Farming – Its a truly noble profession surely it should not be this hard

The people I care about most in the world dairy – more and more I realise how brave farmers across the world are

Its a truly noble profession surely it should not be this hard

No-one tells the story of the highs and lows of dairying from the heart better than Milk Maid Marian

Today I am  reblogging her magnificent post on the current crisis impacting on the Australian dairy industry


Despair, Anger, Disbelief

Lots of dairy farmers are naturally cynical and, let’s face it, we’re never entirely happy with the weather forecast. But we are optimists at heart because things will always be better next season.

Not this season.

I have never seen my fellow dairy farmers so subdued as they were at a meeting last night. Dinner at the local pub was laid on – a rarity that normally guarantees a festive mood – but somehow it felt like more like a last supper. Nor have I seen such anger online.

Partly, I think, it comes down to being battle-weary. Around here, it’s been a disastrous season. Dry-land farmers have not been able to grow grass and the La Nina we were hoping for still hasn’t arrived. By now, we should be building a wedge of grass to get the cows through winter. Instead, paddocks are eaten to the boards while farmers wait for resown paddocks to fire up.

The conventional wisdom is to apply nitrogen now while the soil’s still warm enough to grow grass. Many farmers at last night’s meeting had not applied any urea yet despite its unusually attractive cost this year because the soil is still too dry.

We can buy in more fodder or sell more cows. Fodder is getting hard to find and expensive, too. Many of us have already culled hard. The options are narrowing. We need something to go right.

It isn’t. Farmers seem sure that the milk price for 16/17 won’t be good. Will it be devastating? We’re all wondering and worrying.

On top of all this came the Murray Goulburn announcement that it had overspent this year and will have to claw money back from farmers for the next three years. None of it makes sense. Many farmers had hailed the MG plan as visionary, something that would transform our industry to create sustainable prosperity. But the loss of so much money in so little time is incomprehensible.

It’s a blow from left field that will leave barely a Victorian dairy farmer untouched. MG is the pacemaker for the entire industry. Processing half our state’s milk and 38% of Australia’s, it sets the benchmark for the southern farmgate milk price. When it falters, we all do.

In the face of all this, the message from last night’s speaker was simple: seek help, watch out for your neighbours and don’t lose sight of the vision for your farm. Good advice.

Everyday you need a farmer – its amazing how much



Making flour at the GRDC stand in the Food Farm at the Royal Easter Show 

There is no denying the Sydney Royal Easter Show is a huge opportunity to show people where their food comes, meet a farmer, learn how to make tabbouleh, crush wheat, make pastry, learn how to wash your hands properly, learn that cotton grows on plants and wool grows on sheep,that tractors are huge, that girls are farmers too and you don’t have to be a farmer to be part of the industry that feed and clothes us. Believe it or not you can do all that ( and lots more) in the just one pavilion – The Food Farm which is run by the RAS Ag Development Team

Now as you can imagine SRES costs an absolute motza to run and if you are a farming industry and you would like to expose your farmers and the things they grow to the 1 million people who visit the show it can be an expensive day out for your industry in set up costs, staff time and travel and accommodation so if you are going to do it you better do it well.

This year farming industries had a new opportunity to have conversations with primary school students and teachers at the Primary School Preview Day which was held on the day before the show officially opened.

The brief was to run fun, interactive 15 minute workshop for five schools. The Art4Agriculture team frocked up and partnered with Greg Mills, Cotton Young Farming Champion Laura Bennett and all things wool industry Guru Fiona Raleigh.


We wanted the take home messages from our workshops to centre around

  1. Everything around me is connected to farmers and farming
  2. Farmers are important to me

To reinforce this we borrowed some ripper little devices from the NSW DPI that allowed us to run a quiz.


We firstly used cotton as an example of the diversity of things in our everyday lives that contain cotton Slide1

Just to ensure the kids knew how to work their computers. We asked this question


then we got stuck into it


Slide4 Slide5



And there was plenty of hands on products to show the answer to all of those questions was “all of the above”



 Wool Guru Fiona Raleigh then gave the students the ‘wool experience’


So what did the kids learn – as it so happened we had an Archie in hand that was painted with blackboard paint and we invited the students to share with us what they learnt

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We had very sore feet at the end of the day and we were pleased when it was wine o’clock and everyone had fun and learnt a lot including the farmers



Farming – doesn’t always mean you wear gumboots and drive tractors all day

Tractor Gumboots.jpg

Last Wednesday I was invited to Melbourne University to talk to the  2nd year climate change students. This subject  in the main deals with what to do about climate change, rather than the science. A bit more detail can be found here. My brief was to give a farmer perspective on climate change, in other words how farmers adapt to climate change and how information about climate change is driving real-world, practical farming solutions.

