Proud to be a farmer, but tired of having to defend my farming practices.

Its been a very interesting week

Last night the RAS of NSW held an agriculture teacher professional development workshop at which I got the opportunity to showcase the work of Art4Agriculture.

It was great fun and I learnt a lot. I met a crocodile farmer in the US and one in the Northern Territory via video conference technology, sampled crocodile meat for the first time and met a crocodile

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I have also had a very inspiring week travelling north with the 2014 Archibull Prize art judge Wendy Taylor to Queensland to see the students’ bovine masterpieces. And what masterpieces they are. You can see them on Facebook here

The students’ artworks this year reflect on their interpretation of how sustainability and agriculture and the community can partner to help feed the world and reduce food waste

Wendy and her husband Craig are both architects and their firm red blue architecture + design has a particular passion for site specific, environmentally sustainable solutions for new houses

As my regular blog readers are aware I am particularly frustrated by how confused the world is about what the word sustainability actually means and what it takes to achieve it. See previous post here

So I asked Wendy the question ‘Do people in general actually understand what the concept of sustainable housing is?’

Wendy said to me ‘well I can honestly say no-one has ever come to me and asked me to design the smallest house I could to meet their needs’

Let’s be honest with each other – we don’t get it.

To be sustainable we all have to be committed to reducing our footprint on the world and we all have to be committed to doing it together

Which brings me to “What’s making me cranky at this point in time?”

This week its Marie Claire and Sustainable Table et al. See Page 279-280 November 2014 Marie Claire

Those well-meaning but naive almost evangelistic people who believe and promote that you can put farming practices into boxes like artisan, boutique or organic = good for you. Whilst conventional farming = factory farming = not good for animals and the planet and people

If you just happen to be like the majority of family farmers in this country who grow food and fibre for the commodity market so that Australians from all economic backgrounds have the opportunity to afford it you are then perceived by label association to automatically fall into the ‘unsustainable, unhealthy, or unethical’ category.

If we are going to meet the challenges of feeding the world and reducing the abomination that is food waste then this rural idyll mentality has to stop.

The story should be about farmers engaging with consumers and the importance of eating real food, rather than highly processed food. Not about promoting one farming practice over another

Australian farming families are mums, dads, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives. They’re just as interested in the environment and what they feed their families and animal welfare, as people in cities. They just happen to be farmers, growing some of the world’s best real food and fibre and they are feeding 20 million people here and another 40 million people overseas.

Let them get on with it. Enough I say. Lets not pitch farmer against farmer. Let’s work together to help all farmers be the best possible farmers they can be.

BTW This article is well worth a read – To feed the world in 2050 we have to change course

The world is so confused about sustainability and what it really takes to deliver it

I have been meaning to write a blog post about the proliferation of the ongoing growth of what I call little golden booking farming mentality. This week I was spurned into action when a colleague emailed me this link. As you can see the dairy industry isn’t the only one on their radar. They also comment on the beef, fish industries et al under the Hungry for Info tab.

Its a beautiful website, obviously started by some very passionate people doing some great things.  This initiative also has some very credible people backing it as do a number of people who promote similar farming enterprises. I have no problem at all with people who want to farm using philosophies od producing less and being paid more but I want to use this post to debunk some of the often very naive thinking that underpins this ethos and makes me really cranky by promoting it by deriding large scale farming practices

Lets start with sustainable intensification which underpins Clover Hill Dairies farming practices.

Sustainable intensification is having a farming system committed to producing more food on the same amount of land ( or less land) using natural resources wisely,creating as little waste as possible and reusing or recycling that waste when you can. Essentially it is having the most efficient farm system you possibly can in your circumstances  Like it or not sustainable intensification (producing more with less resources) IS the best farming practice for reducing farming’s carbon footprint on the planet.

Ensuring that it is a good outcome for animals relies not on the concept but the people in the business. To get the best outcomes for animals everyone in the system from management to staff have to be totally committed to best practice animal husbandry and  care.  And yes having been there done that you have to be very dedicated indeed to closing the loop to get the best outcomes for the environment. BTW I am confident from what I have seen the majority of farmers are

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‘Clover Hill’s message… intensified farming and the environment can happily coexist .. leaving an impression of farming as consumers would like it to be: productive, environmentally sustainable and picturesque’. Matt Cawood The Land

The reasons sustainable farming delivers the best outcomes for the planet are explained very well  by Jude Capper in my post on Little Golden Book farming.

