Agriculture – an endangered species

MPP-hand-threat-spec-web620Just like this little cutie agriculture in this country is under threat and this can potentially have huge ramifications for access to safe, affordable, nutritious food for Australian families  

If we are going to ensure food security in this country agriculture has to be a partnership between farmers and the community

So lets investigate the Australian communities relationship with food ( please assume when I write the word food, I am referring to the two f’s-  food and fibre)

Nobody likes to be put into a box and labelled. However sometimes it’s very useful to help you make a point so please forgive me for putting Australian consumers of food  into 4 boxes.

In one box you have the million people in Australia who are labelled Food Insecure and that means 1 million people in Australia go to bed hungry every night. Yes you read that right.  5% of the people in our wonderful country go to bed hungry every night. Please take the time to read about it here

Then there is the extremely larger box that holds the people who buy their food in the main based on Cost, Convenience and Quality (CC&Q) with a huge focus on cost and convenience

Then there is a small but growing box that I am going to label the people who ‘care’. I am going to call them this because they are the group that will potentially make purchases and are prepared to pay a premium for food grown in a way that meets their values. This group of consumers are interested in the ‘how and why’ of growing food and fibre, and also environmental values, sustainability, appropriate animal care, safety, nutrition, affordability and so on.

Values are an emotion. They in the main are not measurable and everyone of us has different values and how they prioritise them so the descriptors of the word “care’ can be very diverse.

At the other end there is a little group I am going to label “Extreme” for the want of a better word. What I mean here is that this group of people have very very strong views about what the word “care’ means and these people sometimes join organisations to lobby policy and decision makers to regulate and legislate industries to align with their values

For the people who sell food direct to consumers in this country like “Colesworth” for the ‘Food Insecure’ there are initiatives like Foodbank and  Second Bite they can donate food to. Food for example that is going out of date or does not meet the quality expectations of the C,C&Q group

The C,C&Q  are easy to satisfy. Sell food at rock bottom prices and build beautiful mega stores in areas that are within easy reach.  The C,C&Q group scare the living daylights out of ‘Colesworth” and their ability to meet shareholder expectations. Selling food at rock bottom prices from stores that cost you a motza is a no-win race to the bottom for profit margins.

So the group that “Colesworth’ is extremely interested in is the people who “care’.  The group that may pay more if you can meet or exceed their values expectations and help them feel good about their food choices. Colesworth want to grow this group. What is extremely disappointing is Coles in particular have chosen fear based marketing campaigns to grow their market share. I say to you Coles – disgraceful conduct.

Our good farmers also want to grow this group and I believe for all the right reasons. We want to grow this group by having courageous and open and transparent conversations with them.

To do this we have to be prepared to ‘open the door’ to our farms and bring consumers on our journey with us and that means not only showing them the ‘how’ – paddock to plate or field to fibre process but also the  ‘why’ of growing food and fibre,

We want to show them they can trust us to farm without feeling the need to ask policy and decision makers to impose overly budensome regualations on our food and fibre industries. Unlike “Colesworth’ farmers had want to allay consumer fears and reduce stress levels

Today our good farmers are now reconnecting with the people who buy their food and fibre. Listening to them and waking up every morning committed to meeting or exceeding their customers’ expectations

It is imperative that we take consumers on our journey with us or we run the risk of consumers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations like expecting farmers to wake up every day to produce food at rock bottom prices for nothing. Our farmers have families too and just like everybody else their first priority is to feed and clothe their families.

So the key for farmers is to work with the community to get that very necessary balance. Today more than ever agriculture is a partnership between farmers and the community.

This year the theme for the Archibull Prize will be “Agriculture* – an endangered species” (ht SK) and students and teachers will investigate the many challenges that farmers face and how we build community partnerships to ensure Agriculture can make the most of many opportunities that are on offer and gets off the endangered species list permanently.

