. I now feel like I have found my niche with my position as the Assistant Manager at Coota Park Blue-E.

Nick Hovey (3)

Nick Hovey Assistant Farm Manger at Coota Park Blue-E 

We currently have 600 breeding females, growing out our steers to feedlot weight and joining all our heifers.

Probably the most exciting part of the program at Coota Park is that we breed AngusXShorthorn bulls and test them for Feed Efficiency.

Measuring Feed Conversion efficiency is the measuring the ability of cattle to turn grass in beef ( or milk) as efficiently as they possibly can. We are currently running two tests per year in the purpose built facility that has 48 individual pens. For a period of 91 days (21 of which are allow for the bull calves to adjust to the ration) we have bulls in the pens. Feed is weighed into each bull’s feed tub and what isn’t eaten is weighed at the end of each week. Every fortnight, the bulls are weighed and then put into new pens. I love this because the methane emitted from a cow, bull, steer or heifer is directly related to the amount of feed eaten. So beyond the fact that cattle that are highly efficient grass converters require less feed for the same weight gain they also have a smaller footprint on the planet


I am also very passionate about my team of working dogs, they have the brains and ability to get to cattle in the hills that the motorbikes are physically not capable.

Nick Hovey (1)

Taking my dogs to working cattle dog trials has become a hobby of mine, which means that my best mates aren’t only with me at work, they are there for play too. I’ll tell you an important thing to remember – your dogs will always listen, you can tell them anything and be confident that they wont blurt it out to anybody else.

So if you see me around, chances are dogs and cattle will come up in conversation. But I am always open to new ideas and conversations.

Nick Hovey (5)

We give our cattle the best environmentally friendly life experience we can and we are proud to know that when they go of to be processed we are part of the team of Australian beef farmers who supply 6 billion protein meals to the world each year

BTW if you want to know more about the science around feed conversion efficiency and breeding cattle fit for purpose that have a lower environmental impact. You can find a paper written by Coota Park principal Jon Wright given at the Grasslands Conference here

The calm before the perfect storm for one nervous dairy farmer

Farming Ahead of the Curve:

One should never underestimate the power of the quiet achiever to pose the courageous questions and drive the direction of conversations the world needs to have

Everywhere I go Australian agriculture’s most admired quiet achiever Marian MacDonald keeps popping up doing what she does so well – Envisioning the future we all want to have, sowing the seeds of change and empowering the movement in Australian agricultureMarian MacDonald and Family

Photo Source

Last weekend I was lent a copy of Bill Hampel’s ‘Against the Grain’ and was not surprised to see Marian’s story on Page 39 featured along with 14 other inspiring Australian farmers

“a love of nature and farming and a thirst for knowledge’ drives this little pocket rocket
“There is a refreshing honesty about this life, everything you do makes a difference. The joy of being outside with the animals is something that I can’t put into words. It’s where I really feel at home”

Read her latest blog and you too will see why people like Marian as so important and why they are celebrated

Originally posted on The Milk Maid Marian:

Image from

A perfect storm is brewing. Collapsing global dairy markets, a fodder shortage, and a strengthening El Nino.

Milk price uncertainty

Just across the ditch, NZ dairy farmers are drowning in despair after the dominant Kiwi milk processor, Fonterra, this week cut its farmgate price forecast to $3.85 per kilogram of milk solids, down from $5.25. The announcement followed hot on the heels of yet another set of disastrous Global Dairy Trade auction figures.

The Global Dairy Trade auction results of 4 August The Global Dairy Trade auction results of 4 August

Most NZ milk is sold via the Global Dairy Trade auction and an article from neatly explains the situation for NZ dairy farmers:

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the news was grim, but not unexpected and many farmers would now be in survival mode.

The drop in milk price would result in $2.5 billion dropping out of rural economies, Mackle said. 

“Milk price…

View original 760 more words

Farmers can save the planet – lets help them do it

I must admit I have never figured out why 6% of the Australian population are so hell bent on debating whether climate change is real or not.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver 


After all if 97 engineers said the Sydney Harbor  bridge was going to fall down and 3 engineers said it wasn’t would you drive you and your family across it?