Now this is a topic I love. Spruiking about farmers how are leading the adaptation charge and how cows are inspiring the world by proving you really can produce more food using  less natural resources.

I  was also  invited to talk to a precision agriculture meeting on campus that day, where a group of researchers were wanting an industry/farmers perspective on the issue.  The background was  ‘the cropping industries have seen significant advances in precision agriculture, the grazing / livestock industries have lagged behind. However, there are now some quite significant developments taking place in cloud-based technologies, animal tracking, sensors etc that can make a big difference to assist with livestock management’.

Now whilst precision ag really excites me this a topic I know “bugger all’ about. But I know heaps of people who do. So I had a lot of fun tapping into the experts on this one

future_farms_infographic_precision_agriculture.jpg Wow you have only got to look at this diagram showing the farms of the future to see what an exciting place agriculture is.

But are we getting that message across to teachers and students? It would appear not. Surveying teachers and students as part of The Archibull Prize reveals we have a long way to go.

The first misconception is teachers dont think jobs in the agriculture sector are a good career choice


So do they know much about the jobs we have on offer ?

Jobs knowledge

Well we definitely need to work on this one

So what jobs are front of mind for teachers?

Teachers How much do you know about careers in Ag Chart

Wonder why the dairy industry is so prominent. Well schools are not going to be exposed to the dairy industry as part of The Archibull Prize so looking forward to students and teachers identifying the plethora of importunities in grains,  wool, cotton and sheep and cattle industries

Now in the past our sector has played with name changes in an effort to sexy up industry image. How did that work for us? We asked the teachers advice about whether that was a smart move

Food fibre Farming It would appear all we were doing was muddying the waters. But lets not get too overwhelmed by this. We are not alone. It would appear scientists feel a bit misunderstood too. I recently saw this

Think all scientists are lab-coat wearing, bunsen-burning geeks? Think again. Scientists come in all shapes and sizes and with Brain Box you can get to know the wonderful brains behind the science. Watch the interviews below, subscribe to our YouTube channel, or  see more here :

The Archibull Prize is off to a good start this year. We will be showing careers in agriculture to a broad range of students

Main Area U teach

And we will be sending in some inspiring young people who have chosen agriculture related careers to influence the conversation. Meet them here   They are all relishing the challenge. Looking forward to their insights on how we change the conversation


There is a Redback spider in my soup

Yesterday at the invitation of Melbourne University I had the opportunity to speak to their 2nd environmental science students on the challenges of farming in a carbon constrained world.

Joining me was Stan  Krpan CEO of Sustainability Victoria . Stan had some very interesting insights into community engagement which I look forward to sharing with you in a later post

Talking about the challenges of farming this story  ‘Woolworths pulling broccoli from shelves after redbacks found’  which featured on my TOP AUSTRALIAN HEADLINES media feed this morning bought a smile to my face

Integrated pest management otherwise known as IPM in the world of agriculture is an environmentally sensitive way of managing pests. It uses a combination of practices and control methods to prevent problems from occurring rather than dealing with them after they have happened. IPM control methods include biological control, using predators, parasites or microbial pathogens to suppress pests.

The goodies or the heroes in biologcial control are known as ‘beneficials’ – with lady beetles being the well known example – mmh  never dreamed “redback spiders’ would wear the superman suit

Looks like this broccoli was a little too fresh from the Fresh Food people – it seems there is a lot to be said for  very cold storage



Farming – supporting the people who feed and clothe us


Excitingly for the agriculture sector farming in the 21st Century in 1st world countries is attracting people from all walks of life with diverse careers pathways who bring new specialist skills sets and knowledge to the farm family business boardroom table.

2015 Young Australian Farmer of the Year Anika Molesworth family is a very interesting example of the knowledge and skills diversity farming is attracting.

