#Strongwomen. "I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful – for all of it." Kristin Armstrong
I am lucky enough to be able to surround myself with some of the brightest, talented, most socially responsive, selfless and caring young people in agriculture
One of those young people Hannah Barber just sent me this …… I love it and I am confident you will too…………..
My father hates the tradition of ANZAC day.
Naturally, being a farmer, he hates the idea of any day when the rest of the country closes for business, because he never does. He hates the idea of young blokes getting drunk, gambling their money and making a mess of themselves in town. Most of all, my father hates that our country has relegated celebrating our gallant ANZAC’s, remembering their heroism and living up to the sacrifices they made for us, to just one day of the year.
My father loves the ANZAC’s. He loves reminding us of those who came before us, those who toiled sun up & sun down to make this country what it is today. “You have to know where you’ve come from to know where you’re going” – whether it’s knowing the hardships and blind loyalty of our ANZAC’s, or knowing my great-grandfather chopped through a pine forest and raised his family in a tent to establish our farm; knowledge of the past is inspiration for the future.
My father believes we should all live everyday as though it were ANZAC day. Every day we should be grateful for those who have given us this opportunity, this society.
Be grateful for the ANZAC’s who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Be grateful for the women who have forged the way to allow me to be a woman of the land, independent and choose my own career pathway
Be grateful for the teachers who fought for our rights so when I do eventually (hopefully) marry my strong, handsome farmer, I can stay in that occupation that I love so much.
Be grateful for my mother’s amazing ability to raise all of us in such a loving, giving household and be grateful for my father’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s commitment to leave our land a little better than they found it each time.
Think of those who you ought to be grateful for and remember. Each and every day.
In the meantime, just for tomorrow, wake up early. Pull up your sowing rig or shed the picker if you’re in the cotton game, get the kids out of bed or give your housemate a nudge, and remember in the fashion Australians do best
Celebrate our mighty ANZAC’s. Let the ring of the last post stand your hair on end, don’t fight the tears as returned servicemen salute their fallen brothers. Feel the heat off the light horse as he powerfully strides by and soak up the rising sun over our lucky country as we rise in unison and promise “Lest We Forget”.
Well done Hannah its great to see young people inspiring young people to share your values
Target 100 initiative demonstrates the long term commitment of Australia’s cattle and sheep farmers to advance sustainable practices – from an environmental, animal welfare, social and economic perspective – and ensure a sustainable food supply for generations to come. Target 100 outlines 100 research, development and extension activities covering soil, water, energy, pests and weeds, biodiversity, emissions and animal welfare.
In fact I am a big fan of any industry initiative that allows farmers to play an active role, communicate with each other, share stories, collaborate and feel proud of themselves, their fellow farmers and their industry.
This particular project looks at the role of technology in improving animal welfare and in this case the opportunity to make pharmaceutical and drug delivery systems, including needle-less injectors a more feasible proposition for farmers
Originally I’m a city kid; I hadn’t gone near anything remotely like a farm until I was 9 when my Dad bought a small property and started a little hobby farm. I had always loved animals but being on this little farm increased my love for livestock animals and sparked my interest in agriculture.
Me getting my sheep ready for measurements for the first experiment of my PhD
I decided working in agriculture was my calling, so I applied for Urrbrae Agricultural High school, even if it meant travelling 2 + hours a day just to study. I made use of the school’s farm and applied to study in as many agricultural subjects as I could and as a result I received the Urrbrae Agricultural high school “Majorie Bowes Prize”, which is awarded to the highest achieving female in agriculture, as well receiving the Animal Science certificate for participating in animal related subjects. Throughout the years I had a million ideas of what I could be when I finished high school, a livestock veterinarian, a jillaroo, a stud breeder, a farmer, the list was endless, everything sounded exciting.
My year 12 Ag class that attended the South East Tour, where we learnt about different agricultural practices in the South East of South Australia
In year ten I went on an excursion to Adelaide University’s Agricultural campus, Roseworthy and to CSIROs Waite campus. I saw some amazing projects on animal nutrition, animal/plant production and animal/plant health. I was completely fascinated and from that point I decided I could do some interesting work in the agricultural field if I became a scientist. It was a hard choice between animal and agricultural science but in the end animals won and I went on to do a Bachelor of Animal Science at Adelaide University.
My Dad, my Mum and me at my graduation day in 2012 for my first degree a Bachelor of Science (Animal Science)
Like most undergrads I still had no definite idea what I wanted to do when I finished my degree. When it was time to graduate, I thought “why not give research a go?” I mean research was one of the main reasons I decided to go to uni. So with that I went and did honours, for which I was awarded first class. During my honours year I learnt a lot about research, I had a lot of fun and I grew to love sheep.
How can you not love those faces!
As the year began to wrap up I knew I wanted to work in animal welfare and if it involved sheep even better! I thought that one of the best ways I could help improve animal welfare was through research so I went looking for PhD projects that had an animal welfare focus. Luckily enough I found a project with CSIRO and the University of New England on self-medication in sheep, which was a double whammy for me! There was a catch though, I had to move from little ol’ Adelaide to an even littler Armidale.
Research sometimes means early starts, late finishes and very long days but I’m not complaining!
The aim of my PhD project is to incorporate pain relief in food, so that sheep and cattle that undergo painful husbandry procedures, such as castration and tail-docking, can eat this food and be relieved of pain. I will also try to train sheep to self-administer the drugs (non-addictive of course) in order to provide pain-relief, this will give us some interesting insight into pain states in animals. I think it will be the most interesting part of my research! In my first year I identified a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (this is what our panadol is) that works at relieving pain in sheep.
My sheepie minions! Together we shall take over the world with great animal welfare practices!
I have just started my second year and I am really enjoying my work, I currently have some interesting experiments planned for this year. They include adding the drugs to food and seeing if it helps to relieve pain in lambs that have been castrated and tail-docked and training sheep to self-medicate.
As you can imagine I’m getting pretty excited about my work. Many think I’m mad having gone on to do a PhD, some days I think I am too but thanks to the support from family, friends and my supervisors at CSIRO and UNE, I am so glad I have started this journey. So here’s to a future of research, helping the agricultural sector and helping animals!
