Working dog school rules
The business of camel milk
The fall of the armyworm
The arrival of El Niño
Behind every good dog is a great trainer
NSW’s first and only camel milk producer
Could sex pheromones fell the FAW?
How other countries look set to fare
NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023 / $ 9.95
Keeping it in the family The hard conversation about succession
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Contents THE MUSTER
NEWS AND EVENTS
FARM DOG SCHOOL
Farewell to former NSW Farmers’ CEO Pete Arkle, and hello to our Interim CEO; Hay runners help Hunter farmers; The future of the Oyster industry; National Ag Day shines a spotlight on farms and farming ������������������������������������������������ 6
Gary White’s dog school is so popular he travels the world teaching others the secret to producing the perfect working dog. . . . . . 42
THE BIG ISSUE PUTTING THE E INTO FARMING
Finding new ways of adding natural capital to the income and environmental leger for farm businesses ������������������������������������ 20
THE BIG PICTURE Advice is on hand to help families overcome the inertia of succession planning in order to move forward constructively . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
How El Nino might affect farming in different parts of the world. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
A CAMEL MILK JOURNEY
THE MOTHER OF THE MERINO
Meet a farmer who has conquered a number of challenges to become the first and only camel milk producer in NSW. . . . 50
Elizabeth Farm, flanked by suburban Parramatta, is Australia’s oldest surviving European homestead. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
SPECIAL REPORT: TECHNOLOGY & FARM SAFETY
COMMUNITY FARM DOGS
USING TECH TO COMBAT CRIME TAKING THE BULL BY THE HORNS
EL NIÑO ARRIVES AROUND THE WORLD
A deep dive into what farmers can be doing to reduce crime on their property. . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Meet Emmy the kelpie, who keeps everyone on the farm including ‘The Cats’ in line ������������������������������������������������ 84 THE SALEYARDS
We’ve rounded up some great new Chrissie gifts for loved ones. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
MEET A MEMBER
SPECIAL REPORT: REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE
PLOTTING THE FALL OF THE ARMYWORM
Could sex pheromones be a natural ally in controlling the march of the Fall armyworm?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
NSW Farmers’ member Peter Dixon-Hughes continues to spread the good word on agriculture in the heart of Sydney. . . . . . . . . . . 86 THE TAIL END
Hungry, hungry caterpillars eating plastic waste to help the planet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
NEW FACES & PHASES OF FARMIMG
Farmers are continually evaluating the best ways to protect their properties while continuing to supply the country with food and fibre. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
EDUCATION & COLLABORATION
JOIN US – SUBSCRIBE
SKILLS, FOOD AND FRESH FUTURES
An initiative by Macquarie Business School is paving the way for former refugees to acquire vital business skills.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
Sign up and become a NSW Farmers member, and also receive The Farmer ���� 90
COULD SCIENCE IMPROVE AUSTRALIA’S WHEAT PRODUCTION?
A $12 million project run by CSIRO is attempting to increase the reliability of crop sowing ���������������������������������������� 40
From the editor
PUBLISHER James Wells EDITOR Jac Taylor ART DIREC TOR Ryan Vizcarra
Michelle Hespe Email: email@example.com
Ben Payne Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone : 0403 893 668
Michael Burt Libby-Jane Charleston Nicole Conville Carly Marriott Matilda Meikle Ian Neubauer Jeanette Severs NSW FARMERS
INTERIM CEO Annabel Johnson HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT Kathleen Curry MAGAZINE CONTENT TEAM
Kathy Rankin – Head of Policy & Advocacy CONTAC T US
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@NSWFarmers THE INTERMEDIA GROUP
MANAGING DIREC TOR Simon Grover GM OF OPERATIONS Chris Baker FINANCE MANAGER Mina Vranistas PRODUC TION MANAGER Jacqui Cooper HEAD OF DIGITAL Jordan Guiao The Farmer magazine is published for the NSW Farmers Association (ABN: 31 000 004 651) by The Intermedia Group (ABN: 94 002 583 682) 41 Bridge Rd, Glebe NSW 2037. All rights reserved. Printed by IVE Group. Getty Images were used throughout the magazine.