Lindy Anika and Simon Molesworth  (3)

Lindy, Anika and Simon Molesworth 

Anika has worked as an agribusiness banker and spent most of 2015 in Laos researching her Masters in Sustainable Agriculture. As her father Professor Simon Molesworth AO QC will tell you “Anika always had a deep-seated belief that she should help those less fortunate. When she left school she went to Ghana for several months to work with underprivileged children. Ghana and Laos really demonstrate she sees that need and she also understands that if you get the perspective of different challenges in different parts of the world you actually get a more balanced approach to your own country.”

Anika’s parents work in the multiple fields of geology, environment, conservation, heritage and town planning and her brother is a senior adviser to the man who holds the purse strings in this country.  Their farm is located in the very harsh climate at Broken Hill

Anika acknowledges she is very lucky to come from a privileged background and its this background that has opened her yes to the big picture and the realisation that finding the solutions to the world’s problems is a shared responsibility and each and everyone of us can use our compassion and knowledge and skills sets to make a difference

Anika met the president of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF)  Geoff Cousins  when she joined him on the panel at the Climate for Change debate at UNSW in November last year. So impressed  was the ACF team Anika they subsequently funded her to attend the Al Gore 2016 Climate Reality Leadership Corps last month in the Philippines

This is Anika’s story through her eyes of her  trip to the Philippines ………

A visit to the Philippines is a powerful reminder that we are dangerously pushing planetary boundaries. Densely populated, widely impoverished and geographically exposed, the Philippines is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate disasters.

Filipinos take no day for granted. Etched into their consciousness is the frailty of life. The country is subject to extreme weather events, risking sea levels, changing temperature and precipitation trends. The magnitude of the changes are already having real consequences on lives, livelihoods, food security and water supplies.

Philipinnes the harsh realities

Filipinos walk a tightrope between paradise and hell on Earth.

Anika Molesworth in the Phlipinnes  (4)

It would take a lifetime to explore all of the 7,100 islands that make up the Philippine Archipelago, and even longer to understand the culture and life that exists here. A week in the Philippines gives one only a mere snapshot of the country – a glimpse I welcomed when the opportunity arose last month.

The 2016 Climate Reality Leadership Corps brought together people from all over the world with the vision and energy to tackle the greatest threat to our planet – climate change. Seven hundred proactive visionaries collaborating to wield the collective energy it takes to make systemic and transformative change. A group united by solidarity, hope and action.

Anika Molesworth in the Phlipinnes  (3)

I was invited to attend by the Australian Conservation Foundation – Australia’s premier organisation concerned with ecological sustainability – which also recognises the importance of farmers being part of the solution to deliver conservation success. Over the course of three days, participants heard from world-class scientists, communicators, organisers, strategists, innovators, and of course, the Climate Reality Chairman and Former US Vice President, Al Gore. The workshop taught the attendees how to share their story, to understand the science, and how to inspire hope for an alternative way of doing things.

This Leadership Corps was truly remarkable due to being the first post Paris COP21 and held in a country considered a moral leader on the climate change issue.

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The enigma and contradiction of the Philippines leaves one floundering to make sense of it all. From the chic and sophisticated Filipinos in Metro Manila drinking cocktails, to the scavengers of Smokey Mountain, Manila’s largest landfill, who are the city’s unsung hero recyclers. I listened in awe to the world’s best scientists at the International Rice Research Centre headquarters – who are tackling challenges that affect food production, such as drought, salinity and submergence. I attended Sunday mass with a thousand Filipinos singing praise to their god.

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I fell in love with the beauty of the forests, the sparkle of the ocean, the welcoming smile and hospitality of the Filipinos. And my heart was broken by the extremity of the poverty, the once pristine ecosystems disappearing forever, the city choking with traffic and pollution in part caused by desperate provincial people migrating to urban centres in hope of a better life.

My eyes were opened in a land of polar extremes. I departed feeling overwhelmed. The challenges this country faces are on a scale beyond comprehension. But with so many brave Filipinos speaking out, taking action, linking arms in defiance – and all the while with warm smiles on their faces – how can these obstacles not be overcome? I was inspired by the number of people dedicating their lives to bettering this country and its people.

The Climate Reality workshop reinforced to me that great people are doing incredible things right across the globe:

Arun George’s startup Avant Garde Innovations aims to introduce innovative, affordable and sustainable solutions – first to India, then the rest of the world – that take renewable energy self-sufficiency and energy empowerment to the next level through a distributed and decentralized approach.