Earth Hour 2015 will celebrate Australian farmers and the challenges they face under increasing conditions of extreme climate variability 

That the Food Insecure group gets smaller and smaller and that the people who care group gets larger and larger not because they worry about how food and fibre is produced but because they trust farmers and have the time to put their energies into causes like making sure all Australians have full stomachs every night, have clothes to wear and have a roof over their heads

I want to live in an Australia where we all care about people first. I look forward to that day and I am very proud that the Archibull Prize is helping to grow and support that vision.

Kildare Catholic College

In 2014 the Reserve Grand Champion Archibull Prize award winner from Kildare Catholic College exemplified their community – Wagga Wagga


  1. * Agriculture – the industry that provides us with our most basic of needs. The industry that feeds us, clothes us and puts a roof over our heads
  2. Please note this post is a work in progress. It has been updated following excellent feedback from a number of people since it was first posted it.
  3. Rider – I admit the only thing I look at when I buy eggs is how crushproof I believe the box they come in is.
  4. HT – Hat tip to SK – a lovely lady I met at the NSW Department of Secondary Education yesterday. I shared my vision with her for what I wanted to the Archibull Prize to investigate this year and we work-shopped the theme and I loved her idea




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

17 thoughts on “Agriculture – an endangered species”

  1. As a farmer that cares I would very much like to see the group that care grow as this would mean better outcomes for animal welfare & the environment & should improve profit margins because this group is willing to pay more for their produce if it meets their requirements. I would have thought it makes good economic sense. And if I need to purchase eggs which I don’t often as we have our own chickens that roam free during daylight hours. I buy the free range eggs from a group that I made contact with & viewed photos of their farms & they were happy for me to visit if I wished.

    1. Hi Leah,
      It was great to have this conversation tonight person to person. like you I am a great admirer and highly appreciative of the people who care. My desire is not to shrink the group but like you grow it
      What I would like to do is allay any fears they have about modern farming practices and they no longer feel the need to worry about the way we farm nor lobby government to reduce our ‘social licence”

  2. Using the already well seasoned with derogatory connotations word “extremists” places the writer into a precarious fallacious analysis. Beware labelling anyone an “extremist”. Those that sought to abolish the slave trade were unrealistic militant extremists as were those that sought votes and equal pay for women and coloured people.

    “Why do farmers want this group to shrink? They want it to shrink because we don’t want people to care for all the right reasons and that is because they trust us to do the ‘right thing’”. Before this statement can have any value, one must first define “care” , “right reasons” and “right thing” especially in the context of there being an “extremist” group in this essay.

    “Today our good (smart) farmers are now reconnecting with the people who buy their food and fibre. Listening to them and waking up every morning committed to meeting or exceeding their customers’ expectations”. Again, we need to define exactly whom the “smart farmers” are now reconnecting” and “listening to”.

    I can only keep coming back to the slave trade and the battery eggs;

    The financial, domestic and emotional pain suffered by farmers is akin to slave plantation owners who were forced to release their slaves and take compensation for the fall of their businesses, the collapse of their empires and way of life their families had become accustomed to. I am sure there were suicides and sickness resulting in the planters. Yet this takes nothing away from the moral value of the emancipation.

    The battery egg farmer also suffered financial, domestical and emotional pain but those that could make the change to free range are now reaping the rewards. The moral value in removing hens from battery cages was upheld by the consumer despite the collapse of many businesses.

    So, too, the dairy farmer will need to find ways to meet consumers expectations of ethical and moral dairy produce. It can be done and consumers will pay the higher price, just like they are doing for businesses with fairly paid employees and farms that sell free range eggs.

    At risk of alienating by fear and devaluation of self concept, it could be quite possible that in an ideal world there would not be any dairy farmers, nor abattoirs, greyhound and horse racing.

