Today I am speaking at the Australian Farm Institute’s conference Managing the Future of Australia’s Farmland. Regular readers of my blog will know that I have been agonising over what to say and how to say it for six weeks now. I have shared my work in progress thoughts with my readers along the way.
Here it is from the heart
I am a
- Climate Champion
- Program Director and Chair of Art4agriculture
- Agrifood Skills Ambassador
I seize these opportunities to talk to farmers, decision makers and consumers, all key people who can help me deliver my big picture vision for agriculture in this country
I want a dynamic innovative exciting and profitable agrifood sector that the next generation’s best and brightest see as a career of first.
I know this is achievable but we have a myriad a veritable rabbit warren of issues and challenges we have to acknowledge and address first before this will happen
Today we are tackling peri-urban Agriculture
Is it possible?I know it is possible to farm on the fringe of our towns and cities because my family business does this every day
My family milk 500 cows three times daily on two farms at Jamberoo. Both farms have a high rural urban interface
The home farm Clover Hillis situated in very steep high conservation value rainforest country
It is part of a dairy centric rural residential subdivision which contains 15 houses
Our second farm Lemon Grove Research Farm is located adjacent to Jamberoo Township and has main road frontage. So not only do the 1000 people who live in the village get to see our farming practices every day So too do the tens of thousands of people who drive by on the highway each year
Should we farm here?
Rich volcanic soil, 2000mm rain fed pastures and good management practices allow us to achieve KPI’s like this
It’s the best place to dairy in Australia so of course we should farm here
Do we want too?
I must admit it is very challenging and unless you are passionately committed to building close working relationship with your neighbours and the community, you may find yourself waking up every morning feeling like you are farming in a combat zone
This is the view from my front veranda you can see why everyone wants to live here
I don’t want to move and I don’t think my neighbours should move
So I have been looking forward to speaking to a room full of kindred spirits. People who have also taken up the challenge and dedicated their careers to support the sustainability and fabric of our advanced societies.
Close your eyes and have a listen to this……
10 seconds of silence – Blissful wasn’t it?
Time to just think.
Perhaps you were thinking about the
· extra 350,000people who will born today
· 60 million plus people our farmers feed everyday
· 80,000 tonnes of beef we exported last month
· The 500 million people the cotton industry clothes
· 65000 tonnes of rice we export every year
· 100,000 tonnes of cheese we send to Japan
· Or perhaps the impact on food production of price on carbon
· 3000-4000 GL/yr. of water being lost to farming in the Murray Darling basin,
· the banning of live exports to Indonesia last year
Or perhaps you were thinking you might like rob a bank and move into a house next door to me
· We know that food demand will double by the 2050, driven by growing populations and rising living standards
· We know that 1% of farming is disappearing across the world each year
· Even 1 degree of global warming, accompanied by greater droughts and floods will make agriculture as we know it much more challenging almost everywhere.
If I can steal a line from ‘Apollo 13’ – “HOUSTON – WE HAVE A PROBLEM”! Can we really expect farmers to produce more food, cheaper, with less land and natural resources???
But it’s not just a task for farmers is it? – Solving this problem is a task for everyone in this room.
As a farmer our cows produce the milk that sustains 50,000 Australians every day. It is what we do.
Scientists as providers of R&D&E and government policy makers enable us to do this as efficiently as we can.
But it goes much further than this doesn’t it
Every single Australian owns the problem AND is part of the solution
But they just don’t know it yet!
Whilst we all think what we do is vital – most of the people who we are doing it for, are more interested in who is going to win ‘The Voice’ or ‘Masterchef’.
This problem has manifested itself because farmers today are less than 1% of the population
We know as much about the other 99% as they know about us
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 so blissfully unaware of this
And regrettably everyone in this room (including me) not only just stood by and watched this situation develop – MANY OF US HAVE ACTIVELY HELPED THIS HAPPEN.
Here is the problem as I see it
We have a food ‘value’ chain with farmers down one end and consumers at the other. We could not be more far apart if we tried
We have become victims of our own success.
Cities have become hermetically sealed from the reality of where their food & fibre comes from.
This is a big problem if we want agricultural production to double over the next 30 years to feed the predicted 9 Billion people.
It is obvious this value chain model is flawed – there is a pivotal link missing – the link that directly connects consumers with the people who produce their food.
It is our job to create this missing link. This link that connects farmers with the people who buy their food and fibre
It is a big task. But I believe the very future of our modern society is dependent on communities valuing what farmers do, and providing them with the resources to get on and do it in a way that meets the values and expectations of the communities which they serve.
It is not about farmers getting it all their own way – it is about farmers and communities working cooperatively for mutual benefit.
And that takes ENGAGEMENT.
This is the task…. ENGAGING with all facets of society
- Let me use my experiences of farming in a peri-urban environment to show you how we have engaged. How we have formed collaborative relationships between government, the community, value chain partners and farmers
- Farming is a business and business is all about building relationship
- Our business is listening to the market place and is focused on changing with the world. We are not unique in this respect.
- We have outsourced expertise to help us manage risk and adopted new technologies and farming strategies that improve our efficiency.
- We have built strong natural resource management partnerships and have undertaken extensive Landcare projects to adapt to climate variability and build carbon in the soil
- We have innovatively grown our business in a peri urban environment where 90% of the prime agricultural land is now owned by lifestyle farmers without large injections of capital by leasing land from these lifestyle farmers
What else can we do?