POwering a Billion Unpowered


Rina Teoxon Papio throws special mudballs into dirty rivers and waterways in the Philippines. Her organisation Earthventure Inc uses effective microorganism biotechnology to bring these precious water resources back to life.

Super Mudball

Carrie Cort is passionate about children’s education, and through Sussex Green Living aims to inspire parents, carers, teachers and children to live a greener and more sustainable existence.Sussex Green Living

Sarabeth Brockley may live in New York, but her actions are felt much further afield. A Policy Analyst at the United Nations DESA-Division of Sustainable Development, Sarabeth spends her spare time sending care packages that promote social consciousness.

These are just a few of the people I met who are changing the world everyday for the better.

The Climate Reality Leaders came together connected by a shared apprehension about the state of our planet. They left armed with new knowledge and skills, connected to a network of doers, and motivated to drive the transition to a better future…….


Only at Coles

This takes the cake. Funniest thing I have seen in a long time and I thought calling The ArchiBULL Prize and sending schools fibreglass cows was sending mixed messages


Is it  lamb? Is it beef? Is it even Grass fed?  Whatever it is, its a stuff up Coles.  Ht to Jasmine Nixon

Spanish Sausages

What meat indeed ??? Ht to Andrew – rider not sure we can pin this one on Coles?

Some other gems courtesy of Andrew

Andrew 1 Blueberries and Strawberries

Andrew 2 Lowe fat milk

Andrew 2 Asparagus

Andrew 2 Vegan Fairy Floss

Now for anyone who doesn’t know how you make fairy floss. Yes its sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar and more sugar. No animals where harmed in the making fairy floss and there is no gluten in sight

How To Make Fairy Floss


1kg Sugar,

100g Corn Syrup,

5g vinegar,

500g water


Step 1: Pour all of the ingredients into a large pot in the order listed above, making sure to pour the water around the sugar

Step 2: Cook from 0 to 133ºC (bringing the temperature up slowly) for 20-25 minutes. If you have a conventional stove top, try medium high or high heat and just watch it closely

Step 3: When it’s boiling DON’t stir it (that will increase the chances of it crystalizing). Take a wet brush and wipe the crytals downs off the side of the pot

Step 4: Let it cool down to around 100ºC and then pour the cooked sugar into small containers (the size of a hockey puck). Pour enough in each container so it is about twice as thick as a regular hockey puck

Step 5: Let the containers sit until they are completely cool

Step 6: Pop the fairy floss candy base (hockey puck) out of the container (gently squeeze the container as you rotate it… patience young grasshopper)

Step 7: Pour a little bit of oil over the fairy floss candy base to stop it from sticking to your hands and then use your thumbs and forefingers to mold the puck into a donut shape (making sure it is an even thickness all the way round)

Step 8: Lay some corn flour on a bench and dip your cooked sugar donut into it, then keep pulling it slowly until the donut gets bigger and bigger

Step 9: Keep dipping it into your corn flour at regular intervals as you pull it bigger, and stop once your donut is about half the size of a car wheel

Step 10: Now you have 1 stand. Fold it into a figure 8 and then with both your hands over the 2 strands keep your front hand still, while the back hand pulls and stretches the strands to become bigger

Step 11: Keep switching hands while making the sure the bottom of your candy always stays in your corn flour mixture

Step 12: Once your 2 strands are long enough, make another figure 8 and repeat with 4 strands, doing this 14 times in total until you have 16,384 strands!

Done. Break it apart, wear it as a moustache, eat it and have fun with it!

Is it realistic for everyone on the planet to go vegetarian?

I hear patron numbers peaked at 115,000 at the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show (SRES) yesterday and there were still 100,000 people on the showground at 8pm. This year the show is not in school holidays and not surprisingly the public holidays has been busy, very busy indeed

For the next three days the crowds will reach their peak at SRES, the biggest event of its type in the southern hemisphere that attracts close to one million people over 14 days

On Thursday I had a request for names of two highly credible, articulate women in the beef and pork industries for a segment on the radio discussing what messages they would like the public to take home about farming from the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show (SRES).

I have been attending SRES for over fifty years and I know why I go and the take home messages I would like it to convey to city people have changed a great deal over that time.  I look forward to hearing what women from the pig and cattle industry hope the show delivers for their livestock industries

There is no doubt the show is a great opportunity for city and country to connect – how you do that effectively is not always as easy as it might sound?