    1. Thank you Linda for your thoughts. yes you are right “care’ being an emotion is hard to define and means many different things to different people. In fact Australian researcher Dr Heather Bray is currently involved in a research project looking at just that

      re the work ‘extremist’ also a very emotive word and perhaps I could substitute the words “care too much” in the way where it becomes a preoccupation

      Using slavery as an analogy is also very emotive I am sure you will agree and perhaps a bit extreme

      in regards to your comments about “Today our good (smart) farmers are now reconnecting with the people who buy their food and fibre. Listening to them and waking up every morning committed to meeting or exceeding their customers’ expectations”. Again, we need to define exactly whom the “smart farmers” are now reconnecting” and “listening to”. I personally think that is quite self explanatory

      In regards to your last statement ‘At risk of alienating by fear and devaluation of self concept, it could be quite possible that in an ideal world there would not be any dairy farmers, nor abattoirs, greyhound and horse racing;. I will only comment on your thoughts in relation to dairy farmers and my wish is that our dairy farmers will be close enough to the image ( if that is realistic) that you would like to see and change your mind. Perhaps you might like to define what that image would look like to you in that ideal world

  3. I think we are not communicating well, Lynne. I hear what you say, I agree with a lot of what you say however I do not agree with your analysis and much of the delivery. It is easy to read something and assume we are all meaning the same only later to find that we are all worlds apart with our perception of “care”, “extremism”, etc.
    Describing my use of the slave trade as emotive when I was merely describing the similarity of what was once considered extreme worries me for future discussion. Is my use of the egg analogy emotive? If not, why not?
    Yes! “Care too Much” is a far better box as it does not come tainted with derogatory historical usage. It is what it says and therefore can be discussed and defined as to what caring too much actually means to people that do this and also for those that don’t. I think a perfect statement to start a conversation that may find an understanding, if not a way forward.

    My ideal world encompasses women getting equal pay and status to men, a greater emphasis on socialism such that those that are born and raised with ruthless, narcissistic traits don’t automatically “win” the Gina Rhineheart award and those that are born with less ruthless/ energetic/go getter personalities are valued and rewarded the same for their lack of aggression/selflessness etc. This may mean society actually supports those (in a manner similar to the go getters) that quietly go about their work with absolutely no business acumen to the detriment of their superannuation and children’s inheritance. I could go on but I guess you will see it encompasses a world of respect for all living things that have the capacity to suffer so I guess that means no use of animals. Shock, horror to all the horse riders and animal farmers out there.

    As this is not an ideal world, we have blogs and discussions to try and sort out an acceptable threshold that we can all live with. The discussions will go on for a long time as culture and what is deemed acceptable/not acceptable changes.

    1. Hi Linda
      Firstly I disagree I think we are having a great robust conversation. I am enjoying it and you make some very good points. With regards to two points you make I haven’t seen the sums on the average free range ROI but I know its tough out there. I lost all of my chooks to foxes and it was a very unpleasant death. The fox took two and left the other 28 dying and obviously in a great deal of pain. A heartbreaking experience for me and I have now understand the moral dilemma with housed vs free range only two well
      Bessie also makes some excellent points, not everyone can afford to eat let alone pay higher prices

  4. PS. I like Leah’s words and her “care factor” threshold to act wrt egg purchasing. At this time, I would think Leah may have some angst with cognitive dissonance. I know I have that often. It is what makes me work harder on myself. Denial is sooo much easier to live with.

  5. A great read, Lynne.
    My two cents worth:
    I am in the group that cares.
    I believe the thing that the group of people who care (and anyone further on the extreme of the spectrum) have to remember is that not everyone can afford to care.
    Estimates from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization say 805 million people in the world – one in nine – were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014.
    A report from The Australian Council of Social Service last year found there are 2.5 million people – and one in six children – living below the poverty line in Australia.
    According to the World Bank, the percentage of arable land in Australia is between 6 and 7 percent. Yet 60% of Australian land is used as Agricultural land (meaning roughly 53% of that area is home to grazing animals).
    Stats from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation say Australian agricultural land has diminished by 16% since 1976, with about half that loss occurring between 2005 and 2009. (Meanwhile, since 1976 Australia’s population has grown by 11million).
    Statistics from Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences show almost all of that was reclaimed as protected conservation and natural environment land, and about three percent of it was due to expanding towns and cities.
    According to UN, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs the current world population is 7.3billion. By 2050 (in 35 years) this is projected to be 9.5billion.