s spring slips into summer, it’s time to reflect on the challenges and achievements of 2023, and to look forward to a season ahead of growth and festive celebrations. Personally, I’m catching my breath after completing the Oceans to Outback Challenge, fundraising for the Royal Flying Doctor Service through the month of October. The RFDS never ceases to amaze me, providing medical and primary healthcare to rural and remote Australians via mind-blowing logistics and sheer determination. It’s truly a lifeline for many farmers and communities, and it was an honour to push my own limits in a monthlong fitness challenge to raise a bit of money and be able to contribute in some small way. We are also looking back on a successful and very enjoyable Annual Conference. Back in July, while in the Western Sydney area to attend the conference, one of our contributing writers visited nearby Elizabeth Farm and ended up writing a beautiful tribute and history of this fascinating place – you can read it in this issue from page 76. We have also met some members of the present-day farming community pushing new boundaries, such as one Nyngan member running an internationally renowned working dog school, and another in the Hunter region who’s created a camel dairy farm concern, in a wonderfully constructive application for so-called ‘feral’ camels. Of course, there are challenges to approach together too. We see what lessons we can learn this issue from the phenomenon of El Niño, as tackled by different countries around the world, and
also catch up on the latest on fall armyworm. For our cover story, we’ve chosen a subject that has been requested by members over and over again – the curly question of succession. It is a topic that can easily land in the ‘too hard’ basket, but we’ve asked experts in the field for their advice on how to move forward positively and effectively. At NSW Farmers, we are also moving forward into fresh pastures, with a new interim CEO taking the association into a new phase. You can meet Annabel on page 6 – although for many, she is a familiar face already. I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season, and I do hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed putting it together for you. Ease off those boots, grab a cuppa, and sink into these pages. As always, don’t hesitate to send your story ideas, feedback and suggestions with us – it’s lovely to hear from you. JAC TAYLOR
The Intermedia Group takes its corporate and social responsibilities seriously and is committed to reducing its impact on the environment. We continuously strive to improve our environmental performance and to initiate additional CSR based projects and activities. As part of our company policy we ensure that the products and services used in the manufacture of this magazine are sourced from environmentally responsible suppliers. Working dog school rules
The business of camel milk
The fall of the armyworm
The arrival of El Niño
Behind every good dog is a great trainer
NSW’s first and only camel milk producer
Could sex pheromones fell the FAW?
How other countries look set to fare
NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023 / $ 9.95
This magazine has been printed on paper produced from sustainably sourced wood and pulp fibre and is accredited under PEFC chain of custody. PEFC certified wood and paper products come from environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of forests. The wrapping used in the delivery process of this magazine is 100% recyclable.
Keeping it in the family The hard conversation about succession
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FREE WHS PROGRAMS KEEP YOUR PEOPLE AND YOUR FARM BUSINESS SAFE Farms are risky workplaces, and it is important for those who work and live on farms to always be vigilant in managing safety risks. prior training under her belt, she found the task of sorting the family farm’s WHS documentation daunting. “Having someone to talk to, and a bit of accountability, helped me push through and do what I needed to do.” “What was really great about this program was that I had someone I could contact, and I had a deadline.” Working with Charles - a NSW Farm Safety Advisor - Michelle found the biggest WHS shortcoming in the operation was around consultation. “We’ve always done things the safest way but when you’re hiring staff you need to be more structured about your procedures.”
While long term statistics of serious injuries and fatalities on farms have shown steady improvements over the years, recent data published by Farm Safe Australia indicates a reversal in 2022 with a higher number of serious injuries and fatalities occurring on farms compared to 2021. This serves as a sobering reminder for all parties involved, especially those who operate or work on farms, to invest renewed efforts to improve safety on farms. Workplace health and safety on farm is everyone’s business, but the challenge of getting the right WHS framework in place can be complex, time consuming, and daunting for farmers. To help make it easier, NSW Farmers delivers the NSW Farm Safety Advisory Program (FSAP), made possible with funding from the NSW Government, through SafeWork NSW. This free program provides farm businesses with specialised, practical support from advisors who understand the industry, through a series of dedicated workshops and farm visits. Our expert advisors have been working with farmers on their WHS for years,
“Now we have a schedule of weekly and monthly meetings where were specifically ask if anyone has spotted any hazards or experienced any incidents. I’m also looking into new ways to keep our policies accessible, potentially through an online platform because I know things get lost in emails.” Michelle is also creating some systems documentation around start of day walk arounds and machinery checks, injury reporting procedures and operational guides for equipment.
Upcoming events include online workshops on Easy to Do WHS for farmers, emergency planning, effective farm worker induction, and harvest readiness. Please refer to www.nswfarmsafety.org.au for further information and registration.
