No more Pity Parties – One Australian farmer feeds 700 people – its time to celebrate

At least once a week for the past three months I have been receiving calls from print and TV journalists asking for recommendations of farmers to participate in drought stories.

My first question is, “What is your angle?” and if the answer is clearly a “pity story” then I say I don’t have farmers in my network who want to share pity stories.

Over the last five years I have made a deliberate decision to surround myself with farmers who share stories of hope. Because it’s hope that gets me out of bed every day.

When farmers share stories of hope they are not ignoring the fact that the drought is tough.  They are NOT saying, “It’s hard, just get on with it.” What they are doing is sowing seeds of resilience.

When you share positive stories of drought farming strategies that have worked for you, there is a chance somebody, maybe several people, will read your story and think, “Maybe that might work on my farm.”  They are not saying they have all the answers, but they may have one. Not everyone’s farming situation is the same, so we need lots of farmers from everywhere sharing their drought strategies. The more we share with each other the more we can learn from each other.

Jan Davis.png

Compassionate wise words from Jan Davis and farmer stories of hope in The Australian here  

Farming today is a big gig. Farmers can’t do it alone, we need each other and government, business and the community working side by side with us. What we don’t need is PITY. Pity doesn’t give anyone a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And pity doesn’t solve problems.

Project based learning is the 21st Century teaching technique being promoted in schools. This method of teaching mobilises students to work together to rethink their world and solve tomorrow’s problems today. The Archibull Prize is project-based learning that brings together art and agriculture. When we invite the students to partner with farmers to design a food secure future, this is the information we give them:

Some little-known facts:

  • In Australia, farmers make up less than 1% of the population, yet they provide 93% of food that is consumed here.
  • 25% of our farms produce 70% of our food
  • Our wool farmers harvest 80% of the world’s fine Merino wool, and our cotton farmers clothe 500 million people.
  • Our farmers look after 60% of the Australian landscape and the majority of Australia’s natural biodiversity. Hence our farmers are both our largest biodiversity managers and our source of food and fibre.
  • Less than 6% of Australia’s landscape is suitable for growing crops and fruit and vegetables.
  • In 1950 one Australian farmer fed 20 people. Today one Australian farmer feeds 700 people using less land. But there is no denying this hasn’t come without an impact on the environment.
  • Yes, we have a lot of land. But we are also the hottest, driest inhabited continent. 35% of this country receives so little rainfall, it is classified as desert.

Australia is one of only a handful of countries that produces more food than it consumes, producing food for around 60 million people, and most Australians have access to an abundant and safe food supply. This makes Australian farmers important to everyone. A thriving modern agricultural sector can be a lasting source of prosperity and an effective and efficient steward of Australia’s landscapes, natural resources and ecosystems.

Australia is also considered one of the most vulnerable developed countries in the world to impacts of the changing climate, already 22% more climatically variable than any other country. Rising temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and declining water availability in some of our most important agricultural regions pose significant risks for the nature, distribution, quality, and affordability of our food supply.

The problems are complex and there is no single model solution. Making well-informed and timely decisions will help farming businesses prepare, build resilience and manage risks, regardless of the challenges ahead.

The solutions lie in farmers, consumers, businesses, scientists and government working together to:

  1. Fill the food production gaps

For example:

    • Wise use of fertiliser and water – more crop per drop.
    • Increase yields through improvement in plant and animal science.
    • Doing more with less i.e. producing more grain/cotton per hectare of land, more milk per cow, more kg of beef per cow, more grass per hectare of land, more kg of wool per sheep.
    • Adoption of technology. Particularly using the new digital agriculture era to allow farmers to make a higher quality, more informed decision, in a tighter window.
    • There is great opportunity to increase food quality rather than food quantity. If we merely aim for volume at all costs, then the natural environment will be the ‘cost’. However, if we send the signal that it is quality from an increasingly healthy natural resource base, then both the natural resource base and farmers will be the beneficiaries.
  1. Sustain productive capacity by addressing:
    • Climate change.
    • Pests and diseases.
    • Land and water degradation.
    • Competition between land for food, houses and mining.
  2. Reduce waste and over consumption.
  3. Managing the risks to the food system.

Success requires farmers having access to a range of agricultural solutions, education to gain necessary skills, and financial incentives. Sustainable farming solutions already becoming standard practice include no-till planting practices, crop rotations, bringing vegetation back to degraded land and planting vegetation around fields to prevent erosion, and transitioning to green energy technology.

Resourceful land use also contributes to mitigating climate change. Globally 2 to 3 billion metric tons of carbon can be stored per year in soil. Farmers can produce higher yields on existing farmland, prevent further loss of fertile land, and find innovative ways to make use of marginal land, especially in developing countries.

Technology is an important part of the solution, but we must also partner to share knowledge. An unprecedented level of global collaboration must take place between farmers, consumers and entrepreneurs, governments and companies, civil society and multilateral organisations. Governments must support resource use efficiency and environmental stewardship, and the private sector must develop new technologies that enable these practices. People should be able to make informed choices about the crops they grow, the products they buy, and the agricultural systems they use. Agriculture should be viewed as a productive investment that drives economic development and builds long-term economic, political and environmental stability.

Drought stories that focus on pity ignore all this. They change the conversation around agriculture from collaboration, celebration, solutions and resilience, to blame, despair and failure.

Only one of these ways of thinking is going to get a farmer out of bed tomorrow to feed another 700 people. Let’s choose hope.