The farming community spirit is a bit like a diamond where different facets can shine in different circumstances,” Penelope Wensley
Yesterday I received my NFF Advocate newsletter
It began like this
It’s been a tough start to the year for the farm sector, with much of QLD, NSW, SA and NT still heavily within the grips of drought. The NFF has been working to drive outcomes for Australian farmers, and ensure agriculture is reprioritised on the national agenda during this critical time.
My recent post ‘Drought bringing the solutions to the table’ found here reflected on the need for Australians to see drought as an average year and for farmers to focus on bringing the solutions top the table.
‘Farming needs delivery of business strategies on ground right now that can help and this initiative aims at doing everything possible to deliver opportunities going forward. With no stock, no grass, no rain forecasted and no money in the bank it paints a very grim picture around the kitchen table at most farms around Australia.’ James Walker
Farmers need to be pragmatic we can’t hang our hats on waiting for the the government to step in especially in light of reports like this
Productivity Commission and other recent reporting to government are recommending rationalisation of drought assistance and reform of drought policy. The report recognises that the level of drought assistance has crept from a one in twenty five exceptional event to become more frequent in the presence of a long dry and changing climate. In this circumstance, the general observation emerges that too many farm businesses in too many regions have been receiving Exceptional Circumstances (EC) and other related assistance more frequently than the original definition and policy intent. The level of assistance is now deemed inappropriate and an unsustainable distortion of the farm business sector, particularly in the context of climate change.
Most farmers are sufficiently self-reliant to manage climate variability. In 2007-08, 23 per cent of Australia’s 143,000 farms received drought assistance, totalling over $ 1 billion, with some on income support continuously since 2002. In drought declared areas, most farmers manage without assistance. From 2002-03 to 2007-08, on average, about 70 per cent of dairy and broadacre farms in drought areas received no drought assistance.
Governments need to commit to a long term reform path that recognises that the primary responsibility for managing risks, including from climate variability and change, rests with farmers.
Governments do care but they listen to voters and in the 21st century developed world people in the main just aren’t interested in other people’s problems
“You have got to not just influence myself and my colleagues, but you have to influence a whole country, it has to be something that, when you walk into a (Cabinet) room, with the 19 votes, you can get 10 of them. And that is what is politics about. – Barnaby Joyce
On top of this Art4Agriculture’s Archibull Prize entry surveys consistently shows us year after year both teachers and students alike think more than 50% of the food we eat is imported. I am confident our teachers and students are excellent representation of the awareness of the Australian population with regards to where their food come from
Yes farming has done a poor job of showing Australians how much they rely on their farmers to feed them but that’s another story. We have all have choices, so farmers like everyone have to get on the front foot because nobody is forcing us to farm.
Chair of the inquiry, Dick Adams (Member for Lyons, Tasmania), on the importance of agricultural public policy to be more strategic in future with respect to assistance to farm businesses:
Putting our resources into black holes is not where the future is and not a good way to spend the public dollar. I think the Australian people would rather be assisting enterprises that have a business plan looking to the future; that will adapt to climate change and the issues that confront us in the next 20 to 30 years. We’ve also got to look at the opportunities at the enterprise level and look at where we’re going in a world sense. I think farmers will get left behind if they don’t adapt and look for opportunities. Dick Adams
This post is about farmers taking their destiny in their own hands and I want to hear from those farmers so I can share their story. Today my feature farmer is James Walker.
James with two of his daughters
I am lucky enough to know James. Young Farming Champion Bron Roberts and I enjoyed James company over dinner in Brisbane in December and what a dynamic, exciting and far sighted young man he is.
James is a Nuffield Scholar and Western Queensland mixed enterprise wool grower grazing 15,000 sheep at Longreach. You will find a great story on James and his farming operation here
James has even mixed it with royalty a number of times with he and his wife Manny among a group of four young families representing the next generation of graziers invited to meet the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall during the Longreach leg of their Australian visit in November 2012.
Yes and doesn’t Queensland remember 2012 well – the year of the floods. Sadly again Queensland farmers like many in NSW and Victoria are living through another nightmare weather event caused this time by not enough water, with Queensland having the hottest year on record in 2013
James Walker and his family far doing it very tough but he is not standing still. James and his wife Manny are using social media and the Agrihive website they have set up to help tackle the big challenges around farming including drought.
The Agrihive team commitment says it all
If you have a concern problem or opportunity in Agriculture, Agrihive does not sleep until we are on the other side of the concern, problem or opportunity.
Agrihive will move mountains to achieve business, lifestyle and agricultural goals.
Our team is committed, exposed heavily to Agriculture and will provide results.
James has fire in his belly and he is in it for the long haul. James is also a person who DOES care about other people and I can assure you when you read his story you will be just as impressed with this young man as everyone who meets him
This is the Agrihive story in James words…..
Many efforts have been made to fundraise and subsidise the farmers that are facing annihilation. The results of these efforts are limited and lack long term strategy for a weak and fading industry that is exposed to tactical policy changes that lack foresight and courage from our leaders.
Farming needs delivery of business strategies on ground right now that can help and this initiative aims at doing everything possible to deliver opportunities going forward. With no stock, no grass, no rain forecasted and no money in the bank it paints a very grim picture around the kitchen table at most farms around Australia.
We need a revolution in Agriculture, we need to enable farmers to navigate and recover from this complex situation. We need high levels of information that is not rhetoric and long winded, we need result focussed information right now to help us. We do need to accumulate suggestions for long term policy but we need to create opportunities now before another farmer quits our system. That is why we have created Agrihive.
Agrihive is a site that requires you to join, provide real ideas, concepts and results for right now, which will be delivered to the farmers. It honours the resilience of the farming community in desperate unchartered times. As famers we want to take control of the situation.
We want to dust ourselves off and continue being the best producers of food in the World and contribute to the Australian Economy. We are not whinging we are just searching for answers and we are becoming desperate for them. which is best achieved through training, awareness and interaction.
As an example the first instalment of Agrihive is to provide a free 25 minute audio you can access by clicking here. The file contains interviews with three experts in the fields of marketing and feed and fodder analysis.
