Sustainability is a ‘hard to sell’

Here is a great article by Steve Spencer from Fresh Agenda that I am unashamedly reblogging

Getting the pitch right

Sustainability is a hard to sell – in spite of being important to consumers.

Socially and environmentally conscious attitudes are gaining ground – thanks to media campaigns for years around environmental sustainability. But corresponding purchases and behaviours are stagnating or even heading south.

The National Geographic’s Greendex 2014 survey on Consumer Choice and the Environment across 18 countries found that though the number of global consumers who say they are very concerned about the environment (61%) has increased since 2012, sustainable purchasing behaviour has actually decreased in key markets such as US, Germany, Japan, Canada, and China.

But why aren’t consumers putting their money where their sustainable aspirations are?

The answer lies somewhere in the gap between what consumers say they want and what they actually buy.

The Sustainable Lifestyles Frontier Group – established to confront this “value-action” gap – says the problem isn’t with consumer values but with the value offered by brands. Over the years, consumers have been cajoled, coerced, and guilt-tripped by marketers into doing the “right” thing for the higher purpose of sustainability, for planetary or collective benefits.

However for most sustainable products and behaviours, the hard question of “what’s in it for me?” is still largely unanswered – with the most important personal value proposition still missing. On a day to day basis, purchasing decisions are centred on an individual’s own priorities and the immediate needs of their family.

While values, ethics and beliefs are hugely important when making major life decisions but how decisive a role do they play when choosing shampoo.

Shoppers are most likely to be motivated to buy a sustainable product if they also see a personal benefit.

That benefit could be functional with the promise of value for money, performance, quality, and safety; demonstrating emotional, such as delivering an intangible hit of emotion; or social which helps make a statement about the shopper to the world.

Even tiny direct benefits could close the gap and lead to behaviour change – such as sustainable eating (with less pesticides or unhealthy food additives) can lead to weight loss, or natural body care products will smell nicer and are gentle for sensitive skin.

It may seem at odds with the sustainability mantra – surely doing the right thing by the planet and future generations should be enough to persuade people to change their purchases and other behaviours. However, the more pragmatic approach is to recognise that sustainable brands also need to deliver personal and immediate benefits – even if they’re small – to cut through.

A2 Milk snake oil merchants in the firing line

I am a bit a crusader and this week the snake oil phenomenon is on my radar.

Little bit of background

Every parent sweats the nine months their child is in the womb waiting for the moment the child is born and doctor says “we’ve got five fingers and five toes”

When that doesn’t happen parents tend to go into overdrive and investigate every piece of science and technology to provide the best possible life for their child. Sometimes their love takes them into the unproven science behind cure-alls.

When I was born I had five fingers and toes but about 6 months down the track it became clear that for me everything wasn’t clear, in fact my world was very blurry. On top of this there seemed to be some serious problems with my legs.

So my parents moved heaven and earth to get the best possible science and technology to fix their little girl and they (and me) in the main where rewarded for their efforts

But despite many, many operations, visits to doctors/specialists, eye patches etc. etc. their little girl would always wear glasses and that made them sad.


I think I was about 3 when this photo was taken. Pink dress, pink glasses, pink everything. No doubt about it if I had to wear glasses my mother always made sure I did it with style. Can you believe 50 years later those cats eye glasses are back in fashion.  

Wearing glasses in those days wasn’t trendy and every new (proven) thing that came along they made sure I was first in line to take every advantage. On hard contact lenses, soft contact lenses, throw away contact lenses a small fortune was spent but it wasn’t to be glasses became a fixture of my life for 5 plus decades.

But this has all changed. For the past 12 months my eyesight had been rapidly deteriorating, my eyes where really sore and I had permanent headaches. After spending 5 plus decades knowing what is was like to be blind by just taking my glasses off I was starting to get pretty frightened. Having spent my childhood in more hospitals that most people have been in their lifetime I tend to avoid hospitals and doctors like the plague. So I kept putting of the investigative procedures that would get to the bottom of my diminishing eyesight.

But sometimes when you bite the bullet it can lead to good news. I wasn’t going blind I had cataracts (though of course cataract can lead to blindness) Today modern technology means that people with cataracts can often get 20:20 vision. Though I am still finding it hard to believe my cataract operation has given me 20:20 vision in one eye and John and Robyn’s little girl doesn’t have to wear glasses anymore (beyond the “chemist glasses” – and yes I bought the cats eye frames – for reading)

Now when the specialist told me the result I cried with happiness and sadness. Sadness because Robyn died four years ago and she would never know. My mother and I never really got on but she would have been the first person I rang to tell this news because above all I knew she loved me very much and it would have made her the happiest person on the planet.

Now what does all this have to do with the snake oil phenomenon. Well my parents took the high road and followed science and science delivered for them.

This doesn’t always happen and in these cases parents often turn to the unproven and I for one am not going to judge them for that. Everybody who has had a child knows they become your life’s work.

But when I see websites like this The Food Intolerance Network that make claims that A2 milk is a cure-all for almost every evil under the sun, including apparently autism it makes me really cranky.

Now A2 milk is definitely trendy and sales are on the rise and if you happen to have cows with A2 DNA they definitely sell at a premium I can vouch for that.

But the evidence is all anecdotal yet this website quotes this study

There is a medical report of allergies managed by camel milk, which also contains a2 beta casein protein. In this study, eight children with severe food (mainly milk) allergies recovered fully from their allergies by drinking camel milk.

Mmh Camel milk, eight study participants I rest my case

I don’t have a problem with A2 milk per se. If I need to buy milk and A2 just happens to have the longest dating and I need milk with long dating I will buy it but that is the only reason.

