When farmers are their own worst enemy

The Sydney Royal Easter Show has been running for the last 10 days. The show attracts close to one million people every year

It is a phenomenal opportunity for farmers to engage with “showgoers” aka general public aka consumers. Those all important people who buy what we produce.

Sydney Royal Easter Show - the audience

Our audience – Opportunity gained? Opportunity lost? Source  

I have been exhibiting at the show since I was eight years old and been involved in various community engagement activities at the Show for the past 10 years.

2008 Dairy activities in Cattle Pavilion

Farm to Fridge Painting Wall

Farm to Fridge Activities

As a farmer in reality I should see exhibiting as a community engagement activity – shouldn’t I?

For example if I was a dairy cattle exhibitor impacted by $1/litre milk sales

  • I would be signing up to be at the show on the most popular days at the show for the general public.
  • I would be doing everything in my power to have conversations with everyone who walked past to show them that I am one of those people that supply their families with nutritious, affordable and safe milk.
  • I would do everything I could to show them that I care for my animals.
  • I would be doing everything I could to show them that I am passionate about the scarce natural resources that my cows graze on.
  • I would do everything I could to ensure those people who walk past me and my cows at the show go home with an emotional bond that makes them think twice what milk they select when they walk into the supermarket.

Last night I had a call from some-one I know well in marketing. It was a very blunt phone call.

He said ‘Has your industry ever thought about the fact that your dairy farmer stud cattle exhibitors at the Sydney Royal Easter Show are doing it more harm than good?”

I said “What do you mean?”

He said “I wandered around the stud dairy cattle pavilion for 45 mins watching how the dairy farmers engaged with the general public. Whilst some do genuinely engage when they are spoken to, the rest give off this elite aura and some are just plain rude”

I did jump to their defence and said meekly “well they have put in a great deal time, money and effort to get their cows there and they are all pretty much focused on the blue ribbon and tend to find the general public a distraction”

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Sadly he is not the first person to say this. So what does our industry do to engage with the public?

Well our industry doesn’t do anything but the RAS of NSW certainly does and the face of both of these very impressive activities are young people very passionate about the dairy industry who aren’t farmers.

There is the Dairy Farmers Milking Barn promoted as

an interactive and fun experience for the whole family. With demonstrations throughout the day, showgoers can learn about how farmers care for cattle, what the animals eat to stay healthy, milking hygiene and how dairy technology has advanced over the past 200 years.

Showgoers will also have the opportunity to hand-milk some of the gentle, good-natured cows and interact with the farmers.

I have stood and watched as Luke and his team entertain and inform the crowd and it’s outstanding

Also on offer for showgoers and equally popular is the Dairy Farmers Working Dairy promoted as an opportunity to see the on farm technology that is second step in the process of getting milk, butter and cheese from the grassy meadow paddock to the breakfast table?

In an amazing display of modern agricultural technology in action, The Dairy Farmers Working Dairy offers a behind-the-barn-door look at the workings of a modern dairy.

Showgoers will see state-of-the-art machinery in operation, watch as cows are milked and see how today’s dairy farmers monitor their herd for maximum performance.

Visit The Dairy Farmers Working Dairy and the nearby The Dairy Farmers Milking Barn for a look at the incredible changes that modern technology has brought to the business of agriculture.

At the Dairy Farmers Working Dairy the showgoers get to see the exhibitors cows milked.

The face of the Dairy Farmers Milking Barn is a young veterinarian and multi-media megastar Cassie MacDonald

Cassie MacDonald working dairy

– again like Luke and his team she gives a world class stellar performance.

But do these exhibitions leave a long lasting emotional bond that translates into branded milk sales? After all they are pitched as the opportunity to see the technology?

Technology is a thing. Extensive social research tells us people relate to people

Are the dairy cattle stud exhibitors doing themselves more harm than good?

Well that’s a question for industry and ultimately those farmers themselves to decide and do something about.

Milk Bottles

Milk is milk no matter how it is branded or is it?

BTW Other industries are doing some amazing “showgoer’ engagement activities at the show. I will blog about those shortly


This post has had 50 Facebook shares in 15 minutes of it being posted. Many of these comments are very concerning. Are showgoers idiots? I don’t think so. How many stupid questions would farmers ask if they went to their workplaces. Why cant we see that the difference between farmers and everyone else it we were lucky enough to grow up surrounded by agriculture . Its time to show some respect and thank the people who buy what we produce and stop wasting massive opportunities like this one Facebook Commentsand this Facebook posting from Robin says it all don’t you think?- if you are going to turn up make the most of it

Robin on Facebook

Show Highlights

A few highlights from the first day at the 2013 Royal Easter Show

The Show in all its glory

The dome in all its glory


Food Farm SRES

The Food Farm tells the story of where food comes from and the importance of farmers to everyday life. Created for pre and primary school children, their families and showgoers in general, there is something for everyone to learn in the Food Farm.