    All of this makes me ask some questions:
    – Don’t we have an ethical responsibility to help provide food and fibre for everyone, not just the people who can afford to care?
    – Should the people who already can’t afford it have to pay more for food products because of the demands of the group of people who can afford it?
    – Don’t we have a responsibility to the environment, to look after it, to protect it, to strive to leave it better than when we found it?
    – Doesn’t that mean we have a responsibly to manage its use in ways of least impact?
    – How can we feed 2.2 BILLION more people with less land, less water and less non-renewable energy?

    35years is not far away. I’ll still be here then, it will be my problem to deal with. I hope I’m still farming sheep, cattle and goats then, as a part of the solution not the problem.

  6. These questions have been well and truly answered by ethicist’s and philosophers such as Peter Singer and our own Clive Hamilton who resides just up at the ANU. To feed the world, have better universal nutrition, do less harm to the environment and remove a lot of the cruelty in animal farming the answers have been universally confirmed by scientists world wide; eat and wear less animal products. If one wishes to argue against the mass of evidence, it would be akin to arguing against the mass of evidence for climate change ie…it doesn’t conveniently fit with how one wishes to live.
    How does one marry the evidence against animal farming with their current life that encompasses generations of passion for eg; herd genetics and beautiful cows that evolved from their great, great grandparents, the toiling of rich earth that their great grandparents worked, the smell and lifestyle of dairying? It is a difficult one.

    1. Hi Linda

      We all make choices and choices have consequences We farm on the hottest driest continent where less than 6% of the country is arable. it will never be a perfect world all we can do is do the best with what we have with ‘best’ being an ever improving target. The difference between you and me is I have tried it and it aint a walk in the park. Everyone on our farm has their own set of values and prioritizes based on what is sitting at the top of their list at that point in time and trust me the mnantra is always “take care of the live things first’ All I can say is take a walk in my shoes I wish it was black and white but it isn’t and never will be

      Some very interesting reflections here

      and if we do take the cows away who is going to look after the other 54% of the landscape the farmers manage on behalf of us all

      1. In my wildest dreams, the rest of the landscape should be left for mother nature to handle. Put the biggest, most massive fence around it and let the animals be FREE. Free to roam as far as the fence will let them…free to fornicate naturally, free to mother their kin naturally, free to be the noble beasts they are. Free to express their wild spirits. Free to have their own minds and to share the land they walk and live in. And yes, free to fight their dominance out, unlike us humans who have been taught to use our voice and that it is kinder not to fight. It is just as much their land and right as it is ours. I truly believe as a species animals are far more innately connected to the land than us mere, learned humans. Oh and another good thing would be to plant millions of sapplings that will one day out live me and you and provide habitat for our native wildlife that will also outlive us humans. We owe it to them. They deserve a little more than we collectively care to give and alot less we should take.

      2. Another point, you think the Dairy Reportis to be bawked at…well, my ideal is capping. Capping farmers stock quantities based on cash monies in possession to feed his/her stock on an annual basis. So as pointed out we have a very well known arid dry continent that proves difficult for farmers to manage in drought times. So based on this very well known fact we live in a dry continent, if you cannot afford to keep your stock nourished from supplementary feeds; i.e., your money, until you sell off that animal and/or its products, you are capped and cannot buy more. If this arid continent is blessed with good conditions in that year and you do not need to supplement the stock throughout, and therefore do not deminish your funds , then you keep that money in your pocket and it goes toward the next years annual feed suppkement. Simple. Reduce stock numbers to accomodate our arid climate.We all know how hot and dry it is. Are some of us living above our means? Are some of us caught up in the machine of it all? Can we send a message back to society that enough is enough…Reduce demand, reduce consumption. Maybe lives of farmers and their relationships with their animals will be more harmoniuos, healthy and happy aswell.