Milk is good for you. There is no scientific evidence to say A2 is better than any other milk and its certainly no worse than other milks and I have no problem with it having a place in the supermarket fridge. But as a cure-all it is in the quackery aisle.

It’s time for the quacks and snake oil merchants to leave the room and lets all hope it doesn’t take 5 plus decades to find a genuine scientific positive outcome for autism because I have seen the pain first hand and it is just morally wrong to give people false hope

What the Checkout has to say

Kristen gives A2 milk a B minus for science

Meet Danila Marini a city kid who loves sheep and is doing some amazing research to enhance their welfare

I am a big fan of Meat and Livestock Australia’s Target 100 program concept.
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 initiative also has some great sustainability study guide resources for schools and I was fascinated by an animal welfare Target 100 research initiative for sheep that I came a cross reading Food for the Future which has just been released

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

You can imagine my excitement when I discovered that Young Farming Champion Jo Newton actually knew one of the researchers involved in this project  

Meet Danila Marini


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!

If you stuff up it pays to tell everyone

On farm field days are a great way for farmers to learn from other farmers. The successes and the stuff ups that farmers share are equally insightful.


Overview of research and down to the paddock to see it in action 


At the Lemon Grove Research Farm field day we hosted in July as part of the 2013 Dairy Research Foundation Symposium I bit the bullet and shared the “Wish we had the knowledge, skill sets, attention to systems detail and time to do x,y & z better – Clover Hill Dairies story”

What I particularly liked was that I also got the opportunity to identify farmers in our region who were systems focused and balancing all four to get great outcomes for their cows, their farms and their staff whilst keeping the bank manager happy.

One of the keys to profitability in the dairy industry is having milk in the vat in the quantity and quality you and your milk processor want it to be all year round.

Milk yield of a dairy cow depends on four main factors: (a) genetic ability; (b) feeding program; (c) herd management; and (d) health. A good dairy feeding program must consider the quantity fed, the suitability of the feed and how and when the feeds are offered.


Paying attention to herd nutrition in the 90 days prior to calving through lead feeding (aka transition feeding) can mean an extra $200 in milk production per cow.  But it’s not just about the dollars – an effective transition program also makes life less stressful for dairy farmers as well as making their cows’ lives safer and easier.

For smart farmers good herd management also means having your herd as “fresh” as possible. Now that doesn’t mean feeding your cows oysters, it means ensuring you have as many cows as possible in the herd at peak milk production. This means managing herd fertility well is paramount.

The top farmers in our region work with the team from Sydney University Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit.

The Livestock Veterinary Service operates commercial on farm personal herd health and treatment and consultancy services. Activities range from routine procedures such as pregnancy testing through to more complex project planning, clinical trials and disease investigation. A philosophy of the Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit is to promote application of science and technology to problem solving on the farm.

The Livestock Veterinary Service also provides veterinary students with an opportunity to get hands on experience working with livestock and post graduate veterinarians with an interest in livestock an opportunity to pursue specialty training.

Luke Ingenhoff Vet from Sydney UNI  testing  (5)

Dr Luke Ingenhoff  from the Livestock Veterinary Teaching and Research Unit preg testing cows at Clover Hill Dairies

I identified Phil and Craig Tate from Albion Park as the farmers I believed would share their story with the field day participants in an honest and open way that would resonate with other farmers like us who wished we were just a little better at it.

Craig Phil and Assoc Professor John House

Craig and Philip Tate with Assoc Professor John House tell their story at Lemon Grove Research Farm field day 

Philip and Craig outlined their reproductive system to delegates describing the ‘systematic
routine’ that they believe is the secret to their success.

When it comes to being successful in business, one must create systems. Systems provide a framework for your team to use. In order to create high-levels of efficiency you will need to constantly update your systems and be on the lookout for ways to improve your business’s way of operating. Creating systems will take time, but it will more than save you the time on the back-end.

‘‘The system is the solution.’’ — AT&T motto

BTW I had Craig and Phil’s presentation with Assoc Professor John House videoed so you can watch it too. See link below

So impressive was Phil and Craig’s presentation that Holstein Australia commissioned Lee-Ann Monks to write a story for their journal readers and guess who was invited to take the pictures. Well after all who else would do for nix (when oh when am I going to value my time?)

So off I went with my trusty Canon to Macquarie Holsteins, home of the Tate Family dairy and now the workplace for two of our former employees.

What a delight  are Craig and Phil, such great farmers yet so humble and so proud of their cows   


Craig and Phil making use of Smart Phone technology to keep good records

Easy Dairy IMG_5103

Good records in the dairy ensure everyone is in the loop. Knowledge is power

Communication is the true lifeblood of a successful organization – a high flow of information so everyone and everything is connected. Easy to say, hard to do.

1258 IMG_5083

The herd favourite 1258

Craig and Phil IMG_4932

Please note Craig took his helmet of for this stationery pix – trust me he does wear it when the bike is moving

Phil IMG_5060

Mutual respect between farmer and cow is very evident at the Tate Farm

Lousie MacMaster Calf Rearer IMG_5325

Louise Macmaster –  Phil and Craig’s calf rearer extraordinaire

and of course looking after the next generation requires team members who treat the calves under their care with as much love and attention as their children


and what of former Clover Hill team members John and Tim pictured below at our field day?


Tim (left) is now managing the farm across the hill and John is working at the Tate’s along with Louise. 