Explaining it is not always easy and I recently gave a presentation to the Young Farming Champions to start the conversation and workshop sustainable farming concepts with the help of one of Australia’s leading marketing gurus to enable the team to clearly and simply share what it takes to farm as efficiently as possible in the 21st century with school students

Here it is my presentation

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Sustainability definition from the heart

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Triple bottom line

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My favourite triple bottom line definition

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This slide is from the marketing guru’s presentation – suggesting we replace responsive with proactive

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Australian farmers are sustainable farming trailblazers. They are very successfully doing what every person on  the planet should be doing ie ‘ doing more with less’

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For farmers MORE means producing more food and fibre. Less means using less natural resources

Why is this so important

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Because we only have one planet and our natural resources are shrinking. Scaringly on the opposite end of the spectrum 158 more mouths to feed are born every minute. 154 of them in developing countries

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In 2010 globally we are consuming enough resources for one and a half planets. In Australia we are chewing up the equivalent of resources for two planets.

It is obvious this NOT sustainable and as this excellent slide (courtesy of Rabobank) clearly show we need to rapidly reduce out use of natural resources

Why are Aussie farmers leading the way –  FYI these stats are via NFF see here

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In 1950 when cars looked like this and farmers drove tractors like this I Australian farmer fed 20 people

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In 1970 when cars looked like this and farmers drove tractors like this 1 Australian farmer fed 200 people

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In 2014 when cars look like this and farmers have technology that drives tractors 1 Australian farmer feeds 600 people (Note 1 American farmer feeds 170 people)

Yet there are a growing number of people like Sustainable Table that truly believe ( sadly ) that we can feed the world by farming like we did in the 50’s. As I said earlier I have no problem at all with people choosing to farm in this way ( would love to give it a go myself)  and there is definitely a demographic of people who can afford to pay top dollar ( and so they should ) for produce grown this way

But we cannot feed the world by everyone farming this way. We just don’t have enough land, water and energy and I implore the people backing little golden book initiatives and farming practices to STOP telling people you can. Its wrong and its dangerous

People have every right to ask questions about the technology and science that allows our farmers to feed 600 people. All I ask is that you make sure you are fully informed and not basing your decisions on emotion alone

Technology and science mean large scale farmers can

  1. Grow more crop on less land
  2. Get more crop per drop of water
  3. More Kg of beef per beast
  4. More kg of wool per sheep
  5. More pasture per hectare
  6. Graze more cows per hectare
  7. Produce more milk per cow
  8. Use less fertilizer per crop
  9. Use less pesticide per crop
  10. Less water per litre of milk

All of these outcomes are good for the planet.Slide17

The majority of farmers producing more with less is the only road to sustainability. Note I say majority. There a lots of boutique farmers doing a great job under the ‘produce less and be paid’ more model for people who are prepared to pay more for food produced in a way that meets their values and I salute them.

However there are a lot of misconceptions out there about large scale commercial agriculture. But it is the hero and it should be celebrated. The majority of family farmers in this country grow food and fibre for the commodity market so that Australians from all economic backgrounds have the opportunity to afford it

I readily admit large scale agriculture has a lot of work to do to ensure the community is informed and comfortable with modern farming practices. May we always refrain from promoting what we do by deriding other farming practices,

Lets start by throwing our support behind all the wonderful Australian farmers using diverse farming systems, small and big who wake up every day looking for ways to do it better

BTW

Interesting recent article here asking the question How Long Do We Have Until We Exhaust All Of Our Resources? and very very worryingly coming up with the answer just a few decades.

Some further thoughts from Jude Capper Beef is killing the Planet and Elvis is Riding a Rainbow Belching Unicorn 

and I love and applaud this speech from President Obama on Climate Change

Lets not forget we need to be equally committed to reducing food waste and Sustainable Table is doing an awesome job promoting this ethos See here    

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Sudoku farming

Today I am delighted to share this guest post by Gus Whyte with you.

By way of background Angus and Kelly with 8 yr old son Mitchell Whyte run a grazing property that is 12,500ha on the Anabranch River at Wentworth in far western NSW.  They have been rotationally grazing to repair the landscape since 2001 and have seen significant changes in that time

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I first “met” Gus on Twitter and was delighted to see him profiled by Fleur McDonald as part of her 52 farmer stories to celebrate Australian Year of the Farmer.