Farmers will learn what other leading producers have learnt;
How to buy fodder like a professional
The 3 key measurements for effective feeding
How to compare different fodder costs
2014 Cattle market expectations from a marketing expert
Agrihive will create new opportunities and levels of thinking; revealing new options.
There have only been 500 free CDs recorded so please act now and feel free to pass this message on to your friends and contacts as they may get something good out of Agrihive as it is committed to a better future in Farming.
Lets not forget people are doing it tough and everybody needs a hand from time to time. This is a great organization doing just that and all Australians can lend a helping hand by supporting them. Visit their websitehere
UK dairy farmer and Nuffield Scholar Joe Delves at the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium in Kiama
Over the years I have been on lots of dairy industry conference committees and I must admit I often found this a very frustrating exercise. VERY FRUSTRATING
Why you ask?
Well in today’s world if you genuinely want to farm for the long haul you have to get everything right. By everything right I mean farms in the 21st century have to be socially acceptable, environmentally friendly as well as financially rewarding.
Up until the Dairy Research Symposium conference in Kiama last week the dairy industry totally shied away from discussions about relationships with their value chain partners and customers. Dairy farmers it seemed (or so previous conference committee members I had worked with thought) didn’t want to listen to anybody talk about anything beyond the farm gate. It was cows,cows,cows.
So to hear the Chairman of Dairy Australia get up at the dinner and say he and the CEO of Dairy Australia thought the conference was the best conference they had ever attended and the reason why was in particular the social content of the program made my heart sing.
One of the speaker highlights was UK Farmer and Nuffield scholar Joe Delves who farms in the south east of England.
I had the pleasure of hosting Joe for a day when he was in OZ in early January. Joe is all personality and his presentation truly resonated with everyone in the room
Lets have a look at some of the insightful things Joe had to say
The biggest thing that influences my life is my attitude to myself and my dairy business. Unknowingly I have built the business around my values
Joe on values
On goal setting
On being honest about yourself
On value chain thinking
On being business focussed
On being business focused
On Consumer relations
Appealing to your customer is not as simple as you think and just what are we trying to achieve?
Appreciate what you have in your own backyard
Attitude is everything
On self reflection
You can listen to Joe talk to Radio National Reporter Sarina Locke here
There is that old saying that says ‘Nobody on their death bed wished they had made more money’ and everyone would be very happy for somewhere on their gravestone to say ‘Made a Difference’
Each day I find there are more and more young people in agriculture who want to scream from the highest hill that they are proud of being part of the team and that feeds and clothes us
I recently received this email from a very committed young lady who wanted to enrol her city school in the Archibull Prize so they could use their art to share the story about the important role our farmers play
My name is Emma Williams, and I am in my final year at Loreto Kirrbilli.
Emma Williams a city girl who values the country and wants to tell its story
As a student living in the city during the term and country during the holidays I see both ‘values’ of my generation.
Essentially, before I leave Loreto (very soon) I would like to set the foundations, or even start a program that allowed girls from the city, who have little opportunity to experience firsthand and understand the value of our farmers that can only come from providing a direct connection between producers and consumers.
Emma received 3rd place in the state wide Brock Rowe Senior Geography Competition for her project ‘To investigate the effects of mining and coal seam gas extraction on Strategic Agricultural Land essential for food production and injurious effects on rural towns and communities in the Liverpool Plains’
This is something I am very passionate about. I am a huge fan of your ‘Archibull’ program – but acknowledge that this year is well and truly underway – however, I feel I must act now if I want to start the journey and build this connection and understanding at Loreto, as I am only one of a few girls with a passion for the agriculture industry.
So basically, I am asking if you had an option, to partake in a ‘mini’ or ‘condensed’ or ‘revised’ Archibull program specifically for Loreto – I completely acknowledge that your resources and time are taken up with the current program that advises numerous schools and I would be willing to find a mentor/industry role model to participate –
I believe the idea of combining the ‘art’ and ‘agriculture’ and the idea of the ‘bull’ is a perfect fit for our extremely creative school.
Again, I completely appreciate your current program is underway and would appreciate if nothing else, your opinion or idea on how to create greater knowledge and mutual understanding and instil more respect in the consumer/ producer relationship. Emma Williams
‘It is absolutely beyond my wildest dreams to communicate with young farmers (of their nature) and have been so fortunate to be in brief contact with Richie Quigley – not having met him, but being mentored towards the most appropriate university degree for me next year – his input has been invaluable.’
As it turned out the teachers and the students at Loreto where very open to the idea of a ‘late start’ to the Archibull Prize program but in the end felt they could not do it justice in such a short space of time but they have put their names down for next year.
Emma has also built up a huge network of Agvocates on social media and sent congratulatory emails and tweets to many of the people she is seeing who are making a difference to the way people see farmers in Australia and inspiring her to do the same. So I asked Emma to share with me why as a ‘city’ girl she felt this way
Not surprisingly just like another Young Farming Champion Bronwyn Roberts, who is also inspiring next gen, Emma was inspired by her grandfather
This is Emma’s story ………………….
I have an awesome relationship with my grandparents who live on the family property in Tamworth, and I hope to be the 5th generation to farm there. My grandfather is my biggest influence.
Emma with her grandfather Eric Rowe
Every holiday, with my mum and sister we travel to Tamworth, to immerse ourselves for a few weeks in the way of life I like to call ‘home’.
Emma checking the cattle at sunset
To cut a long story short, my grandfather’s prominence in the cattle and stock and station industry, contacts I have made and lifestyle I have for so long desired but only observed have led me to the Agriculture career path I am hoping to embark on next year.
Never being allowed to do hard labour because I am the ‘girl’
This admittedly hasn’t been easy, and I still choose it ironically with so much desire yet so much doubt.
Most significantly the deterioration of my grandfather’s mental health is underpinning my decision . Still so so so alert, and with a work ethic like no other, his potential in the industry is still exponential, yet there seem so many barriers and red and green tape for him to surmount it has finally beaten him to the ground.
I now see a man, who has no faith in the potential of Agriculture in Australia, and compares the good ‘old days’ to the declining ‘current years’. This no doubt, is incidental, and with my ability to travel up more often next year, and put some youthful input into the business I hope I will be able to breathe some life back into this once proud man.