See and hear Craig and Phil Tate share their successful herd fertility management strategies with the farmers, students and researchers at the 2013 Dairy Research Foundation Field Day at Lemon Grove Research Farm here 


‘‘You must analyze your business as it is today, decide what it
must be like when you’ve finally got it just like you want it, and
then determine the gap between where you are and where you
need to be in order to make your dream a reality. That gap will
tell you exactly what needs to be done to create the business of
your dreams. And what you’ll discover when you look at your
business through your E-Myth eyes is that the gap is always
created by the absence of systems, the absence of a proprietary
way of doing business that successfully differentiates your
business from everyone else’s.’’
— Michael Gerber

How can we meet community expectations if we don’t know what they are

Following up on my post The real story about Animal Abuse I am in this space at the moment because I am on two industry peak body committees whose role is to set policy to help achieve the best outcomes for farm animal well-being in this country.   

Yogurt is made from happy heathly cows

The federal government Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) is currently in the process of working with stakeholders to develop Australian Standards and Guidelines for Welfare of Livestock

In this case the stakeholders are

  • government and non-government organisations
  • veterinary and community groups
  • animal industries
  • animal welfare groups, and
  • farmers and stock handlers

The development process has recently undergone an independent review by Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) and they have released their findings which can be found here

The Business Plan for the development of Australian Standards and Guidelines for
Welfare of Livestock states the following as the objective of the Standards and Guidelines:

… the national livestock welfare standards, with complementary
guidelines, provide welfare outcomes that meet community and
international expectations and reflect Australia’s position as a leader in
modern, sustainable and scientifically-based welfare practice

This objective includes a requirement for the Standards and Guidelines to meet
community expectations and what the review has found is there is currently a relatively low understanding, or agreement, on what these expectations are.

This gap according to PwC is apparently contributing greatly to the problems of conflicts within the process. Without a strong statement of objective, each party involved in the process has their own benchmark of what the Standards should be seeking to achieve – a common complaint from Animal Welfare organisations is that the Standards are not sufficiently ambitious and do not ‘raise the bar’. Conversely, industry supports the establishment of processes which reflect practicalities of agricultural business.

According to PwC and I couldn’t agree more that what is needed is greater articulation and consideration of the broader community expectations in this area, which are likely to be something of a balance between these two polarised viewpoints.

PwC go on to say this identified gap in understanding of community expectations should be addressed through focused social science research. Outcomes from this research can then be balanced with industry input and scientific knowledge on animal welfare matters.

Hooray to that I say.  For too long government and the food supply chain, that is farmers right through to retailers have been second guessing consumer images and perceptions of modern farming practices and getting bogged down by lunatic fringe highly vocal agenda driven campaigns

I am pleased to report Dr Heather Bray see previous post and the team at Adelaide University had received funding through the Australian Research Council to do this absolutely pivotal social research.

This ARC Linkage project LP 130100419 aims to

Porject Aims

and has the following specific objectives   


with the following outcomes

Research from Translation

Some of the previous ARC Discovery Projects have used focus groups to explore consumer understandings of ‘food ethics’ and they found for example that categories (such as organic) are defined in various ways, if values are taken as key drivers of purchasing patterns.

So although ‘organic’ for example has a scientific definition, some consumers associate it primarily with nutrition, some with purity/natural products, some with sustainability, and some with elitism.

Hence as the research teams have found it is critical not just to ask what they think, but why they think that (associated values)

At an industry level I would also like to applaud the Sheep Meat Council and Meat and Livestock Australia for developing A producer’s guide to sheep husbandry practices which provides information from a range of research and on-farm experience that will enhance animal welfare and potentially improve production outcomes.

As NSW RSPCA Chief Inspector David O’Shannessy recently shared 99% of animal welfare issues are caused by ignorance not malice and the key to change is to raise awareness of, and commit to best practice education. Just like the community (over 60% of animal welfare complaints relate to companion dogs and horses) farmers often have wide ranging views on what is acceptable best practice

The Sheep Meat Council and MLA are setting the perfect example for industry by leading the way through education. Its is my understanding that the dairy industry in Western Australia is also heading down a similar path and I am very keen to hear from other livestock industries who are also moving in this direction.

It is pivotal that farmers have these resources available for their use and adaptation, and utilize numbers from credible sources in order to show consumers and animal welfare groups the true side of farming today.

It is also imperative that we communicate our commitment to do it better and better and encourage our farmers to reach out to their networks in local communities – business associates, neighbours, and friends to share our knowledge and set the record straight about our industry, our work, our goals and commitments, our challenges and our successes.

Doesn’t this gorgeous picture of sheep being moved to ‘higher ground” during the NSW flood sum it all up. Farmers do love and care for their animals  


Great follow up blog by Milk Maid Marian One Woman’s Kindness is Another’s Cruelty

Tarantula venom believe it or not a new selective effective edible insecticide

Insecticide resistance is the quieter, lesser-known relative of antibiotic resistance. Anyone who has been to a hospital recently knows about antibiotic resistant bacteria. But how many people think about insecticide resistance when they spray their home garden with insecticides?

A research group has published the first directed-discovery research program for a new, environmentally-friendly insecticide from the venom of a native Australian tarantula.

Check out this scary video on milking Tarantula venom

On my recent visit to Narrabri I was lucky enough to join Sophie Davidson and the Cotton Young Farming Champions’ Richie Quigley, Ben Egan and Martin Murray on a tour of the Australian Cotton Research Institute

Our tour guide was Trudy Staines who is the Science Educational Officer Primary Industries Centre for Science Education (PICSE).


Trudy also undertakes research at the centre with her focus being identifying and management of Bt Cotton boll worm resistance

SIT plus transgenic cotton expressing the Bt transgene suppresses the growth of the pink bollworm population

Use of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) together with transgenic cotton expressing the Bt transgene suppresses the growth of the pink bollworm population and facilitates management of resistance to Bt toxin.

