The line in the sand

I was recently asked to speak at the CCSPI Conference ( Climate Change Research Strategies for Primary Industries) by my good friend Esther Price who is the guru of agricultural conference event management in this country and I said no

I said no because

  • Firstly it was the last session of the day on the last day of the conference and everybody knows no-one hangs around for the last session of the day on the last day of the conference.
  • Secondly because I had a hell of a lot happening in my life and I was starting to spread myself way too thinly and felt I wasn’t delivering to the level Art4Agriculture deserved, our Clover Hill Dairies business deserved, my family deserved and I what I deserve. Recently my wise friend Victoria and I spent a Sunday putting together a strategic plan for me. Wow how organised is that.  So I ran this conference through “is this conference core business A to Z scenario?” and its screamed “NO NO NO – this is not the best use of your time Lynne”
  • And thirdly farmers rarely get paid to speak at conferences and in the majority of cases I think its because we don’t ask and this has got to stop.  So for the first time I drew my line in the sand and emphatically said no.

Well Professor Snow Barlow head of the CCRSPI conference committee is a bit like me in that ‘no often means almost yes’ and the next thing I know he is on the phone giving me 20 reasons why I should be there. I happened to mention that I would like to hear Bernard Salt speak as well as Sue Middleton and Dr Jude Capper. Snow then had a light bulb moment, though he couldn’t promise anything, but would breakfast with Jude, Sue and Bernard tempt me.? Did I ask to be paid for speaking you ask.?  NO ( hang my head in shame) I crossed my line in the sand. BTW This is firmly on my New Years wish list for 2013 and I see a Farmers Speakers Network looming on the horizon.

Having breakfast with Sue Middleton was easy – we are already good friends, but Snow did not deliver Bernard nor Jude – but he did put forward a very exciting proposal at the end of the conference and I look forward to catching up with him on that.     

My gig was on a panel and to Snow’s credit he did get a lot of people to hang a round. Panellist members were Lynne Strong wearing my  farmer hat , Dr David George (National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility), Caroline Brown (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment Tasmania), Professor Tim Reeves (Tim Reeves & Associates) and Dr Mark Howden (CSIRO).The audience in the main was researchers and government and policy makers and some farmers

The brief “ A discussion on climate change needs into the future: in light of the knowledge exchanged at this conference, what are the climate change research and capacity needs for the sector into the future? Perspectives from a leading farmer, research manager, policy analyst, research director and leading researcher. Panellists will provide their own perspectives on the topic, before opening the floor to audience questions and open discussion”.

So what did I have to say? 

Here is the guts of it ………

The most immediate threat to agriculture in this country is I believe not climate change, not drought and not water restrictions. It is the disconnect between farmers and their customers and consumers’ lack of understanding and discomfort with modern farming practices

This has led to whole new playing field for both farmers and researchers. Consumers today are 5 x more interested in knowing that you care about the environment and your animals than in knowing that you have the knowledge to look after to them. That is values outsell science 5 to 1

My work in the community shows me the social environment that farmers find themselves in today is totally foreign to most of them and they in the main don’t have the skills sets to engage in two way conversations with the community and build the bridges that will address this

Whether we like it or not farming today is under more scrutiny than ever and increasingly accountable to the public 

Farming today

  1. Is all about people
  2. Is all about relationships
  3. Is all about values

It’s a marketing exercise. Today our farmers have to sell the sizzle, not the sausage. Delivering the sizzle is what drives me ( I love this analogy but cant take credit for it)

I have been asked to represent ‘farmers’ on this panel and what they want with respect to Climate Change research & capacity.

If I asked a group of 100 farmers this question I know I would get at least 100 different answers.

If I asked a group of 100 scientists this question, I would probably get 300 different answers – and I probably wouldn’t understand any of them!