Perhaps the reality of the past few years in the industry Australia wide has created my biggest doubt. Living in the city where so few value their farmers and would have no idea where the clothes on their back came from and think that life lessons come in the form of wealth makes it difficult to stay passionate.
The demise of the Live Export industry, effects of the drought, and Government notion ‘out of sight out of mind’ have really affected me, not to mention my school work, no time for it. The more I read the more I cannot understand the lack of empathy and massive disconnect between the people who produce the food and the people who enjoy it
I have tried to educate myself on the issues, so that I can share the realities of what I have learnt with others, but to be honest they have no concept that anything beyond the city surrounds impacts on them, and if $1 milk means less expensive, then stuff the farmers.
It really is hard to comprehend the misinformation, and scare tactics that are being fed to cities like Sydney. I am in constant despair at the comments I hear every day and even more concerning is the complete lack of communication on the nightly news about the issues that really impact of on this great country.
Excitingly I am finding through social media networks people are starting to listen, and although people may think their influence is minor, it is those rural advocates’ Facebook pages, blogs, tweets, emails and comments that have opened my eyes to the great opportunity a life in agriculture can offer me. My desire is stronger than ever, to right these wrongs and become involved in an industry that deserves acknowledgment.
I am more than ready to start laying the foundations to the rest of my life, and can’t wait to be an influence on the younger generations, and follow in the footsteps of those forging a new and bright future for young people in agriculture …………
One can never overestimate the power of feedback like this from Emma. Our Young Farming Champions have a closed Facebook page on which they share the highlights of their YFC journey and they all receive similar feedback to that Emma gave Richie.
Being a part of a successful project team is a very powerful way of encouraging young people and I have watched them all develop invaluable confidence and leadership skills and take other roles of responsibility within their own and the wider community.
On behalf of of the Young Farming Champions and rural agvocates everywhere I thank you Emma for sharing your story
Eighteen months ago a dedicated group of passionate rural people created the Facebook page Ask an Aussie Farmer which has been very widely embraced by both urban and rural communities. I have personally witnessed the commitment of the team as 3 of them are Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions
This question to the team on dairy cows and music caught my eye this morning
I know a number of scientific studies have been done in this area and had previously read this article Music to my ears by US vet Anna O’Brien and enjoyed it so thought I would share it with you this morning. (BTW I personally have no problem with country music)
Edette Gagné, music director and conductor of the Coast Symphony Orchestra, leads a quartet of classically trained musicians in a performance of Mozart numbers for dairy cows at the Valedoorn Dairy Farm in Agassiz, B.C. See footnote
Music to My Ears by Dr Anna O’Brien
I have a confession to make: I don’t like country music. In fact, I can’t stand country music. This is relevant because a vast majority of the farms I visit play this type of music incessantly. I’ve noticed that most barn radios are connected to the lighting system, so whenever the lights are on, Garth or Reba is pouring his/her heart out, much to my displeasure. Most dairy farms have electricity running in the milking parlour around the clock, so even when the lights are off and it’s not milking time, the sad, sad tales of lost girlfriends, the drinking blues, and the good ol’ days fill the otherwise quiet aisles.
One special exception to this rule is a particular dairy client of mine. A grazing dairy with mostly Holsteins and Holstein-crosses, where the cows are on pasture all year and not fed corn or other concentrated, high carbohydrate grains, this operation plays classical music. And it’s music to my ears.
I find it extremely relaxing to stroll into this dairy, no matter if it is to pregnancy check their cows or repair a prolapsed uterus. Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms are there to greet me and help out when a particular cow is ornery or a calving just isn’t going well. When asked why they opt to play classical rather than the seemingly standard country music, the dairy farmers just shrug and say they just like classical music better. Me too.
Interestingly, it appears cows may have musical preferences as well. Studies have shown that musical selections have an impact on cow behavior in the milking parlour. One study conducted in 1996 assessed the impact of music on cows’ behavior in a dairy with an automated milking system (AMS), in which the cows herd themselves to the milking machines. This study showed that when music was played specifically during the milking period for a period of a few months, more cows showed up to the AMS than when music wasn’t played at all. In other words, music encouraged more cows to be ready to milk than no music. The abstract of this study does not mention what type of music was played and in my mind, indicates behavior similar to Pavlov’s famous dogs that were trained to salivate at the ring of a bell. These cows associated music with milking and this influenced their physiology.
Even more interesting is a study done in 2001 that showed the tempo of music affects milk production in dairy cows. In this study, slow tempo music, like Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, increased milk production by 3 percent. In contrast, harsher, faster music had no effect on milk production. The theory behind this physiologic response is that faster music increases the cow’s stress level, and increased stress has been repeatedly shown to negatively impact milk production. Other studies have shown that yelling at cows and aggressive herding dogs decrease milk production.
Although this study did not show a decrease in milk production due to fast music, the increase in milk with slower music is significant in my mind. A 3 percent increase in milk over a year is an easy financial gain for the dairy farm — no investment needed, just change your radio station to “easy listening” or “smooth jazz.”
Admittedly, this study didn’t prove that overall, country music is bad for cows, but it does suggest that fast country music is bad for cows. Perhaps I should simply recommend soothing ocean waves or a soundtrack of the pitter-patter of raindrops in the Amazon to all my dairy clients?
Dr. Anna O’Brien
Footnote: The Music Makes More Milk contest, invites members of the public to compose songs for cows in order to naturally increase milk production. According to the association, it is a common observation among dairy farmers that cows respond positively to music. The winning contestant will receive a trip for four to the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. (BC Dairy Association)
Almost weekly I watch with interest an essential Australian industry losing credibility through its own actions. These include degrading its power base to being not only ineffective but counterproductive; ongoing non-compliance to consumer/voter expectation that causes massive disruption to their own business and the unintentional attack on the largest and most influential unofficial lobby group buying their products, the city consumer/voter.
This is the wider agriculture sector I observe. I appreciate dairy is heavily regulated and, by enlarge, complies. Unfortunately however the city consumer/voter lumps all farmers together.