Pink bollworm feeds only on cotton bolls and does not damage other tissues.

(a) Sustainable use of Bt cotton to control pink bollworm populations is threatened by the emergence of resistance.

(b) Although costly, repeated release of sterile pink bollworm moths (red) in vast excess to the number of wild moths (brown) can suppress the growth of pink bollworm populations.

(c) Combined use of Bt cotton and SIT ensures that the release of fewer sterile moths can suppress the growth of pink bollworm populations while preventing the emergence of resistance to Bt toxin.


The development of insecticide resistance is a major limitation to successful
pest control in crop production in Australia. Resistance at the field level
results in reduced efficacy of insecticide applications, leading to increased spraying
and reduced chemical options. Insecticide resistance represents a significant economic
cost to growers particularly when more expensive chemistries and mixtures
become necessary for control. Increased spraying also represents an environmental
threat, and has social implications, particularly in areas close to towns.
The Australian cotton industry has been supporting insecticide resistance monitoring
and associated research for over 25 years in an effort to manage insecticide
use and maintain the efficacy of all available chemistries. Helicoverpa (boll worm) is also a major pest of grain and pulse crops

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Testing for Helicoverpa insecticide resistance at the ACRI, Narrabri.

The Young Farming Champions had fun testing their skills sexing boll worms. I was hopeless at it but Richie had obviously done this before and had picked the boys from the girls in no time

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Field collections of Helicoverpa eggs are reared in the laboratory and larvae are
tested with doses of insecticide that are known to kill susceptible insects. Survivors
are considered to be resistant. Eggs are collected from all available hosts including
sorghum, maize, chickpeas and other pulses, sunflowers and cotton. This data
is used to determine regional resistance frequencies to identify any changes in resistance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are many methods used to control insects to ensure high yields and good quality cotton is produced. Using a combination of these methods is known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a widely recognised best practice in agricultural insect control.

Some of the methods used to control insect pests include:

  • Encouraging beneficial insects into the crop, such as ladybirds, spiders, wasps and ants, to eat the pests
  • Regular monitoring of insect populations and crop damage
  • Use of transgenic cotton such as Bt cotton (Bollgard II) that is resistant to heliothis
  • Alternating pesticides to reduce the chance of pesticide resistance
  • Crop rotation to kill the Heliothis pupae living in the soil
  • Ploughing the field after harvesting to destroy the Heliothis pupae (pupae
  • busting)
  • Biological sprays containing viruses or the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that produces proteins toxic to heliothis
  • Management of crops to promote early maturity.
  • Keeping non-crop areas free from weeds, volunteer cotton and other crops

As an example this is the treatment of cotton stubble


Cotton Stubble 

 After picking the cotton is slashed to break up the quite woody plant. Because it is machine picked, there is some left over cotton on the ground. It looks a lot more than it is and it is not economic to pick up the last bits Once the cotton is slashed it is then mulched into the soil. This is done for 2 reasons.

Firstly to break the resistance cycle of insects. If an insect is resistant to the GM technology it will survive and climb down to the ground to pupate over the winter. In the summer it will fly out as a moth and then breed more resistant larvae. The soil is worked to incorporate the cotton trash and the breaking the cycle and any remote possibility that the insects may be resistant to the GM (or other) technologies.

The second reason  the cotton stubble is mulched back into the soil is to increase the organic matter.

A combination of all of these things has seen a reduction in insecticide use of 87% since 2003, with some cotton crops not sprayed at all these days.

Pest control is a major focus of the cotton industry’s environmental program called myBMP, which sets out the latest research and best practice guidelines for controlling insects.

The cotton industry very innovative as you can see and I learnt a lot and it. Thanks Trudy for showing us around


Successful Research Outcomes at Lemon Grove – Working with the best is good for people cows and the planet

For those of you interested in the lasted R&D&E happenings on NSW dairy farms I am highly confident you will enjoy this article

This video shares Dr Neil Moss’ full presentation on our pasture trials at the recent Sydney University Dairy Research Symposium. See full report (pages 21 to 39)  here 

Why we did the research at Lemon Grove

Surveys tell us 9 out of 10 farmers learn from other farmers and they want to see research that is relevant to them and their business i.e. they want to see the research working in their own backyard. They want to see research that we deliver a good return on investment in the shortest turnaround time

1st pix for Activity two

Lemon Grove Research Farm


To explore pastures that could potentially reduce Carbon footprint whilst improving productivity, profitability, and management (resilience)


To grow productive (quantity) and nutritious (quality) pasture that will be

  • Resilient through extremes of climate (floods and droughts)
  • Water and fertiliser efficient
  • Able to fill the feed gaps
  • Tolerant to captured dairy effluent irrigation

What we did

The trial was conducted at Lemon Grove Research Farm, located on the Minnamurra River floodplain just to the east of Jamberoo, NSW. Control and treatment paddocks were identified in December 2010 and soil tests were taken. One paddock was to be identified as the “trial/treatment” paddock and was to be prepared for the new pasture; the other “control” paddock was to be farmed as per the rest of the property, retaining its kikuyu base and being sown down to oats and Italian ryegrass in early autumn.