I came across this fantastic document today titled A Tool Kit … for assisting Australia’s country towns and communities with understanding and addressing longer-term climate change impacts found here and I couldn’t agree more with the conclusion

The key message of this Tool Kit is that planning is needed to prepare for the climate of the future. Regardless of your views on the certainty of climate change, it is clear that actions taken to adapt to the weather conditions of the future can only work to the benefit of local communities. Importantly, communities need to take responsibility for their own future. Government policies and strategies will not ensure the future of any country town if the residents and businesses do not mobilise to action. Change is an inescapable feature of life in Australia’s country towns, and climate change adds another dimension of complexity to an already fast moving environment. The critical question is: will the community act to take advantage of the opportunities that may appear on the horizon – the farming of carbon credits, the development of new industries, and introduction of new, more water efficient, crops – or will they wait to act in the hope of a return to the past?

Rural and regional Australia is full of towns that have died because they could not, or would not, adapt. Australia’s regions are known for their resilience and innovation – these are the resources that can ensure the wellbeing of country towns across Australia for the coming generations.

Climate Change is real and it’s not just a risk to polar bears. We now have a situation where climate change is happening at a faster rate than any species can adapt

Yes there is a 1 in 100,000 chance the scientists are wrong. Do we seriously want to take the chance?

The majority of farmers have stopped talking about the cause and are getting on with finding the solutions and wow are they leading by example

Josh Gilbert ABC interview

NSW Farmers Young Farmer Council Chair Josh Gilbert on ABC Rural. Source

What we need now is a serious rethink on policy on renewables.  Visit here for more information

Reducing the impact of climate change on all of us is an area where Australian farmers have the opportunity to be a game changer and help secure Australia’s future. The possibilities for our farmers in this space are endless and the way forward is to do it together

Its time to move the conversation forward and put Australia on the road to health, wealth and happiness with our farmers leading the way


and how wonderful is the philosophy behind this concept

In the words of Mark Howden “Adaptation changing what we do to get what we want’

Debunking the hogwash around Grass fed beef vs grain fed beef

I am writing this blog post to debunk a lot of the inaccuracies and misconceptions that appear on the internet about livestock production. *See my level and expertise to do this at the bottom of the post

Let’s put a few things up front

All food and fibre production has an environmental footprint. Domestic livestock (as opposed to pets) are bred for purpose and that purpose it to provide high quality healthy protein for human consumption with a low environmental impact.

It is absolute rubbish to say ruminant livestock are not ‘evolved to eat grains’ after all a grain is part of a plant. It’s like saying humans are not evolved to eat grains. What humans are not evolved to do is eat grass and this is what cows do very well.

The role of the farmer is to ensure his/her livestock has as low an impact on the planet as possible and to give their livestock the best whole of life experience they can

One of the ways farmers are able to reduce their livestock’s environmental footprint is to breed cattle that have genes that ensure they can turn what they eat into protein for human consumption as efficiently as they can. That means less grass per cow eaten per kg of meat produced. Beef cattle in this country produce 15% more beef per animal than they did 30 years ago. This means they have also reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 15% – Well done cattle (and farmers)

Cattle are ruminants and this digestive process allows them to break down the cellulose content of the grass, which then allows them to take grass through a process that turns it into meat (or milk)

To do this they have little bugs in their stomachs which break down the food. These bugs produce methane which is quite a significant greenhouse gas (25 x more powerful than Carbon Dioxide). The better quality the grass the less work the bugs have to do and the less methane they produce

So smart farmers grow high quality grass which is better for their cows and better for the environment. Feeding cows grain which is much easier for cows to digest than grass obviously means the bugs in the cows stomach do less work and hence produce less methane. All good stuff

Grain V GRass


There is no denying grain feeding means in farmer lingo cows have a “hot” diet and this means too much grain can make the stomach a bit too hot for the bugs and they die. Not good for cows or bugs so both cattle ( and bugs) are introduced to grain feeding slowly to allow them to adapt just the same as when they are moved from poor quality grass to higher quality grass

Its also important to note cows on a grain fed diet aren’t exactly on a fully grain fed diet. Their ration is a mixture of feed stuffs that includes lots of high quality fibre like hay and silage to ensure the cow’s stomach environment is conducive for bug survival. The other thing to note is cows spend most of their lives eating grass. The grain feeding is just a finishing process

Because cows on a grain fed diet grow quicker they can be processed quicker and this is better for the environment from a whole of life methane output perspective. Lots more info at the bottom of the page**

But let’s not get too carried away about methane – both systems are environmentally sustainable in their own way, and the choice between the two types of beef (Grass and Grain) is purely based on taste personal preference

At AGvision this week thanks to Kylie Schuller an expert in this space I had the opportunity to get a clearer understanding and have a taste test. The eating quality characteristics of meat (texture, juiciness, flavour) are indeed entirely dependent on the feed that the cattle eat.