      3. Oh my goodness Please don’t be offended but you live in a total fantasy world. We only have one planet and Australians are already consuming as if we had 4 of them
        Let all the animals go!!!! Yes well that would wipe out humans pretty fast. Lets not forget when food gets short they wont think twice about eating us

  7. I honestly think that along with unwarranted societal demands and increased expectation for variety and increasingly more, more, more of it to appease the human palate, farmers can only be too aware of the expectations thrust upon animals that are in their care.
    Increased demands call for an increase in stock and feed or a much higher output on the existing animals providing the product.
    I would argue that those who run businesses that care for the animals who provide us with a food source, just like the animal, are somewhat servants to society. A very honorable role in my eyes. You can say more farmers.You are not slaves to society’s demands. In fact I genuinely feel most people would be very pleased to hear from the common farmer than their local MP.
    Farmers really should embrace the current Dairy Report as just like all of us in society are expected to adhere to rules and regulations, the animal industry should also have clear regulations and expectations and not be an entity to itself when it comes to breeding, raising, caring and using handling the animals product as yes it is a business for financial gain.
    The animal industry incorporates many, many entities. Dairy is but one of them. This is not an arrow aimed solely at just your dairy, or your animals, or you the farmer. It is every dairy, all the animals and all the farmers, here in Australia and overseas. It is also a clear and strong message to society. We all fit in thos very big picture. We are all accountable.
    I think these rules and regulations have been a long time coming and if you are doing the right thing, then have no fear.
    The legal system is in place for those in society who do not manage to abide to common laws.
    To my knowledge rules and regulations are based on the lowest common demonators in society.
    As member’s of society we generally do the right thing we may never be held to account for expalanation, leaving us to get on with what we do best. Others however simply have not proven themselves to be of moral or ethical standard and simply require clear, concise rules and regulations so as if over time these are not adhered to, these persons can be held accountable.
    Once again, farmers should embrace this process. It is in the interest of the animals. Those who have instigated this are not extremists. This was totally necessary and has been a very long time coming.

  8. I wonder would you post this?
    I would like to ask all your blog readers “At what point does the price become too high? In other words, when would they seriously think to cease production, cease dairying due to the;
    1) financial/lifestyle implications of dairy farming in a manner conducive to Voiceless Dairy Report?

    2) Environmental implications with respect to dairy farming requiring some of the most fertile and productive land and water supplies that could more efficiently be used for producing other sorts of protein (crops/meat)?

    3) welfare/cruelty implications with respect to breaking the maternal bond, sacrificing calves, etc?

    At what point is dairying as we know it today no longer acceptable to the modern dairy farmer?

    I would be very keen to hear back.

    1. I am happy to post this and want to put some thoughts out there myself
      1. What happens to all the dairy cows when we set them ‘free’
      2. a lot of dairy farmers particularly female farmers are conflicted – we all make choices and those choices have consequences – I didn’t give my child the ‘perfect life’ I should have and that doesn’t mean I didn’t do my best at the time – it was a very privileged life at great sacrifice to my health – it didn’t do either of us any good
      3. I believe dairy is a highly nutritious affordable staple in the main produced by people doing the best they can with resources they have. Livestock play a very important role in maintaining our beautiful; Australian landscapes. You take the dairy cows away from our farm and I guarantee you the landscape would be overrun by lantana and tobacco bush. Its the reality life was never meant to be perfect and fair is never equal

  9. While I did mention “protein” in “2”. The human animal requires 15% protein per day in our diets and there is a direct inverse relationship with the greater the amount of protein, the shorter the life span (increases the aging process) however, also, the greater the amount of protein in the diet, the leaner the person (hence the high protein low carb diet fads). This is fresh from the Zoobiquity Conference (Sydney Uni) yesterday on nutrition.

    Therefore, the amount of goodness we get out of milk may simply not be relevant to our societies needs in this day and age for the financial, moral, environmental price we are paying.

    Should dairy products become a luxury? In this way, less is produced at a higher price which now can fulfill the most extreme animal, environmental and nutritional activist there is?

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