Seriously the point I am making here is

•          We need to remember that ‘farmers’ is really a collective noun for a diverse group of individuals that happen to produce food and fibre. Every individual in this group has different perspectives and opinions about what Climate Change means to them

•          researchers have a major problem in communicating what they do

What farmers and researchers do have in common is they both have a product to sell  and everybody in business knows you go broke fast if you are selling a product nobody wants to buy  So we have a great opportunity to work together here to keep all of us in business  

So today I am going to try and tackle all of these points through a partnership model.

I will do it from my personal perspective but I hope the insights I have gained as a farmer, a climate champion and from the broader community through our Art4Agriculture programs will prove useful to you.

Point 1

Let’s consider the needs of farmers first. Generally farmers are practical people and they want the SAUSAGE. Most think that the research is pretty well covered.

Personally – I am a Champion of targeted research I get excited by the possibilities but sooner rather than later. I want a tangible product that I can apply on my farm… when I am ready for it (i.e. the sausage).


The product (technology or technique) has to directly relate to satisfying my needs. If it ticks any of the following it will go on the list of things to consider


Note that this is not the list of things that ‘get done’… just the list of things to consider at this stage! The list of things to get done is a completely separate list, kept securely on the fridge between my husband and his breakfast. (see footnote)


Get on this list and you have it made – Poor man no wonder he has indigestion He is lucky to get time to sit down for breakfast.

Your Climate Change product must in this orderSlide4


Point 2

Let’s now look at the most important person in the value chain – the consumer

Now – Has anyone eaten raw sausage? I don’t recommend it. For your Climate Change SAUSAGE to be palatable you need to cook it i.e. add some SIZZLE.

So whilst some of you are busy translating research into tangibles for farmers, we really have some work to do selling the SIZZLE to consumers in the broader community.


Remember that farmers are a part of this broader community too.

Our customers today have a very poor understanding of modern agricultural systems and have become distrustful of the way we manage our natural resources and care for our animals. We have to admit – we seriously have some work to do!

Farmers and researchers need to engage with the wider the community so they are comfortable with what researchers and the farming community are doing to tackle climate change – we can’t build extra value in our food and fibre products unless our customers KNOW and are COMFORTABLE with the core values of the product.

People want to make the decisions to buy they don’t want to feel they have been sold something that doesn’t fit with their own values. It is all about TRUST and you build trust through engagement and communications.

My Art4Agriculture programs have been directly and very successfully targeting these issues but there are plenty of other ways to reconnect using Climate Change as a common issue both communities have an interest in.

In conclusion – if you ask me about what the key Climate Change needs are for the farming community then I would advise you to crank up the barby and get those sausages sizzling…

Provide me with Climate Change SAUSAGES that are tangible – preferably with bread and tomato sauce so they target my needs and I add them to “the List”.

Make sure your sausages are well cooked – with plenty of SIZZLE. I want to make sure everyone around me can smell how delicious they are, and know what a great product you have developed. Particularly the broader community needs to know what I am eating – and why I am doing it for them. 

Engagement is the key and there is no-one better positioned to kick goals in this high priority area than a collaborative and cohesive partnership between farmers and researchers.

The time is now – Let’s do the sizzle together like its never been done before


Bon appetite!

Footnote: This list is wearing my farmer hat, my other hats have different priorities – no wonder I need a strategic plan

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

5 thoughts on “The line in the sand”

  1. Seem sad that we have to treat ppl that eat as consumers, that they put the importance of good food in the same basket as clothes or a TV. I reckon we need to invovle more ppl in food production, the actual sausage. The whole landscape needs more love from those that depend on it & that is everyone. Thanks Lynne for writing a thoughtful post as always, enjoy the New Year with family & friends, then onwards towards a positive 2013.

    1. Yes Gus it seems all to bizarre at times

      To paraphrase from that great poem by Connie Ross

      Most farmers just never give in! ‘

      Cause, despite the frustration, we’re feeding the nation

      And that’s quite a battle to win!

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