Kylie Schuller from Andrews Meat giving students the low down on grass fed vs grain fed with Sally Strelitz  Marketing and Communications Officer University of New England

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Students at AGvision do the taste test – Grain Fed vs Grass Fed

What is marbling

The take home message from all of this is

A balanced diet containing red meat as a nutritious protein is good for you

My expertise

I have been in agriculture for close to sixty years. In the main ensuring cows can produce safe, affordable and nutritious milk. I also spent 20 years on a mixed farm that grew crops and produced lamb and beef

I am not a scientist but have completed a ‘high level’ science and medical degree

Grain fed facts

Cattle are considered grain fed if they have been on a grain based ration for at least 60 days for a male and 70 days for a female. To be classified as grain fed, cattle must also be sourced from a feedlot that is accredited by the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme and audited by AUSMEAT.

Depending on the market requirements cattle are generally entered into a feedlot at around 12 months of age, and fed for a specified period of time. They fed a variety of grains (e.g. wheat, barley, and sorghum), roughages (hay, straw) and bi-products (brewers grain, cornflakes) in a ration that is formulated by a nutritionist to ensure the animals are receiving optimal amounts of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals for their stage of growth and development.

Grain feeding greatly increases the ability to produce a consistent product in terms of yield, quality and supply:

  • Marbling is greatly increased in grain fed cattle due to specialised nutrition
  • Grain feeding helps to even out inconsistencies in supply caused by Australia’s volatile environment.
  • Grain fed beef is often described as having a buttery flavour

Key Ideas surrounding Grain Fed beef:

  • Grain fed cattle produce 38% less CO2 per kg of beef than grass fed cattle
  • Grain fed cattle spend majority of their life in a paddock
  • The feedlot industry represents around 2% of the Australian cattle herd at any one point in time. 
  • Higher incidence of marbling, which means higher levels of good cholesterol.
  • Like the grass fed industry the Australian feedlot industry is predominantly owned and run by families. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) confirms that 98% of feedlots are Australian owned and that 91% of farms are owned by families. 

Grass Fed Beef:

Grass fed cattle live and survive solely on pastures for their entire lives. Grass contains a pigment called “carotene” which is absorbed into animal fat giving it a distinctive yellow hue. Due to the variation in grasses eaten, grass fed beef is often described as having a complex beef flavour.

The ability to produce high quality beef off of grass is entirely dependent on the environment. If grass is in limited supply or of low quality (due to extreme heat, lack of rainfall etc.) then beef production is of a lower quality. Therefore most superior grass fed beef comes from areas with a consistent high rainfall, and moderate temperature ranges.

Key Ideas surrounding Grass Fed Beef:

  • Grass fed beef can be lower in overall fat content than Grain fed beef. 
  • High in Vitamin A and Vitamin E, due largely to the beta carotene in their diets. 
  • Grass fed cattle have high levels of vital antioxidants 
  • Healthier balance of Essential fatty acids – but this very much depends on the types of pastures they are fed (having done these on farm pasture trials myself I can certainly testify to that) 
  • Grass fed cattle help reduce land degradation, desertification and soil erosion and maintain more than 50% of Australia’s landscape

 Love these infographics which you can find here

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Please Australia stand up for what is right – Surely Adam Goodes typifies what is good in the world

Adam Goodes

I don’t know.  I just have a gut feeling this mentality typifies what is wrong with the world or at the very least wrong with some bizarre sub group of Australians

Adam Goodes is an Australian of the Year –  to me a man who actually stands for something

Should not expect our sport stars – our heroes – anybody in the public eye – anybody in fact to just ‘suck it up’ when somebody says something or does something vile?