Cotton Industry advocate Laura Bennett shares her love of the cotton industry with primary school students in the Food Farm at the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show 

Every single person who pays to walk through the gates has their own problems and in the main want an experience that brightens their day. Farmers hope that part of that experience reminds the community of the importance of farming and farmers

In the wider press and academic community, I watch with dismay as people pitch one agricultural system against the other whether that be organic vs conventional farming, vegetable farming versus livestock farming or going vegan as the panacea to saving the planet

Too often this research and resultant media articles muddy the waters and it is paramount that farmers lobby for robust research and development for farming as a whole as ultimately; these arguments go away if research delivers a win:win solution for people and the planet.

Somehow our farmers have to find ways to work together to go beyond once a year events like the show and become active participants in the food and fibre production debate 365 days. Only in this way  can we ensure there is a balanced representation of all interested parties. A pivotal key to success is ensuring agriculture’s “bright, charismatic representatives” are equipped with sophisticated, considered, agreed and sound rebuttals to the more extreme lobby groups and unrealistic arguments.

When I saw this recent article in The Conversation Global food production threatens to coverwhelm efforts to combat climate change I put a call into Australia’s guru in this space. This is what Professor Richard Eckard had to say

I think the analysis is correct, but the simplistic conclusion is wrong “Opportunities for mitigation in this sector are plentiful, but they can only be realised with a concerted focus.” I agree there some opportunities for energy efficiency and sequestration (not much in soils however), but cost-effective net mitigation options are still a way off i.e. options that allow further growth in productivity with less total emissions.

The energy and transport sectors have viable alternatives emerging, they just need a price signal to make them fully cost-competitive. However, there are no ‘alternatives’ to food production. There is no alternative food industry that can produce the volume required. Organic agriculture certainly cannot and it typically comes with a higher carbon footprint anyway.

This does lead to a debate about livestock versus other crop sources of food, but there are some solid arguments that show:

  1. removing livestock from the world food equation just makes an impossible task that much harder;
  2. livestock are the only mechanism we have for generating food from the vast rangelands of the world that are unsuitable for other types of food production;
  3. livestock are not just for food in developing countries – they are the banking system (Africa), religious system (India and Africa), transport, power etc
  4.  it is really only the privileged minority that have the luxury of choosing a vegetarian lifestyle. The rest of the world just eats what they can afford
  5. Rising vegetarianism will not affect the growth in the livestock industries, as there is clear evidence that the worlds rising middle class (predicted to be 4.9 B by 2030) demand more animal protein with their rising affluence. Supply and demand will mean livestock continues to grow, even if  all the privileged urbanites become vegetarian.
  6. The real solution to livestock methane is continued research to develop low methane animals and livestock systems.


If we are going to communicate the real facts perhaps farmers need to have more conversations with each other first and ensure we have a cohesive, consistent, open and honest story to share

Perhaps some questions we could ask ourselves are:

  • Is the farming sector ready to drive the conversations required?
  • Are we ready to become part of the wider conversations that influence policy change and incentives?
  • Are we ready to partner with government and the community to get the best outcomes for farmers and the communities we support?

Back to the SRES and where the conversations about farming are taking place today

If you are going to the show here are a few tips from me

Say G’day to the Archies at the front gate

Archies at the Front Gate at SRES

If you have children under 12  the Food Farm is a must visit. You can meet a farmer at the NSWFA stand, climb a huge tractor,  make tabbouleh, have some delicious Aussie Apples,  learn how to wash your hands properly, make flour and pastry,  meet the George the Farmer team and join in their show, which runs on the hour and heaps more

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Want to learn the real facts about egg production visit the Chook Pavilion and take sit in on Greg Mill’s presentation on the hour

Greg Mills

Visit the Natural Fibre Showcase Pavilion and watch the fashion parade

Natural Fibre Showcase

Visit the Wool and Sheep Pavilion – plenty to see and buy here. A crowd favourite is always the shearing competitions


and every-bodies favorite – the District Exhibits

District Exhibits 2016

Don’t miss the Schools’ District Exhibits – this competition was won by Hurlstone Agricultural High School with their very thought provoking take on the Wizard of OZ – Yellow Brick Road

Hursltone Agricultural High School

If you want a permanent reminder of your visit to the show and the sheer beauty of outback Australia stop in and say G’day to renowned rural photographer Fiona Lake

Fiona Lake

and a big shout out to all the farmers at the show carrying the advocacy flag on behalf of us all