I just loved this quote from Gus

 “Our attitude to farming is simply to work with nature rather than against, so we no longer have weeds, we have “plants with stories” that we can learn from and our aim is to make our business simple and our ecosystem extremely complex, the more complex the better.”

 and I have been following Gus and his ethos via twitter closely since

The more I talk to farmers across Australia the more I am feeling the social environment we farm in today is totally foreign to most farmers and many are feeling overwhelmed. Today’s food system offers a wide range of choices that allow consumers to purchase food that meets their needs and is consistent with their values

Consumers have traditionally trusted farmers because they believe farmers share their values but the problem is some consumers are beginning to question if today’s agriculture still qualifies as farming. We are seeing consumer alienation from agriculture and the food system expressed through concerns about nutrition, food safety, affordability, environmental sustainability and animal welfare – to name but a few

What the “concerned consumer” fails to recognise is many of our farmers are torn too. Gus and his family farm on 12,500 ha compared to our family farming on 120ha. On that 120 ha we produce milk that sustains 50,000 Australians everyday. We are proud of that but no matter where we farm, how much land we have to do it on or how much we produce our farmers can only give back what the market place is prepared to pay.

Before you judge your farmers Australia (and the world) please reflect on this. “Never before have so few people fed the world. Never before has food been cheaper in this country. Never before have so many people been able to afford to be so blissfully unaware of this”

When you read what Gus has to say can you doubt in any way that Australia has many great farmers who truly care and share your values ?……

The Gus Whyte ethos….

One of the things that I enjoy is to sit down on the weekend with a nice cup of coffee and complete a Sudoku or two. For those that haven’t played there are 9 rows and 9 columns and each row and column should contain the numbers 1-9. Also there are 9 sections that again should contain the numbers 1-9. I liken this to the environment where everything is interdependent and the change of one number has implications right through the whole puzzle/landscape. Of course there are many more than just nine possible numbers when dealing with an ever changing environment, the challenge is to always come up with the same outcome. Farming can not be done with set “systems” as these don’t always take into account the people, land, animals, the changing seasons and the climate etc, instead we need to focus on achieving the right outcomes using what tools/knowledge we have on hand. That is why in some instances organic accreditation may not actually produce the healthiest foods.

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Also like the environment when we focus on one area and do a really good job there, sometimes the other sections may be totally wrong and there is no chance of reaching the desired outcome. When we think of farming we may think of the vocation that aims to  produce the best crop or best wool/meat etc. Aside from farmers there are those that say we should be only eating a plant based diet to improve the welfare of animals, well again this only looks at a small section we need both plant and animals to farm together. One without the other is an incomplete system that will fail.

Few people view farming as the best way to produce healthy food in a healthy environment, while respecting the people and community around them. Maybe we should be seeing farmers as healthy food producers or as environmental regenerators or even nutrient nurturers. While we as the broader community compartmentalize farming we don’t put their real role into perspective so we don’t look to encourage those that fulfil some or all of these roles. As Wendell Berry points out in his book “The unsettling of America” Culture & Agriculture, either we are exploiters or nurturers, there is no in between.

The end goal is for people, animals and the environment to be improving in health rather than the direction they are currently going. The question is “how can we feed and clothe a growing society while looking after the health of us and the environment?” If you say “we are what we eat”, currently you are chemicals, GMO’s & Phosphate fertilizers etc. (yes these are both in the plants and animal products!), while others may be happy with this there are some that aren’t. So how do we change what we currently do to become nurturers and all (people, animals and environment) end up healthier? All of the top businesses/farmers look at the implications of what they do and don’t compartmentalize so let’s extend that a bit.

So let’s start by agreeing on what we see as healthy.; Healthy to me is food that is grown by harnessing Mother Nature to add all the vitamins and minerals required, without the use of any chemicals or fertilizers or by being processed in any way. I’m sure that most would agree that that is very healthy, however how are we going to grow enough to feed all the people?

To put together farming methods that will produce enough food while enhancing the land and retaining wild species will not be simple so will need lots of support from all of us if we would like to be healthier. We can produce more food/fibre than we currently do by harnessing Mother Nature rather than going into battle with chemicals and GMO’s, again that has been proven to be right, we may need to change the concept of farming though. What might drive a change? You ask. Well there is plenty of information around saying that the current food systems we have in place are causing major health problems with depression endemic as well as cancer and many other problems that put enormous drain on our health systems. With drugs only working on the symptoms, surely we need to look deeper at the root cause of these issues. Maybe we will be forced to find out the hard way if we keep doing what we are doing until we reach “peak Phosphorus” in about 2030.

So farmers can be seen as “just exploiters of the environment mining the nutrients & jeopardizing the welfare of animals” or they can be part of the Sudoku puzzle with everything in order, the choice is ours.

You will notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about money as yet, well you can’t put a value on your health or the health and well being of the animals and environment so why would I start. Currently our community puts the mighty dollar above all of the above, we can feed an ever growing world with very healthy food if we start putting some of these issues above money. We can choose to select food on the looks and the “value for money”, or we can start to demand food that is produced more naturally in harmony with Mother Nature, the choice is ours.

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