Firstly the notion of the farmer as someone who merely works on the land has got to go.
We can’t change the world overnight but we can change it.
So maybe we have to ask ourselves 2 questions
1. Who do we want to target?
2. What is the ideal vehicle?
If we can make it fun at the same time then we are doing really well
Let me show you one of our ideas
You have heard “every long journey starts with a single step”?
I work with a team of people who are rolling out the Art4agriculture initiatives
They are taking big steps to start engaging with urban communities and young people –
THEY ARE BUILDING A BRIDGE
Why ARE THEY TARGETING young people?
Because YOUNG PEOPLE are future consumers, decision makers and our workforce.
We have 2 signature programs
Archibull Prize and YFC program – They dovetail into each other
How do they work?
1. Each school gets a life size fibre glass cows
2. Each school is allocated food or fibre industry
3. Each school is allocated a Young Farming Championwhose area of expertise is that food or fibre industry
4. The young Farming Champion goes into the school and shares their farming story with the students and mentors the students
5. Young farming champion is provided with extensive professional development that includes the skills sets that enable them to be comfortable talking to non-farmer audiences
We then ask the students to use their allocated food or fibre industry and their YFC as their inspiration to decorate their cow in the theme
“Was does it take to sustainably feed and clothe your community for a day”
We also give points for a series of social media resources we ask them to create which we then load on the web
The Archies in the Food Farm at the Sydney Royal Easter Show 2012
As you can see we are building a bridge from both ends:
· Urban side – Archibull Prize build as bridge for students to interact with farmers and put real faces to the food they buy
· Farming side – build a bridge for YFC to hone their new found skills and have two way conversations with the people who buy their food and fibre. The YFC are providing real life examples and inspiring other young people who may have never considered a career in agriculture
Where does R&D and Government fit with this model of engagement?
Well scientists and researchers and policy makers are the pillars that hold the whole structure up.
They also have a role to build their own bridges to ENGAGE with the broader community
To explain why their work in supporting agriculture is vital to the future sustainability of our society.
What can be done?
There is no denying this is a huge task and we need to be working together.
ENGAGING with the community (and I am sad to say even between ourselves) needs a much higher priority in our overall thinking if we are going to solve the future issues that face BOTH agriculture and our modern hermetically sealed urban communities.
We MUST add this to our list of ‘most important jobs’
- · We talk a lot about the rural urban divide
- But I believe the real disconnect is between value and price
- Consumers do value food they just don’t want to pay for it
- Governments tend to absolve themselves of responsibility and foster the notion of food at rock bottom prices as a birth rite
- Even farmers in different regions are often confused. Dairy farmers in Victoria who supply on a seasonal basis for the international market fail to see why dairy farmers in NSW and QLD who supply the domestic market consistently all year round warrant a higher farmgate price
- On top of this farm land has become the poor cousin to mining and residential land. Whilst mining is yet to impact on my farming enterprise there is a constant regional conflict between the need to house people without sacrificing our most productive farm land & effectively destroying our food base.
“Food is as important as energy, as security, as the environment. Everything is linked together.” (Louise Fresco)
If Australia is going to get this message
- THAT food is a topic of social and economic importance
- THAT responsible agriculture production and food consumption are crucial to world stability
Then farmers, researchers, scientists and policy makers must ALL BE SELLING THIS message and selling it well
My vision for the future isn’t too difficult
It just requires a different way of thinking.
I believe a profitable and sustainable healthy future for the farming sector is achievable
The health and welfare of all Australians and many people around the world depends on it.
To drive the process of change requires champions and leaders. But to change grass roots perceptions, we need grass roots action.
Industry has to take the lead – we need articulate, well educated farmers and we need to identify these people and nurture them and promote them and ensure we retain this talent
We need government and farmers working together with everyone in the value chain selling the message and selling it well that food is a topic of social and economic importance on par with oil
Farm land has to be seen as important as mining land and residential land no matter where it is.
Our farming systems cannot be locked into a religious type paradigm of what we think is best. Our farmers must be free to continue to adapt to our changing resource base, the seasons and climate, the economy and our markets. Our farmers must be able to innovate, achieve efficiency gains and intensify their businesses.
And our researchers and our scientists need to be resourced to help us do this
Our farmers must have access to our best agricultural land if we are expected to keep feeding 60 million plus people from an ever shrinking resource base. We need to get better at engaging with a disconnected market place,that continually wants to pay less for food that costs more to produce.
Consumers are an integral part of this chain. They need to understand and appreciate where their food comes from and be comfortable with how our production techniques must change to meet the world’s need for food.
This can only be done through ENGAGEMENT.
- This starts with being prepared to pay realistic prices for the food they buy
- With making wise food choices
- Understanding the environmental impact of 50% of our food is wasted and ends up in landfill
We all have a role to play. Let’s work together to strengthen and support the missing link
Engagement is the missing link let’s put a price on it and invest in it.
Creating a community which is engaged & informed with agriculture is our ‘MOST IMPORTANT JOB’ and is the key to the sustainability of, not just agriculture – but to the ENTIRE FABRIC of our modern advanced society.
WE CAN DO IT