I was raised by a builder in Gippsland and for many years our lives were affected by the fortunes of farmers. My old man would follow the wool price and if they were high he could count on some new sheds to build and if there was a drought or prices fell, we went from eating roast to mince. This developed true empathy for the ag sector, reconnected in the last few years with meeting my partner who works across most of the ag sector.
My path was 30 years in the oil and gas sector that culminated in co-founding engineering and design company Plexal Group. In 10 years we expanded from our head office in Perth to Brisbane, Thailand and Bangladesh, with a workforce nearing 200 and servicing majors such as Chevron and Woodside. At the beginning of this year a multi-national acquired the company and I no longer work in the industry. The views I share are mine alone and in no way do I represent Plexal Group.
In those 10 years we had our share of droughts and floods. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) wiped out years of earnings; the flood in Queensland saw our office shut for weeks; floods in Bangkok virtually shut down our operation for two months and the Bangkok airport was taken over by protestors, isolating us for several weeks. We never received an ounce of financial support or direct bail-out.
Nor was this the case for the 30,000 small, privately owned and often family-run businesses that went under during the GFC. Reportedly the rate of small business collapses is 12% higher today than during the GFC and rarely talked of in the media. Their cries for a bail out don’t make the light of day.
During my time in the resource sector I witnessed significant growth and with it their power and influence. They understand their power base and how to use it effectively. They have adapted to the expectation demands of consumer voters far quicker than ag in the last 3-4 decades and do consumer compliance exceptionally well. This has helped grease the wheels for approvals, influenced legislation and enabled them to continue even after a major non-compliance.
It seems to me that the ag sector has the biggest stick of all in terms of power and influence over government policy – it provides 93% of all our food. History will tell us repeatedly that anarchy is only an empty belly away. In no way do I advocate blocking of supply as it is a form of blackmail. Nonetheless it is a massive stick and one I see thrown away or broken into pieces time and again by the owners of it.
Last week I watched in amazement as the WA Farmers Federation and the WA branch of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association very publicly disagreed with each other over whether the WA wheat growers should get another finance assist package or not. Divide and conquer is 101 ‘art of war’. But one you are meant to inflict on your enemy, not yourself.
Behind closed doors government members must shake their heads in bemusement and largely ignore because they are handed this gift. Then for a moment put yourself in the shoes of 70% of the nation’s voters, living in our cities. They see farmer against farmer squabbling over a finance assist package that their tax dollar is paying for…meanwhile their job is under threat if they happen to work for an east coast government or a small business. It doesn’t feel like winning hearts and minds.
And then this week my lounge is filled with sad and terrible images of mistreatment of Australian cattle in an Egyptian abattoir. Yet another non-compliance with immediate and crippling affects on the industry. I admire the swift response by the ag sector with the self-imposed ban however the NGO produced footage it is another step closer to the cliff of total abandonment of this important industry.
Self-regulation often presents internal conflict with trying to justify the endless compliance cost. It can be hard to swallow the expenditure when more pressing issues of commodity prices, falling equity, exchange rate all threaten viability. However non-compliance to regulations or, worse still, betraying consumer/voter expectation, inflicts costs that make the alternative pale to insignificance. Although the live export industry is making significant inroads to detecting and rectifying the non-compliances, it is a process than needs to be better regulated. It is fantastic to see the industry come so far and improve animal treatment in places outside of Australia. I just hope they can find the improvements to limit opportunities for NGOs to brand the whole effort as a failure before it is too late.
Unfortunately the city voter is largely disconnected from the real issues and efforts of farming groups. Compliance is not just about legislated regulations, the ag sector must always strive to hold the high ground in the eyes of voter sentiment. If the city consumer feels trust has been breached they will happily bite the hand that feeds them. ‘Consumer Expectation Compliance’ is not optional, get on board or be forced out by new and more onerous legislation.
As a CEO and then chairman I had one not negotiable policy – never, ever publicly criticise your client. Of course we had robust negotiations behind the scenes but there is nothing to gain through public spats other than alienation with the client and their customer – the public consumer/voter. We actually sang the praises of our clients in the press and I wish to point out that for 25 years there was a monopoly in the Australian Liquid Natural Gas sector.
On almost a weekly basis I can find examples of farmers and their lobby groups publicly flogging Coles and Woolies. For example I watch the milk price fight with Coles in complete bewilderment. Put yourself in the lounge of a city voter – 70% of our nation – most with a small asset and struggling to meet the mortgage payments, compared to their perception of farmers being wealthy. A ‘hectare’ in the city costs $10,000,000 if you consider an average home of $500,000 on 500m2 block. In their lounge they see the dairy farmer being interviewed lamenting how hard they are doing with hundreds of hectares of prime land in the background and discard the cry of going broke. I realise this is not reality but it is all about perception.
The government health department and health groups advertising campaigns stress you must eat a balanced diet of fresh produce. So you’ve just bought some nutritious milk for $1/litre over a bottle of coke at $2.25/litre for your kids. Coles have told you they are have provided that great personal achievement cheaper. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself. You don’t care how it has come cheaper, after all we’ve all been conditioned to expect cheaper goods for the last three decades and it has become our right not a gift.
Then they see farmers attacking Coles and that they are sending them broke.
City employees rarely understand the daily struggle of the very business that pays their mortgage let alone a farm business. So every time farmers attack Coles, they are attacking the most influential lobby group that all political parties jump to – the city consumer/voter. This does not feel like a winning strategy.
Even though the resource sector is selling all their product overseas they know they must have the heart and minds of the city voter. Next time look a little closer at the “We Agree” campaign Chevron is running. It is all about winning empathy of the Australian voter – to ensure they support their developments rather than calling for them to be stopped or shutdown. Perhaps the ag sector can learn from the resource sector?
Footnote. Steve Jones will be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Dairy Research Foundation Symposium in Kiama on 3rd July 2013
We have given Steve the brief
RETHINKING THE POWER OF AGRICULTURE: The mining and energy sectors are clashing with NSW agriculture over land use – to an extent where one could be excused for thinking that agriculture has little power or influence when it comes to mounting its case. Steve Jones is an oil and gas industry stalwart and former chairman of oil and gas engineering company Plexal Group. Steve is in a unique position to observe the missed lobbying opportunities for agriculture and believes ag has a ‘big stick’ – it just doesn’t know how to use it! This is a powerful presentation that will force some out of the square agricultural thinking.