Footnote

The current drought hardship is real. If you would like to support people in rural communities who are struggling to put food on the table a donation of just $40 to Foodbank will supply a hamper. You can donate to Foodbank here  

#onedayclosertorain #strongertogether #drought18

Learning from the past to get better outcomes for this generation of farmers

I used to be a quiet achiever in the world of pharmacy.  Today I have a fairly high profile in the world of Australian agriculture. I make a lot of noise and fight what I believe is the good fight to get a fair return for our farmers. I am not always the most popular person in the room and it’s not easy. I have learnt the hard way it’s a journey ( a long journey) It’s not how much noise you make it’s how you make the noise and who you bring with you along the way that counts

For 25 years of my life I was a community pharmacist working in the main to help support the family dairying farming business. Pharmacy is a rewarding profession even when you were like me quietly putting labels on bottles, researching drug interactions, advising how best to treat burns and talking to customers. Pharmacists have the knowledge and the compassion to guide people through the quagmire and frustration that can be the world of hospitals, multiple medications and the desire to get the best health outcomes for sick people who often see you as their first port of call

It’s a very different world to agriculture; where we are totally overwhelmed with quiet achievers and the world is leaving us behind. The majority of pharmacists can be quiet achievers because there are some very smart people in the world of pharmacy who know how important it is if you are going to be heard in Macquarie St or Canberra  you need to be articulate, know that politics is the art of the possible and you need to be a cohesive, collaborative, powerful group of networkers. You need to be loud and proud. This is the reason that the Pharmacy Guild is one most powerful lobby groups in this country

There are a lot of smart people in agriculture and that is where the comparison stops and this is what I want to change. I want the people in the offices in the hallowed halls to tremble and listen and act when the farmer lobbyists go to meet the decision and policy makers

I know there are people in agriculture who could do it better than me and chose not to. So I am on a steep learning curve and constantly seeking out people I can learn from. Figuring out how to ask the right questions and when I get the right answers who are the people to take them to who will actually do something with them. Those people are very short on the ground in the world of dairy. Every day I am reminded just how naive so many of our dairy farmers are. We pay levies and we just expect that the people in charge of our levies can read our minds and this tends to lead to a one size fits all R&D mentality that apparently works in every region no matter what your farming system, topography, soil types et all and decision making that is not always in the best interests of the majority. It also means no-one is listening to us in Macquarie St or Canberra and can’t say I blame them.

So I love to talk to people from other industries, hear what they are doing and always wondering why we don’t do that in dairy. Looking at the diversity of people I met at Crookwell Show. See post here.

Take cattle farmer Ken Wheelwright for example.

IMG_1390

Ken and his family realised long ago that farming today is not about working longer hours it’s about being smarter. So after talking to holistic educator Bruce Ward, Ken contacted the KLR Marketing team and became part of their Mastermind Group.

The KLR Mastermind Group is the support network for KLR Marketing. The greatest benefits of being part of this network, Ken believes is that you have access to the vital tools that enable you to profit from your livestock, in any market and he certainly gave me plenty of successful examples. Imagine the value of talking to people who can share their experiences like recognising the recent rain has meant there has been a rapid growth of grass and the cattle market is very buoyant but looking at the medium term weather forecast shows there are some extreme heat events coming which are going to burn that grass off pretty fast and it might be very smart to de-stock by 90% and take advantage of the current high cattle prices. If there is a similar range of services delivered on-line and offline, which include a unique market report like the KLR 30 Second Market report, profit calculators, teleconferences as well as mentoring days in regional areas offering in the world of dairy I have never seen it

Talking to Dr Rod Hoare reminded me how important it is to learn from past knowledge.

IMG_1372

Rod is an equine and cattle vet with extensive experience working for the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI). Now Chief ground steward at the Crookwell Show and farmer Rod and his partner Helena Warren run a very interesting and diverse farming operation at Cadfor Equestrian and Murray Greys. Rod is also the 2012 Australian Biosecurity Farmer of the Year   

I learnt a lot about a lot things from Rod as we drove around Crookwell Show in his little golf buggy.

IMG_1475

There are many farmers in the dairy industry that could benefit from listening to Rod talk about the protocols and systems that were in place to ‘keep the bastards honest’ in the on farm milk quality testing process when he was at the DPI. Any farmer who has moved from one milk processor to another who uses a different lab knows how huge the variation in milk quality lab test results can be and how costly that can be. For us one year that was $30K. You can do a lot on farm with $30K.  You could employ some-one for half a year. Imagine how much infrastructure repairs and maintenance you could do let alone how many trees and fencing you could do. Build a shade shelter for your cows on hot days, the holiday you could go on, let alone all the staff that didn’t get their milk quality bonus. It wasn’t much fun for them either. There is a small dedicated group of people out there trying to fix this problem on behalf of farmers but getting nowhere because for some reason “the bastards” are happy with the system. Well Rod might just have the answer; it certainly worked in his day.

On our trip to the cattle sheds Rod introduced me to 84 year old Ernie Stevenson. Ernie was a very early and influential member of the Murray Grey Society. A man with a good eye for cattle but admits he is fairly critical which often didn’t make him the most popular judge

IMG_1446

Ernie’s daughter Fiona with her husband butcher Mick Battiste have kept the family beef cattle tradition alive at their Woolarainga Stud where they raise Murray Grey and Squaremeaters

In September 2009 Mick and Fiona established Woolaringa Meats as a retail butcher shop, located at 112 Kinghorne Street, Goulburn. They provide free range beef from their own farm and purchase cattle from local farmers like Rod Hoare that suit their specifications. According to Rod, Mick Battiste does all his own butchering and promotion of beef. Mick works on the basis that (like a pharmacist) by taking time to share your knowledge and skills you can give people a better eating experience

The things like we farmers kno, that you make great casseroles with cheap chuck steak not prime costly rump steak

Well done Mick and Fiona running great events like Super Square Sunday  

Mick and Fiona Battiste