The magnificent District Exhibit Displays

Bay Horse

The livestock

Speckles and Speckles

The Speckles


Just what are we teaching our kids?

Yesterday I wrote a post titled “Cows lay eggs don’t they” for Art4agricultureChat after I discovered that a large number of young people going through the Egg Dome at the Sydney Royal Easter Show Food Farm thought that eggs and dairy foods come from the same place. Then of course there was the ACER survey that delivered the international media heading Australian Kids think yogurt grows on trees. Embarrassing indeed. 


Now whilst those with the knowledge can all have a good chuckle, everyone should be concerned about this lack of knowledge of the basics of food and fibre production. Why you ask? Think about it like this. These young people grow up to become our decision makers. They get to decide how to balance feeding and clothing people with housing people with an ever decreasing amount of land, water and energy resources and that won’t be easy and often there won’t be right or wrong choices just wise choices for people, animals and the planet

Yes Australia, with its vast size and diversity of climates can continue to produce a wide range of high quality produce and products to satisfy its consumers, while contributing to Australia’s economic wellbeing. But these production issues and decisions need to be addressed by all and let’s face it common sense says students should be equipped with the capacity and motivation to make informed decisions about such questions as well as be provided with the opportunities to gain knowledge and skills about the production of the food they eat, fibres they use and the environment they live in. This knowledge and skills should involve all the processes of production, marketing, consumption, sustainable use of resources and waste recycling, i.e. complete paddock to plate and beyond.

To do this, a variety of skills and knowledge are essential, including scientific, technical, problem solving and critical thinking. Knowledge of the past along with innovation is required. The required interest, knowledge and skills need to be encouraged and progressively developed through the curriculum from kindergarten through to Year 12. The Australian Curriculum should provide these opportunities in a manner that is appropriate with student development and at the moment it doesn’t and we should all be lobbying our current decision makers to fix this.

So if agriculture isn’t embedded into the curriculum from K to 12 what opportunities do young people get for hands on food and fibre experiences and knowledge and how is industry helping to address this conundrum ?

Art4agriculture worked with Meat and Livestock Australia on their display at the Brisbane Ekka last year and it was a huge success. This year Art4agriculture have been working with Ann Burbrook and 12 students from Caroline Chisholm College via 4agriculture and Archibull Prize to add a little something extra special to the Meat and Livestock display in the Sydney Royal Easter Show Food Farm for 2012 and I will write a post about that shortly.

In fact MLA actually participates at 5 Royal Shows around the country (Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth). They believe Royal shows give them a wonderful opportunity to engage with urban Australians in an environment where they are thinking about agriculture. In each case they aim to have a paddock to plate presence but that depends on the space and location.

So let’s have a look at some of the activities that MLA as part of the 14 day Agri-Disney experience that has become the Sydney Royal Easter Show do to help fill the knowledge gaps our school curriculum doesn’t.

Research over the last five years confirms that 93% of visitors to the Food Farm come to see animals and so “Livestock in the Round” was developed.

MLA 09042012114

No shortage of people to share the Paddock to Plate story with in the Food Farm  This photos shows how Freeway, the Charolais bull, attracts a crowd to “Livestock in the Round” while Sarah and Lisa talk about cattle and beef production

This format allows people the opportunity to get close to, and touch, very large animals that they normally never get see, let alone touch.  The presenter talks about a range of things relating to beef cattle production (or sheep meat production if sheep are in the ‘Round’) and visitors can ask questions.


Students Annie and Paige from Camden Haven High were guests of MLA in the Round this week

MLA also have a session each day when they get kids into the Round to pretend to be  ‘livestock’. They are tagged (with animal stamp), weighed, scanned (NLIS scales and wand reader) and backline drenched (drench gun with bubble bath) – then they come into an enclosure with 2 sheep and “Heidi the Hereford” (who is a staff member in cow suit). If I was a kid I would think that sounded like a lot of fun.

The Round sessions are supported with interactive and educational games and displays like the Fun on the Farm – which is a touch screen computer game for young children (and the not so young) where players can either water the animals, weight them to make sure they are a healthy weight, move a herd to new paddock to manage the pasture, or protect seedling trees by keeping fences in order.

The picture below shows the Livestock Learning Wall. When you press the button next to the question an LED light trail leads to the right answer


The Farming and the Environment model below shows environmental cycles on farms such as carbon, water and soil nutrients (dung!)


There is also Raise the Stakes which is a touch screen computer game for older children and their parents that is a question and answer game where you can Ask A Farmer or go 50/50 to find the right answer and try to get the highest score. There are also towers with some information on cattle and sheep, as well as food safety, nutrition and cooking as well as DVDs running a cooking session and a loop of photos taken to celebrate Australian farmers. Then there is Patti (below) painted by Richmond High School students as part of the Archibull Prize 2011 whose grass patches show the meat cuts she produces. Patti is surrounded by iPads running the iBeef app that shows what cuts to cook for different cooking methods and how long to cook for the desired result.