More information of the Symposium can be found here
Art4Agriculutre Young Eco Champions (right) with some of our Young Farming Champions and members of the Art4Agriculture network
We were very excited to have the opportunity to pair Rachel Walker with Bundanon Trust.
Rachel’s shares this wonderful opportunity with you today through her guest blog post …
Bringing Arthur Boyd’s vision to life – by Rachel Walker
As a Young person with a love for Australia’s wonderful landscapes and a deep respect of how scarce our natural resources are and the opportunity that young people have to pay an active role in protecting and enhancing them
Rachel left participating in a Face to Camera to camera workshop at a recent Young Farming Champions/Young Eco Champions workshop
I also believe that Australia can play an integral role on a global scale by setting good examples in the management of our scarce resources.
I have learnt that the majority of the Australian landscape and its resources, are managed by our farmers, and much of that includes privately owned areas of native bushland. Hence our farmers also have a very important environmental role to play
As a Young Eco Champion, I have been able to spend some time with the Bundanon Trust in the Shoalhaven. The trust has the unique challenge of rehabilitating and maintaining a large area of native bushland as part of Arthur Boyd’s gift to the Australian people.
The 1,100 ha of river front land was generously left to the people of Australia in 1993, by renowned Australian artist, Arthur Boyd, and featured in much of his artwork. Since the gift the properties have been under the care of the Bundanon Trust, which has preserved the natural and cultural heritage, and developed a fantastic artistic educational experience that is adaptable and applicable to all levels of knowledge. It hosts school children year-round, as well as artists in residence
The Riversdale Property regularly hosts workshops for young people
As well as guests from all over the world who see views to die for
and enjoy fine Shoalhaven Produce prepared by local chefs
Including local wines
And beef grazed on the property
On Friday I was fortunate enough to be taken on a personal tour of the four properties that together form the Bundanon Trust. A stipulation of the bequest was that Bundanon was to always remain a working property in some capacity, and to be accessible to the people of Australia. Today the properties have reduced their beef cattle production in favour of restoring native forest, a tribute to the inspiration in many of Arthur Boyd’s artworks.
Arthur Boyd, Peter’s fish and crucifixion, 1993 Copyright Bundanon Trust Reproduced with permission of Bundanon Trust 1993
During my visit to Bundanon, Riversdale and Eearie Park it became apparent to me what a fantastic job the Bundanon Trust has done in caring for and managing this magnificent resource combining farm, education and culture, and also what an enormous responsibility they have for the environmental management of the properties for the people of Australia. This is particularly so given the length of Shoalhaven riparian zone (boundary between the land and river) that the properties border.
My ever-enthusiastic guide and Bundanon’s education manager, Mary Preece, has been utilising her photographic skills to catalogue the diverse plants species present across the properties, in order to contribute to the understanding of the biodiversity across the 11 vegetation communities in the landscape.
Mary Preece Bundanon’s Education Manager works with local school students at Riversdale
However the management of 1,100 ha of diverse, native landscape has its challenges, and the Bundanon Trust is using theirs as an opportunity to learn and educate others by setting a great example of natural resource management.
Mary Preece is photographing and cataloguing the diverse plant species on Bundanon in order to contribute to the understanding of the biodiversity across the 11 vegetation communities in the landscape.
One of the most apparent ongoing battles that the Bundanon landscape faces is the infestation of Lantana, particularly along the 15km riparian zone.
Pulpit Rock viewed from Bundanon Property
.As luck would have it, Bundanon’s caretaker Gary, who is also the longest serving resident of the properties, was happy to take me up to a place called Haunted Point, where the battle against invasive Lantana has been ongoing for a few years, and threatens the properties’ biodiversity and ecosystem health.
This aggressive weed has been removed from the properties once before, and so there is a strong push to remove it again – this time for good! Landcare Australia, Greening Australia and the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority are partnering with the Bundanon Trust to orchestrate the enormous task of removing Lantana from all the properties. Even from my brief tour around Haunted Point, the difference between cleared and uncleared areas was incredible! The cleared areas looked unburdened in contrast to the dense weed that seemed to be choking the understorey of the uncleared zones.
This task is expected to take 3 years and to be completed by 2015. The removal of Lantana however is not a once off job, and will require constant management once the initial removal is complete, to prevent reinvasion. With so many knowledgeable people on hand, and the enthusiasm of the people that I met on my trip to Bundanon, I’m sure it is a labour of love that will lead to the eradication of this weed and the rehabilitation of the region. I am looking forward to seeing the progress as it continues.
As we drove down the rocky road away from Haunted Point, we were able to identify a variety of vegetation that is inherent to the Shoalhaven region – red cedars for which the area was first colonised, figs, gums, banksia’s and bush lemons were all found along the way, not mention some petrified wood from a rock that had recently been split in half by a falling tree!
Another environmental issue that Bundanon faces is the threat of bank erosion, which is unfortunately exacerbated by the removal vegetation (yes, even lantana) from the riparian zone. The property has taken many steps forward in reducing the impact of their practices on the riparian zone, by fencing off livestock and reinforcing vulnerable areas with local rocks to slow erosion rates. The awareness of such issues and the dedication of the Trust towards developing management strategies not only benefits the local region, but by sharing these experiences with visitors and students as part of the educational experience, Bundanon sets a great example of achievable goals, and such knowledge is passed on to the public where is has no boundaries!
To add a great end to a fantastic day, I was shown around the sandstone homestead of the Boyd family, completed in 1866. Walking through the homestead was quite a personal and unique experience, with no ropes or barricades to keep you from getting a close up look at the displayed art collection, which includes artworks from Arthur’s childhood and throughout his life, and from all members of the family.
Arthur Boyd’s studio at Bundanon
My favourite things were that children were allowed to play the family’s grand piano, and that the studio light switches were still covered in paint!
Bundanon Trust is in a unique position where they have the opportunity to involve the public and educate students on the impacts that they are having through their natural resource management choices. It was a great day in the Shoalhaven, and a a great example of how the team are integrating the exploration of the artistic heritage of Arthur Boyd and his family with response to landscape and immersion in the natural environment.