The trial paddock was sprayed with 6L/ha of Roundup Powermax (540 g/L glyphosate (present as the potassium salt)) on 17.2.2011. Pasture trash was mown and removed and the trial paddock sown down to 110kg/ha of Cooba oats on the 19.2.2011. A small area was topped up in early April following flooding in March. Grazing of the oats commenced shortly after and continued until the 5th of August when the paddock was sprayed again with 6L/ha of Roundup Powermax on 5.8.2011. The paddock was then direct drilled with a disc seed with the trial seed mix of:

  • 8.5kg/ha Stamina GT6 Lucerne
  • 4kg/ha Bulldog red clover
  • 1.5kg/ha Kopu II white clover
  • 1.5kg/ha Will ladino white clover
  • 2kg/ha Tonic Plantain
  • 2.5kg/ha Puna Chicory

The trial paddock was treated with 150ml/ha of Verdict (520g/L haloxyfop present as the haloxyfop-r-methyl ester) selective grass herbicide on the 20.2.2012 to control grass weeds. It was not over sown in the autumn of 2012.

c Treatment paddock of herbs and legumes (2)

Cows grazing the treatment paddock

The “control” paddock was sprayed with 200mls/ha of Roundup Power Max on the 1/3/2011 to suppress kikuyu growth and facilitate early planting of a mix of 35kg/ha of Feast II ryegrass and 60kg/ha of Cooba Oats. Grazing commenced 16th April 2011. It was resprayed with 225mls/ha of Roundup Powermax on the 16/42012 to suppress kikuyu prior to autumn planting with a similar mix

Neil Moss Ryegrass

Researcher Dr Neil Moss SBScibus in the control paddock of Ryegrass and Oats

Fertiliser was applied to both control and trial paddocks as deemed necessary by the farmer. This include urea, some mixed blended fertilisers and an application of liquid dairy effluent. Pastures were grazed only by the dairy herd and no fodder was conserved during the trial on the two plots. Pasture dry matter was estimated pre and post grazing using a C-Dax towable pasture metre and pasture yields determined. Yield data was validated using pasture cuts and estimation of dry matter during the trial. The nutritive value of the trial and control pastures were tested by NIR at Westons Laboratories, NSW.

Where we did it



Total yield for the first 12 months of trial, including oats, and control pasture was 16413 and 15310 kgs of DM/ha respectively. Total yields in the six months following removal of the oats were 8134 and 6407 kgs DM/ha respectively. Total 2 year yields from trial and control paddocks was 35365 and 25989 kgs of DM/ha respectively. Cumulative yield data is presented in Graph 1.

Graph 1: Two year cumulative yield data: herbs and legumes (Treatment) v’s kikuyu and ryegrass (control)


The  results blew us away

Two-year nitrogen application rates were 289kgs of N for the trial paddock in total and 85kgs of N after the oats and 726kg of N in total and 476kg of N per hectare after the oats in the trail paddock were removed. In the second year of the study, only 30kg per hectare of N was applied to the herb and legume paddock compared to 188kg of N per hectare in the control.

Feed quality data from two samplings in November and February are presented in Table 1

Table 1 Comparative feed quality of herb and legume pasture (treatment) vs. spring ryegrass (control test 1) and kikuyu (control test 2)

Components: Treatment Test 1: Control Test 1: Treatment Test 2: Control Test 2:
% NDF 30.7 46.3 30.4 51.4
% Crude Protein 32 24.1 33.1 27.5
% Ash 13.33 11.34 11.35 10.41
Lignin % NDF 12.4 3.9 16.8 5.6
% Calcium 1.23 0.58 1.37 0.53
% Phosphorus 0.45 0.42 0.45 0.43
% Magnesium 0.36 0.3 0.36 0.26
% Potassium 3.28 3.13 3.18 3.16
% ADF 23.6 26.3 23.1 26.7
% Lignin 3.8 1.8 5.1 2.9
% NFC 25.2 18.6 27.6 14.4
Relative Feed Value 214 138 217 123
ME (MJ/kg) 11.63 10.8 11.76 10.97
ME CPM (MJ/kg DM) 10.16 8.58

Fertiliser Efficiency Outcomes where excellent

The trial paddock proved very nitrogen use efficient and responded well to effluent reuse from the dairy (2)

Pasture trial proves to be good news for people,cows and the planet


  • Adverse climatic conditions with four major flood events and one very pronounced dry period during the trial certainly made for an interesting times and showed the trial pasture mix’s resilience to vagaries of the Australian  climate

Trial pastures were very resilient to adverse weather events events (2)

Trial pastures were very resilient to adverse weather events events (1)

Flood water pooled at the top end of the trial paddock however where the water was able to get away fairly quickly the pasture was very resilient to these extreme weather events

  • Accessing personnel in the region to do soil testing proved very difficult and we have been unable to have the final soil test undertaken at this point in time


This farm based trial has provided useful evidence of the potential for alternative pasture systems based on legumes and herbs on coastal dairies in NSW. The trial pastures have provided at least as much dry matter in the first year as the conventional system with the yield data in year 2 being substantially higher in the trial paddock. The trial pasture appears to have performed very well in the autumn of its 2nd year and did not suffer a planting lag as per the conventional system. It also appeared to continue growing very well off a one off significant rain event in October 2012 during what was a very dry spring and summer in the region.

Nitrogen inputs were significantly reduced in the trial compared to the conventional plots with potential here to reduce fertiliser costs as well as nitrous oxide emissions and exposure to volatile nitrogen pricing. Full soil test data is not available at the time of writing.

Feed quality at all times on the trial was excellent with the farmers reporting anecdotal improvements in milk production when grazing trial pastures, particularly between November and March.

Weeds have been troublesome including both broadleaf and summer grass weed invasion in summer of 2012-2013.