We seem quite happy to forgive footballers who throw punches in bars when some idiot says something stupid but when a very special man takes a stand the right way he is persecuted.

Having watched football from the sidelines, seen some pretty nasty things happen even at schoolboy games and sat in too many hospital emergency rooms with family members I must admit football of any code has lost its appeal to me.

The last game I started to watch I walked away from before the kick-off – after the disgraceful crowd behaviour during the 1 minute silence for Ron Clarke 

I hadn’t watched the Adam Goodes indigenous celebration dance that apparently polarised the nation until today

Seriously Australia – we got upset about this

When I watch our young people booing in the stands for whatever reason it saddens me that parents think encouraging this type of culture is setting a good example.

To me Adam Goodes actions when he identified the young girl in the crowd  was a wakeup call fro parents  that this type of behavoir ishould not be tolerated That it hurts and its wrong

Please Australia stand up for what is right. I am with Jeremy Stanford on this one

This is where our country is at. White society is still so removed from our Indigenous brothers and sisters that when Lewis Jetta and Adam Goodes perform a war dance in a game of football we can only see division. We can’t embrace it like the Kiwis embrace the haka before a game of rugby. It becomes a threat because it’s not a version of what white players have traditionally done and therefore it’s unacceptable. It’s a statement.

When I saw Goodes perform his dance for the first time I was dazzled. Rather than just lining up at the start of the game and honouring the concept of an Indigenous round, this man had actually treated us to some culture.

It broke my heart that it caused controversy rather than deliver enchantment. It meant that we couldn’t truly turn the Indigenous round over to the indigenous players, we had to lend it to them on the condition that they behaved like white players. Sound familiar?

Tom Wills is widely attributed to be the father of our game. As a kid growing up in western Victoria he learnt Marngrook with the local Indigenous kids and even spoke their language. It’s inconceivable that some of the game we play now doesn’t derive from that childhood experience, but it’s denied in our official story of the game.

To me this is telling. As a culture, we still haven’t learnt to embrace the Indigenous one. It’s still separate. We’ll give on our terms, appreciate on our terms, but when it’s not on our terms, we turn on it.

I’d be happy to see every Indigenous player from now on perform the war dance every time they kick a goal.


First Dog on the Moon 2400

Cartoon Source

Some reflections from around the nation – We all know and admire the Haka why not one of our own 

Some sobering thoughts from Stan Grant here

For too long agriculture has been self absorbed – lets do it together

Last night incoming NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen met with Al Gore who pledged his support for NSW Farmers fight against the Shenhau Mine

Derek Schoen Al Gore

Derek’s meeting with Al Gore as Derek acknowledges above was a result of the buzz around the watershed passing of the motion put forward by NSW Young Farmer Council that resulted in overwhelming hand on heart support of the NSW Farmers members

Climate Change Motion NSW Young Farmers

See background here

I have high hopes that this leadership shown by NSW Young Farmer Council means a new beginning for agriculture in this country

For too long agriculture in this country has been self-absorbed and forgotten the benefit of building partnerships between ourselves and the world for mutual benefit

Not since Rick Farley and his support team initiated Landcare have we seen leadership of this quality. We failed to build on the partnership and inclusiveness  culture initiated by Landcare – Let’s not do it again.

What is different this time is the NSW Young Farmer Council have a strong support network who know how emotionally and physically draining it can be to start a movement. The NSW Farmers Young Council also know you can’t do it by yourself and the value of powerful partnerships. They also know that you can change the way people think but you can’t change the way they behave- they have to want to do that themselves

Loving it.  Bring it on Josh and team #youthinag

BTW Amusing and insightful TEDx talk by Sam Trethewey on this topic

and taking advice from the animal kingdom

its time for a lets do it together mindset

Asia is an open door – are we ready to enter

This post is a reprint of an opinion piece by Angus Taylor MP that appeared in The Land in June 2015

It’s very impressive and I am sure The Land won’t mind me reprinting it

Angus Taylor Source AFR

The solar power industry should be treated differently to wind in the review process of the Renewable Energy ­Target, says Liberal MP Angus Taylor, and has an important role to play in rural Australia.