Riversdale – Spectacular scenery teamed with an award winning building designed by Glenn Murcutt in association with Wendy Lewin and Reg Lark
In September last year I had the opportunity to sit on a panel at the Bundanon Siteworks event FUTURE FOOD FEAST A DAY OF TALKING, EATING & DOING. See pervious post here
The Panel: LtoR Gretel Killeen, Lynne Strong, Jared Ingersoll, Mike McCallum, Jodie Newcombe, John Crawford and Ingrid Just.
Fellow panellist Michael McAllum believes our current food system is driving a slow form of mass suicide and he kindly consented to share his thoughts on the conversation about Food Futures with you.
One of the best ways to understand another society or culture is through the ways it produces and consumes food. It offers us a first glimpse into ritual, values and custom. In one way it is a mirror of what has been and what might be. This insight or reflection is as true for us as any one else. So when we think about how we produce, sell and consume food; do we like what we see in the mirror?
Shrimp on the barbie or fast food couch potatoes?
For many of us the current images are disturbing. Producers seem to struggle to realise decent returns for their efforts, food processors are giving up on rural Australia and moving off shore, the sales process both internally and internationally is in the control of a powerful few and our consumer waistlines have expanded to unhealthy proportions. All of this has been built on a system that relied on cheap oil (except it isn’t anymore), seemingly endless fresh water (now limited), and fertile soils (predicted to largely disappear globally by 2060!).
If all of this is true, then its time to change and the change must be substantive, especially given the rising demand for food in the next few decades. Simply tinkering at the margins will not be sufficient nor will reliance on ‘business as usual.’ This scale of the change required cannot be determined just by letting the market decide as the oligarchies (rule by the few) that dominate our current system have no intention of acting in any way other than their own self interest. Nor should we expect them to. The failure of the current green paper for a National Food Plan in my view fails to even begin to address the scope of change required.
Leaving that aside, outlined below are five points that might be worthy of debate and conversation around the kitchen table – if such rituals still exist!
1. Its time to move beyond trade liberalisation and the green revolution. It is clear that there are now many aspects of our current system that are near, or at, limits. For instance some suggest that if the world demand for protein continues on its current course, 2/3rds of the worlds grain will be required to feed livestock by 2020. Really!! All of this of course must be understood within the context that global grain storage is at historic lows. As food becomes more expensive most nations will naturally regard food security as a sovereign risk and will act accordingly. Just like the Doha round on free trade, the reality is that the technology based ‘green revolution’ has run out of steam and globally production has largely been static or declining in the last few years.
2. Restorative agriculture – production at no cost to the planet. In this future world, success and long term prosperity will come from systems (restorative agriculture) where production is achieved without heavy reliance on oil based fertilisers, overuse of water systems or continually mining of soils. Many of these systems operate on a resilience approach that requires production diversity rather than an obsession with large scale monoculture. If the humans of 2050 are to have any chance of feeding themselves then no longer can we compromise production systems at their expense. Sadly, except in a few isolated cases, Australia seems to be quite a long way behind in understanding and embracing the body of practice evident elsewhere that proves such systems do work.
3. Eating is an agricultural act – a consumer revolution is required. Our current food system is driving a slow form of mass suicide. Type 2 diabetes and other problems of overweight are both endemic and overwhelming. The only hope is that a new way of thinking, a new philosophy, might emerge to counteract that. This will undoubtedly contain a view that less is more, meat must be only occasional, taste is more important than visual perfection and that an addiction to salt and sugar is something to be cured. As this philosophy takes hold the entire food system that has driven it will need to be reprogrammed. The likelihood that food costs will shift from historically low cost to something approaching 40% of household budgets may well hasten that process.
4. A future that is diverse and distributed not centralised and mechanistic. The structures and systems that were developed in the last 100 years (large mechanistic, centralised entities), were created because the cost of managing and transferring information in any other way was simply too high. Now this is not true. Already we are seeing the emergence of distributed networks that have faster knowledge flows, lower transaction costs and more raid rates of adaptation than conventional entities. These new networks are creating new distribution systems that are not only designed from the customer backwards but they also have the ability to outperform the economies of scale systems designed on a standardised and specialised model. Think how online shopping is hollowing out traditional retailing to get the point. These new ways to market represent a real opportunity for rural communities to rebuild the community fabric that once made them strong.
5. Overthrowing the $1/litre for milk genie. Paradoxically as our society begins to treat food as more that just an economic good for sale and exchange, as farmers realise that there is life beyond the farm gate and that it is their business where what they produce goes, profitability and prosperity will be returned to the system. In our current model the focus on ‘unit’ cost rather than ‘whole system’ cost drives and does not count unnecessary waste and penalises those that can least afford it. It reduces the entire system to some kind of anonymous factory based process devoid of dignity and the passion that is the essence of great food. Connection will be everything and any farmer using simple applications like iherd (iherd.com.au) will if not now, then very soon, be able to track exactly where every piece of their produce ends up anywhere on the globe.
The coming food renaissance.
While the challenges are substantive, all the technologies and proven case studies that show that a better way is possible already exist. What is required is a new will and a philosophy that properly respects the food we create. If we make the right choices and as food futures become central to the agenda of every society then finally agriculture and rural communities will offer young people – and those that are young at heart – an exciting value proposition with which to engage. This is truly a time for a food renaissance. It is not a time to have a crisis of imagination or to retreat to the sidelines in the vain hope that someone else will find the way.
The above notes are based on a conversation about food futures at the 2012 Bundanon Food Festival
As promised in an earlier post I am now delighted to share Vicki Jones’ presentation from the Naturally Resourceful Conference in Mitchell this month.
I am confident Vicki’s story will move you just as much as it did me
Hello my name is Vicki Jones……………………
Yes Jones one of the most common names in the phone book and I am married to a farmer, so I am Mrs Jones the farmer’s wife. I love what I do as a farmer’s wife and am very passionate about the land.
I suppose this came about at a very young age as I grew up on a cattle property on the western downs and even though I initially chose a different path, I have ended up just where I wanted to be. Lucky I guess or you could say well planned.