These pastures have significant potential for NSW grazing based dairy systems. There has been considerable success with similar systems on the mid north coast and inland areas, however, problems with both stem root nematode and water-logging have been encountered on some properties. Soil characteristics, particularly, potential for poor drainage, underlying weed burdens and regional pasture pathogens need to carefully considered, when selecting alternative pasture systems as part of a pasture “portfolio”. However, there is considerable flexibility within both pasture species and cultivars in the group of pasture species under investigation to further explore these systems on a region by region basis. Farmers and scientific organisations can successfully partner to produce useful field based research.

What we learnt

  • The power of the two way conversations – farmers and natural resource management personnel working side by side to understand each other’s challenges and constraints
  • The value of cross community partnerships to improve NRM and sustainable farming outcomes and improve skills, knowledge, attitudes, and innovations,
  • That investment in people and on the ground activities that bring them together is critical for long term sustainability, fostering continuous improvement and creating opportunities to learn and grow together.
  • That communication is more than just sending information. It is a two-way process which creates demand for information delivery, is responsive to audience needs, and provides content in a way which is timely, relevant and understandable to target audiences.

Where to from here

Adoption of research, innovation and practices are critical to attaining long term goals

  • 9 out of 10 farmers learn directly from other farmers or through appropriate delivery of extension based on in field experience of other farmers in familiar and recognisable farming situations.
  • Farmers want to be able to ask questions in an non threating environment but need highly skilled facilitators who understand both the technical aspects of what they are presenting as well as the people they are working with
  • This project has produced extremely valuable and measurable results that have important and deliverable environmental and economic benefits for farmers. There is a need funding for extension projects that capture this research and other alternate forage system research. This could be delivered through regional farm discussion groups looking at  .

i) Triple/ double forages which increase yield per ha. See work on farms in the Hunter Valley here by Sydney University Future Dairy project

ii) Alternate strategies to annual and perennial pastures – showcasing the work at Lemon Grove Research Farm and farms in other regions doing similar trials.

iii) Developing fodder production portfolios to manage risk and season

This video is a 4 minute summary of the project

The project was supported by funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country Initiative

caring for our country logo

Looking at the lighter side of doing more with less

With prime agricultural land getting gobbled up by houses and mining the challenge for Oz farmers is to produce more food using fewer resources to generate less waste and reusing/recycling that waste whenever we can

For dairy farmers that requires us to grow more grass per hectare (ha) so we can graze more cows per ha to produce more milk per ha which also means we are reducing CO2 emitted per ha.  Here is a very novel way of increasing stocking rate. Love it

Stocking rate

Thanks @peterholding for sharing

By the way other ways Oz Farmers are looking after our scare natural resources and getting more food and fibre from less

  • soil testing and nutrient mapping to allow them to use less fertiliser per ha. 
  • getting more crop per drop
  • Placing nitrogen fertiliser at depth in cooler times in wet soils to maximise nitrogen efficiency (and thus minimise losses to the atmosphere)
  • Planting water use and fertiliser efficient, drought tolerant perennial pastures
  • Assessing and optimising nitrogen fertiliser use and use of alternative sources such as legume rotations.
  • Using lower emissions machinery and assessing and improving existing machinery and irrigation pumping performance and investigating alternative fuel sources.
  • Improvements in soil management through stubble retention, reduced tillage and reduction in spraying operations

Measures of success

Farmers are able to increase their productivity:
• per hectare of land
• per unit of nitrogen fertiliser
• per ML water
• per unit of CO2 equivalent emitted

Permeate when will it go away? Clover Hill Dairies on Talk Back Radio

Earlier this week I had an email from ABC Radio’s Dan Glover producer of ABC Radio Overnights which again highlighted the confusion around the label PERMEATE FREE in huge letters on a number drinking milk products

Dan said “We were thinking that milk plays a role in most of our lives and yet most people understand so little about it. We’re hoping to learn more about the dairy industry and the milk production process as well as issues like proteins and fat content, permeate, diet and seasonal variation in milk, milk additives and intolerances”.

The show is in talk back format and I jumped at this great chance to have an extended chat and two way conversations with listeners all over the country.

So this morning I was proud to be interviewed on the ABC by host Rod Quinn who gave me an hour to share my understanding of the topics.

If you would like to listen to the interview you can find it here 

I did quite a bit of research consulting the experts at Dairy Australia, milk nutraceuticals guru Jo Davey and our farm consultant Dr Neil Moss.


Michael and I did a bit of research tasting product ourselves. Look what he bought home last night as a treat. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is my favourite  and its goes without saying Michael is a Chocolate Fudge Brownie man.  

I didn’t get a chance to share everything I learnt on the radio this morning so I am now taking the opportunity to share my research findings with my blog readers

Lets start with the one that is probably most unfamiliar to my readers – Nutraceuticals .


Milk is is full of all sorts of goodies which is one of the key reasons processors separate it into its components and of course part of this process results in the by product known as permeate

The nutraceutical milk market segment accounts for 18% of the world market of dairy proteins. This demand is constantly increasing especially in Europe, with a growing demand from consumers for improved health, and at the same time, an increasing awareness of the link between nutrition and health.

This explains in part the rapid growth in the markets for healthy foods; functional yogurts, enriched cereals and milk, nutritional supplements and sports drinks have all laid the groundwork for the development of a large and global nutraceuticals market.


This image shows you just how many healthy goodies are in milk and the opportunities to value add at the processing level by extracting these components from milk

Cow’s milk Allergy

A food allergy is a condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies a food ingredient, usually a protein as harmful to the body. Thinking that the body is under attack, the immune system triggers an allergic reaction and such symptoms as hives and swelling around the mouth, vomiting or diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, collapsing, or anaphylaxis (a very severe allergic reaction). Total avoidance of the problem food is the only solution to a food allergy.