Then of course there is the Pièce de résistance Moobix the 2011 winner of the Archibull Prize who highlights the many difference facets of the beef industry but more about this later


MLA staff are also on hand to answer any questions visitors might have and students from Tocal Agricultural College with a support teacher care for all animals whilst they are in the Food Farm.

The provision of opportunities for students to have hands on experiences related to the raising of animals and growing of plants should not be underestimated in the 21st century. Core values of caring for animals and developing empathy with them are an integral part of this learning area, encouraging students to reflect on the past and move with the future.

The Sydney Royal Easter Show does indeed play a very valuable role but surely we cannot expect it to deliver science literate decision makers can we? Off course not.

Our young people should be provided with day to day opportunities to study all facets of food and fibre production and consumption as part of a school curriculum that provides authentic learning opportunities for students, offering a range of opportunities including academic, technical and skills based for students from kindergarten through to the completion of secondary school.

Lets get it right. The Australian School Curriculum should provide unique opportunities for students to interact with the physical and biological environment and to develop responsibilities that help to make them valuable citizens of Australia who can make the best choices for people, animals and the planet.

My first Sydney Royal

I posted below on Art4agricultureChat this morning and thought the readers of Clover Hill Dairies diary might enjoy it too.

I remember my first Sydney Royal Easter Show ( bet you do too Dad and Kerrie and Aunty Bet) All of 8 years old and two horses and a second prize first class in the ring. How proud was I in my first grand parade. You had better find those photos Dad I am feeling nostalgic.

Camden Haven High School first Sydney Royal

Hi my name is Paige and I attend Camden Haven High School. I love my school and I want to tell you what makes it special. Agriculture that’s what!!!!.

wingham show 006

Agriculture is compulsory for years seven and eight. I think this is a great idea as it gives students who do not live rurally or who do not have the opportunity to live with animals and have agricultural knowledge the chance to experience and enjoy what agriculture has to offer young people of today.

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Our agricultural department focuses on a ‘paddock to plate’ experience giving the students in years nine and ten the option of electing two courses unique to Camden Haven High School; Vet studies and Agrifoods. From year nine to twelve, agriculture is also available for students to elect for study . In  years eleven and twelve we have the opportunity to do both primary industries and senior agriculture, along with a new horticulture course.

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The agricultural department not only has strong links with local farmers but also supports local businesses by buying their produce. The Camden Haven High School Agricultural Department has also formed a sub branch of the Camden Haven Show Society and we are are actively involved in preparing, organising, giving ideas and helping out with local events.

Agriculture has become so popular at our school the number of students who attend the agricultural plot before school, at recess and at lunch times has tripled in as many years. We have a very diverse range of animals that we care for including chickens, sheep, ducks, rabbits, turkeys, budgies, guinea-fowl, pigs, donkeys, cattle (including three breeding heifers), a water buffalo, guinea-pigs and two national park certified brumbies.

peter and friend

What is particularly special about the ‘ag plot’ is it is also a safe place for students who do not fit in with the rest of the school or are having a rough time or just enjoy the peace and quiet as there is always a great student/teacher support network to found in the agriculture department

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I am personally involved with the school cattle team. Being the leader/captain has helped with my personal development and taught me many life and team work skills.

It has improved my ability to speak publicly, organisational skills, give directions confidently and have learned that it is important to make the wisest decisions even if they are not the most popular.

Currently there are forty students actively involved in preparing and showing the school cattle for the Sydney Royal Easter Show. I must admit directing such a large team gives me a positive sense of satisfaction and confidence.

The animals we are showing come from our agricultural teacher Mr Hickson, he grows Limousin and Limousin cross steers and heifers. They are also donated to our school by our long-time supporter Robert Rule.

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We selected these animals as they both have the muscle development and fat coverage for their weight classes; they are also wide through the top line from the shoulders through to the rump. They are the pick of the animals from this year’s show team as they display the best attributes.

Students in the Sydney Show team this year are mainly year 10 students who have been constantly involved in showing cattle from year 7 onwards and they make up the bulk of the senior students in the team and basically run it.

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We have been preparing our animals since October 2011, when they were first brought in to be broken in. This involves daily walking, brushing, leading and feeding our animals.

They are also tied up daily to get used to long periods of being in one place; we also wash and blow-dry our animals to prepare them for cleaning at the show.

This is our first royal and it will be a new experience and all the students are so excited and highly appreciative of having this great opportunity.

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and to top it all off one of their students is a finalist in Cream of the Crop Competition with the winners presented with their prizes on April 14th at the Show in the RM Williams Stables

How timely these photos came through late last night of Olympic Park preparations for the Royal Easter Show from an excited George Davey  General Manager, Agriculture at Sydney Royal

SRES Cattle Hocker

The Beef Cattle Ring Hocker

Beef Cattle Sheds

The Beef Cattle Sheds