For the last couple of years as my involvement in the local land care group grew, I found myself volunteering to be the Chair of Mitchell & District Landcare. I did this because I believe in the foundations of land care and not only does it give us access to factors that affect our land scapes and environment it also allows us to be a part of a very important group of people who also have the same goals and love for their land.
For those of us who are fortunate to own a piece of this wonderful country, land care is a major part of our lives. Most of us get out of bed every morning with the intention to care for our land and to make it better for our future generation. We do this because we have too…. we are the ones with the money on the line, we can’t afford to get in wrong, we have to keep searching to make things better. It is easy for others who do not have any money on the line to have an opinion of what we as farmers need to do, or better still what not to do. However it is those of us that are the resourceful ones that are in the pilot seat of our future and chose this life because we can and it’s what we as people of this land do.
I will just give you a brief background. After leaving boarding school many years ago I went on to study dentistry and worked for Queensland Health on and off for 20 years having breaks for children and other pursuits. Dentistry is not all it’s cracked up to be as nobody likes you and it actually has the highest suicide rate of all professionals.
I did have a career, but as a wife and mother I always put my family first. For the first 10 years of our marriage we worked and lived on Bruce’s family dairy farm near Toowoomba and as seeming to be the theme of a couple of the speakers I heard yesterday, this was also not what it was cracked up to be.
Bruce had always wanted to have his own cattle property. It was his lifelong dream and as I had grown up on the land it soon became mine as well. After working on the family dairy farm for 15 years it became apparent that his dream was not going to happen unless he did it himself.
In one of a few heated discussions with Bruce’s parents, about our decision, we decided to walk away and make it on our own. Bruce’s dad told him that if he left the family farm to go west, that he would go broke.
So with these words from the man he admired most still ringing in his ears he packed up his young family and moved west. We bought all that we could afford, a small cattle property south west of Mitchell.
Just to give you an idea of the scale of how small. The surrounding properties and the regional average is about 20 – 60 thousand acres and we had purchased 2500 acres. So we don’t have a very big ship, but what we do have is our own boat and we can paddle it where ever we chose. And we chose to do the best with what we have. We could not buy this place and run it like both our fathers would have, because it was not big enough and it needed to pay for itself. If it was not profitable it just became and expensive place to live.
“Oolandilla Park” was the beginning of our dream. The only thing a bit tricky was that it only ran 80 head of cattle. The house had never been lived in, the fences / yards were all falling down and in terms of type of country, south of Mitchell was not a best street kind of suburb. As we found out from all of the comments from the locals. So we had some work to do. We were wondering what we can do to give us the biggest bang for our buck, as we realized that something had to change or our dream was not going to happen.
With the help of MDLA, Queensland Murray Darling Catchment & farmbis my husband and I were fortunate enough to be involved in a pilot study being participants in RCS’s Grazing For Profit School in early 2007. Sixteen local farming enterprises attended the course and up to 4 enterprises continued on the Graduate Link and Executive Link modules. We were privileged to have Terry McCosker as our facilitator. We took on this information with great enthusiasm and applied the grazing management principles immediately. This has since proven to not only change our business forever, but also our personal lives. It heightened our awareness of our environment and taught us to love our grasses just as much as our cows.
When we started to measure our ground cover & grasses in March 2007 we found that we had 23% ground cover and 5% desirable grasses.
We immediately changed our grazing management to include rotational grazing of livestock, fenced off dams and boundary fenced for feral goats and kangaroos. Don’t get me wrong we still have some kangaroo’s, we just now have a sustainable level. Before they were in plague proportions and not very healthy. The rotational grazing has allowed us to rest each paddock for 12 months of the year every year.
By changing our grazing management for only 2 years we had been able to increase our desired grasses by 1000% and the litter has improved by 350% giving us an overall ground cover now of 90%. While doing this we were also able to increase our livestock numbers by 325%.
After a while the wattle suckers and a few other species started to come up pretty thick and we became a bit concerned. We had neither the time nor the money to address them.
We left them alone and concentrated on what we did want and not want we did not want and that was grass. As we were monitoring our grass we discovered that the suckers were changing. A scale/moth/grub or something was getting into them and they were slowly dying. Where the woody weeds had been the grass was higher and thicker.
We also noticed that due to the higher stock density that the cattle were now changing their diet to include some of the woody weeds. Things were happening that we know not much about, but however were changing for the good.
During this time we have also been monitoring our microbial activity and water cycle. The microbial activity and fungi within our soils are becoming more evident and the water cycle is increasing positively. This has allowed us to have an increase, in usable rainfall. Rather than having water running away, we now have moisture retention with less rainfall.
We are always on the lookout for worms and what’s happening in the soil and until this year we had not found any live worms, but when we did we celebrated. These things are the life blood to our soils and if we can have an increase in cattle numbers and have worms popping up in the paddock then we must be doing something right.
Until a few weeks ago we did not know that this map existed. Our eldest son was doing an assignment at school and he found the map. As you can see it clearly shows what’s happening with the ground cover and the moisture retention.
Other things that we have done to increase our profitability have been courses such as
One of the courses that we have been attending for the past 4 years is the Livestock Movement course which introduces the working dog into the enterprise. We have learnt so much form these courses and implementing the strategies, has made such a difference to our bottom line that we have fallen in love with the working dog an now have our own registered stud “Dunyellan Working dogs” and have been training and breeding kelpies and collies for sale as a hobby. Like we needed something else to do.
So, the big question is, are we there yet, have we achieved our dream? Well not quite, with everything that we have implemented we are not quite viable, but are pretty close. We do realise that we need to have a larger scale, however with what we know now, we definitely know it’s not about how much land you own but what you can do with it.
Bruce and I have always built our lives on goals and trying to work out in what direction we need to go next, which is the most beneficial to our lives and our business. We know that it does not matter where you are today in this state of your lives or business because that is only a temporary indicator.
This conference is helping to provide the tools for you to take the clay of your life in your hands and mould it to your dreams. Just like moulding real clay, it’s not about the results but the process of the moulding that counts. Look and speak in the direction that you want to be and never look back.
Without these opportunities and courses we would not be where we are today. So, thank-you to MDLA and QMDC for allowing us to move our business forward.