Whilst all the language used in this diagram is pretty complex I think it gives you a good idea of the allergic pathway

Food allergy is most commonly seen in early childhood, and occurs in around 5% of children. Food allergy is usually ‘outgrown’ during childhood, except for allergies to nuts, seeds and seafood.  About 1% of adults have a food allergy

People who are allergic to cow’s milk react to the protein components of the milk. In Australia, the true prevalence of cow’s milk allergy is hard to ascertain.

It is believed that less than 2% of children younger than 2 years of age are truly allergic to cow’s milk with cow’s milk allergy much rarer in adults.

Fortunately, most children grow out of cow’s milk allergy by the age of four years. It is very rare to develop a true cow’s milk allergy as an adult.

It is also extremely uncommon for cow’s milk allergy to cause asthma and any one who says it does is just spreading an urban myth.

If you think you have an allergy ALWAYS CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR

Lactose intolerance

Lactose a natural component of both human and cow’s milk. Another name for lactose is milk sugar. Lactose breaks down in your body to provide an energy source. To digest lactose your body contains the enzyme lactase. Some people don’t produce enough of the lactase enzyme to break down all of the lactose. The undigested lactose ends up in the colon where natural bacteria ferment the lactose and produce acids and gas. This combination of events can cause the symptoms of lactose intolerance, which may include abdominal pain, bloating or diarrhoea.

lactose-intolerance-mapLactose intolerance tends to be higher in countries where milk consumption is not a readily available  The green shading indicates very low levels of lactose intolerance and red as high levels.

Lots of dairy foods don’t contain large amounts of lactose – cheese for example and yogurt has its own bacteria which break down the lactose

Tips for people with lactose intolerance that will allow you to get your 3 serves of dairy every day:

  • Drink milk with other foods and not on an empty stomach
  • Regular fat milk may be better tolerated than low fat or skim milk. Fat slows the passage of lactose through your digestive system giving you more time to digest it
  • Yogurt is often better tolerated than milk; and
  • Cheese is low in lactose and is well tolerated.

Remember although the symptoms can be similar to a food allergy being food intolerant such as lactose intolerance is not an allergy. It is a separate condition where the body is not able to completely digest the food


Bit of fun

A2 Milk

Milk is a powerhouse of nutrients for growing kids and adults. There are a variety of milks available for people to choose from and please remember they are all nutritious.

A2 is essentially niche market milk. There are a number of different proteins in milk including the A2 and A1 Beta Casein. In regular milk , the milk protein ratio is approximately 60 per cent A2 and 40 per cent A1. However, this can vary between the different breeds of dairy cattle.


Diagram of A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins showing the amino acid difference at position 67. This difference can be detected easily by a non-invasive DNA test which indicates accurately which beta-casein genes a cow carries.

There is no convincing scientific evidence to indicate that milk containing only A2 protein is better for health than regular milk (milk containing both A1 and A2-beta casein).

Variation in fat and protein content of milk throughout the seasons. 

Australia has a very diverse geography and climate and innovative dairy farmers adapt their farm production systems to the resource base they have to work with

The fat and protein percentage content of milk is a direct reflection of the type of pastures and grasses and grains et al the cows are fed and their genetic makeup e.g. Jersey cows tend to have higher fat and protein levels than Holstein cows

The types of pastures that are available depends on the time of year, soil type, the weather, how steep the farm is, was there a flood or a drought when you were trying to plant the winter or summers pastures – its very complex as you can see.

As a general rule the amount of milk the farm produces tends to peak late winter/ early spring and start to drop off in November

Fat tends to decline in early winter through to August with increased energy levels in pasture resulting in increased volume of milk

Butter fat levels tend to rise into summer as we get higher levels of fibre in the pasture

Protein tends to increase in autumn and winter and fall in spring as milk volumes rise

Another thing that tends to affect the protein percentages in milk for example is the weather.  Very hot weather can cause heat stress for cows and they usually eat less and this will drop protein % levels

Milk Protein Nad Fat percentages by state

This table show the variation in fat and protein over a calendar year and highlights the differences in the calendar year between NSW and Victoria 

NSW vs. Vic and why farms in the two states supply different milk markets 

NSW East Coasthas good summer/ autumn rain and reasonably reliable rain in spring leading to good pasture growth all year round. This means cows can produce milk all year round – good for drinking milk market

Victoria and Tasmania and parts of South Australia has a more Mediterranean climate with  late autumn/spring rain which means farmers can utilise a low cost pasture production system with large volumes of milk being produced in spring . This model suits a manufactured milk market where you have the opportunity to make longer life dairy products like cheese and skim milk


Under the Food Code the standard for packaged whole milk requires that it contain at least 3.2% of fat and 3.0% of protein.

The Code allows manufacturers to add or withdraw milk components to standardise the composition of milk sourced from dairy farms, as required, to produce nutritionally consistent and safe products.

Why the new labelling? With  A Current Affair and Today Tonight turning permeate into a dirty word food controversy story and don’t forget they have an agenda here as food controversy stories are great for ratings. Permeate then became a point of difference to small boutique processor who standardise their milk by putting cream in or taking it out .

As the branded milks lost market share the big processors where looking for a point of difference and they decided to stop standardising their milk with permeate and undertake huge marketing campaigns to tell everybody and that really threw a spanner in the works and put milk front and centre in the controversy food isles –

History now shows this strategy was not well thought out and not smart marketing at all as consumers have become very confused and I don’t blame them.