OPINION: GOVERNMENTS hampered the mining industry with taxes, costs and slow approvals. Now the farming sector is set to take off, we must help, not hinder it.

Five years ago I took the tools and techniques I had used as a consultant since the early 2000s to forecast growth in global demand for minerals and energy, and applied it to agriculture. The insights were clear and remarkable. For decades I had heard about the sleeping giants of Asia, and the voracious appetite that would one day drive our farming sector. That dream is now becoming a reality.

“We need a shared picture of what is possible and real determination to get on with it across all stakeholders”

Global population growth is just the beginning. More important is the impact of rising wealth on calorie consumption, and the shift from carbohydrate-dominant diets towards proteins, oils, sugar, fruit and vegetables. All of this requires huge gains in production per unit of land and water, at a time when agricultural productivity is falling.

Asia - huge potential

Asia – a population who values “safe and healthy” food and the integrity Australia offers in this space  

As the dollar drops, high international soft commodity prices are translating to higher Australian prices for beef, lamb, mutton, wool and some grains. Other commodities will follow, often with volatility. Australian produce is highly regarded in many Asian markets, if only for food safety reasons. And we have among the highest endowments of agricultural land and water per person in the world – China and India aren’t even close.

Despite the opportunity, we’ve let ourselves down before in the mining sector. We imposed cumbersome taxes, slow approvals and excessive costs on a sector that would face tougher times as prices dropped to sustainable levels (still well above historical trends). Poor policy at the peak has led to serious vulnerabilities, generating an unhelpful fracas about iron ore cartels. We can’t afford to make the same mistakes for soft commodities.

Capturing global agriculture opportunities requires diverse “clusters” of participants to mobilise, overcoming the unavoidable fragmentation of agriculture. Farmers, processors, bulk handlers, ports, researchers, consultants, accountants, traders, marketers and all levels of government need to seize the day. Attempts to centralise will not work. Instead we need a shared picture of what is possible and real determination to get on with it across all stakeholders.

Government is only part of the picture, but its role matters. We need to improve and protect access to markets, by reducing trade and non-trade barriers, reducing economic costs, mobilising new relationships and supporting strengthened brands and supply chains. This has been the government’s priority in the past two years, and the results are clear.

Government can also facilitate investment in crucial infrastructure: water, transport, processing and telecommunications. The 500 new mobile phone towers announced last week and reprioritisation of the national broadband network (including the launch of two new satellites), are important steps in this direction. So too were the recently announced water and transport infrastructure initiatives in northern Australia, which remains an enormous opportunity for Australian agriculture.

Serving regional areas with quality supply chains and infrastructure is tough, not just because of the huge land areas. Natural monopolies are common, thwarting trust and investment. Targeted, effective competition policy is crucial, as are clever business structures. Across the Tasman we see the Kiwis’ global domination of the dairy sector driven by a major farmer-owned co-operative; we should take note and likewise consider clever structures that foster farmer self-reliance.

A serious “agtech” sector is ours for the taking. Innovation has always been the life blood of Australian agriculture. With accelerating improvements in genetics, GPS, remote sensing and “big data”, much depends on timely commercialisation and utilisation of our ideas. The government’s food and agricultural growth centre will encourage more private sector involvement in research and development, alongside $750 million a year in current funding.

Direct investment in farms and farmers is crucial, particularly given the rapid growth of debt, just as the pace of farm succession intensifies.

Better risk management products will help, particularly in times of drought, such as multi-peril risk insurance for grain producers.

Some of the investment in agriculture will come from offshore. This is essential and shouldn’t frighten us if motives are sound, taxes are paid and monopolies are avoided. The truth is that offshore investors will fail without strong local management with serious skin in the game.

Our biggest gap is on the human capital side, with a real need for farmers to develop new skills in business management, exploiting new technologies and aligning farm enterprises with fast-growing new markets. Attracting and developing talented agricultural entrepreneurs is more important than ever, in a sector with long and proud history of entrepreneurship.

All studies of wealth creation tell us that when opportunity really knocks, you have to open the door with gusto. In Australian agriculture, opportunity is knocking.

Angus Taylor is the federal member for Hume. He was a partner at McKinsey & Co and Port Jackson Partners.