As an aside however branded milk sales have clawed back 1% of the market in recent months.  I personally think this is consumer outrage at Coles $1 a litre milk  loss leader “down down down” campaign of milk and consumers voting with their wallets

What is permeate

Milk is made up of lots of nutritious goodies as I showed earlier in the post. When you push something through a filter like you do milk when you want to extract fat and protein. The fat and protein get left in the filter and they call that retenate

Permeate is just a term that describes what passes through the filter and note permeate is not a term specific to milk. Anything that is pushed through filter can be called permeate. As an example  a short black coffee could be called permeate as it is a result of water and coffee beans being pushed through a very fine filter

This little animation shows the process for milk in pictures

In the case of milk the permeate contains  water, lactose and minerals and some very special water soluble proteins

Lets look at some of these milk components that come together and get labelled permeate

Calcium is one of the important minerals in permeate and we all know how important calcium is to bone health

Lactose The growing trend of standardising milk powders using lactose has boosted trade and supported global lactose prices. In fact lactose prices have increased around 50% in the last 12 months

Water soluble proteins like lactoferrin, and lactoperoxidase

Water soluble proteins like lactoferrin, and lactoperoxidase have antiviral and antimicrobial properties These two water soluble proteins are found in high levels in human breast milk so they are very valuable to extract for use in baby formula

Future of the Industry

There is no denying the industry is in crisis but the industry does have significant support from the NSW state government and key stakeholders but unless Coles stops selling milk at $/litre a lot of dairy farms and I mean a lot of NSW and QLD dairy farms will shut down

How could they not –  right across NSW farmers are supplying from 0% to 95% of their milk to their processer Lion and being paid as low as 10c/litre.

From a consumer perspective think of it like this

You are currently being paid for 38hrs per week @$30/hr and you have based your living expenses budget around this for day to day necessities such as paying the loan on your house and car as well as y our ability to educate your kids and feed your family and pay electricity and all those other things you need to survive.

Then one day your employer comes to you and says. “I am going to pay you for 20 hrs a week @ $30/hr.  You can still work the other 18 hrs but I am only going to pay u $10/hr for those hours and remember your contract says you cant go and work for someone else and this includes the 18 hours I am paying you $10/hr . And it doesn’t stop there on top of this I am going to back date it.

The milk processor Lion (formerly National Foods) has been doing something similar to this to their milk suppliers for the last 3 years and they are blaming this strategy on the milk price wars

Parmalat on the other hand have a different model that reflects the biology of the industry and acknowledges that both farmers and cows are living breathing things. They set their peak milk intake on a spring business plan that means they buy milk in winter if they need it and pay a blended milk price across the board and you can grow and shrink your business as long as you give them notice you wish to to do this

Lion on the other hand expect their farmers and their cows to operate like machines. They give you the supply curve they want and you have to fit into the box they give you and you get punished severely if you don’t. This is because Lion base their milk intake model around the amount of milk they need in the autumn and have no capacity to manage any excess in spring. Their good dairy farmers can’t grow their business and realistically for long term survival and cow health they can’t afford to shrink their  business. A no win situation for farmers now and consumers long term.

I think Coles has a lot to answer for.

Watch Coles executive John Durkan squirm in this interview with Pip Courtney

What can you do 

Please vote with your signatures on Lisa Claessen’s petition here. It needs 8,000 more signatures to have an impact on the Coles board

Lisa Petition Coles

You can also follow me on twitter @chdairies


This Saturday my diary will see me on a 2.30 pm panel discussion led by Jenny Brockie of Insight  fame as part of the Siteworks event  FUTURE FOOD FEAST A DAY OF TALKING, EATING & DOING. The event is billed as a day of experiences about growing and eating food with consumers, farmers, artists and activists at the Bundanon Trust.

My fellow panellists are:

John Crawford – Scientist

Jared Ingersoll – Chef

Ingrid Just – Consumer Advocate

Michael McAllum – Futurist

Jodie Newcombe – Economist

and yours truly  Lynne Strong – Farmer

Siteworks_September 2012 update

I have done a little research on the philosophies of my fellow panellists and DR GOOGLE tells me we are a diverse group indeed.

I have also done a a little background on the ethical shopping habits of Australian consumers

Thanks to the Australian Food and Grocery Council and Net Balance report of 2010 there is an interesting report that sheds some light on the attitudes and behaviour of Australian urban shoppers.

It is particularly relevant to us farmers as the report focuses on the decisions customers make about selecting GREEN products.

By “GREEN” they mean environmentally friendly – but there is quite a bit of crossover in consumers minds about these products being good for animal welfare and for social reasons as well.

For example ‘Barn laid’ eggs are seen as a ‘green’ product by consumers when in fact they have a higher environmental foot print than caged eggs.

The report sheds some light on the differences between what consumers SAY they want… and what they actually DO. That is shoppers were asked about their ‘green’ product preferences and then their shopping trolley was actually examined to see what they had actually done.

And this is what our urban customers say..



Most people surveyed (93%) think that it is important for the retailer to make an effort to reduce their environmental impact and most are concerned about the impact on the environment of the products that they buy. I.e.… everyone else should be doing something!

  • 80% said they think about environmental issues when they buy
  • And 50% have taken the time to inform themselves of the green credential of at least some products….

But here is the killer – when their shopping trolleys were examined – only 13% had actually knowingly made a ‘green’ purchase

Personally I feel just as strongly about sustainable food consumption as I do about sustainable food production. I don’t seek out green products but I do strive to only buy what I need and waste as little as possible of what I buy

This Saturday I am looking forward to both listening to what my fellow panellists and the audience say and having my opportunity to share agriculture’s story and then sharing it all with you.