“My confidence around managing WHS has really grown, because I’ve done that thorough work and have always felt like the NSW Farm Safety Advisory Program is accessible if I needed further clarification or assistance.”
and are accessible to support farmers in a group or one on one settings to discuss safety issues and provide practical resources. A FARMER’S EXPERIENCE Michelle Eulenstein wasn’t new to WHS training when she signed up to the NSW Farm Safety Advisory Program’s On Farm WHS Heath Check – but even with some
If you want more information on the NSW Farm Safety Advisory Program, visit www.nswfarmsafety.org.au or contact the Farm Safety Advisors at nswfarmsafety@ nswfarmers.org.au or on 1300 784 000.
The Muster l NEWS
Changing of the guard at NSW Farmers In August, NSW Farmers’ CEO Pete Arkle and President Xavier Martin announced to its members that Pete was moving on to take the next step in his professional career, having led the organisation for nearly five years. Words JAC TAYLOR
Pete has been an excellent leader through what has been a period of great challenge and more recent prosperity for farmers across NSW,” Xavier said at the time of the announcement. “Pete has built a strong team, modernised many aspects of NSW Farmers’ approach, developed and delivered a successful strategy, and helped secure multiple advocacy wins for our 6,700 members.” During Pete’s stewardship, NSW Farmers has grown its full producer membership over the last three years, and its overall membership for the last six straight, reflecting both his leadership and the hard work of NSW Farmers’ elected representatives, branches and the professional team. A familiar face has now taken the helm, with the appointment of policy and advocacy expert Annabel Johnson as interim CEO. Xavier Martin says that Annabel has a lifelong connection with agriculture, having grown up on a cattle and sheep farm near Young, and she has worked in the organisation as a Policy Director and most recently as Head of Policy and Advocacy. “Annabel has a strong understanding of our industry, and more importantly a strong understanding of our organisation, its policies and processes,” he says. “This is a critical time for our industry on several fronts, and Annabel has been closely involved in our work on the issues at hand. “The Board and I are confident Annabel will be able to provide important continuity for these advocacy efforts, and we thank her for taking on this role.” OUTGOING CEO: PETER ARKLE
In reflecting on his time, Pete said he was proud to have helped build “an unrivalled public profile for NSW Farmers, trusted relationships, strong commercial partnerships, and a compelling membership offer. “It has been really satisfying to lead and work with our professional team, Boards, EC and our members to stabilise the Association, put a clear strategy in place, and to deliver sustained growth over recent years, including through COVID,” says Pete.
“It has been a privilege to lead such a hard-working, capable and committed team. The last five years have asked a lot of our farm members, and our dedicated and talented staff have always been there, morning, noon, and night – striving to make a difference to the things that matter most to our members.” – PETER ARKLE Outgoing CEO
When you’re powering through the harvest,
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The Muster “Advocacy is our core business, and we’ve taken up the case for farming families confronted by devastating drought, severe bushfires, a mouse plague and then multiple damaging floods – it’s been a rollercoaster of a period for NSW agriculture and NSW Farmers has worked closely with governments to secure comprehensive recovery assistance for farmers hit by these major natural events. “This has certainly helped NSW Farmers’ members to bounce back and to capture the opportunities the last year or two have presented, allowing NSW ag to take big steps towards our goal of 30 by 30.” NSW Farmers has secured some transformative advocacy results in Pete’s time, including helping to remove the legislated barriers constraining the Port of Newcastle from developing a world-class container terminal, securing additional funding to modernise biosecurity capabilities and keeping governments focused on technology-led and incentive-based approaches to enable sustainable agriculture in our changing climate. “The commitment from the new NSW government to legislate the agriculture commissioner will also be critical in ensuring land use change across NSW doesn’t put at risk our State’s best farming land – the resource we depend on to feed us, put clothes on our back and to drive our State’s $10.9 billion agricultural export economy,” Pete says. NSW Farmers’ strategy, developed under Pete’s leadership, has put a strong focus on building partnerships in a way that delivers genuine value to members and the Association. Commercial services revenue has grown by nearly 80 per cent over the last four years, allowing added investment in our advocacy. Xavier Martin said, “the health of NSW Farmers’ political relationships, built under Pete’s leadership, was clear to see with the Premier, Opposition Leader, Leader of the Nationals, multiple key Ministers and shadows, and representatives of all political parties in the NSW Parliament actively contributing to our recent Annual Conference”. “It’s clear that our Association is seen as a formidable advocate, respected across the political divide for our dedicated focus on making a positive difference for our farming members. “The only certain thing in advocacy is that if you aren’t at the table, you won’t influence a thing,” says Pete. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done to build a strong reputation and trusted relationships – these have ultimately enabled us to secure some key advocacy results for farmers across NSW. “It has been a privilege to lead such a hardworking, capable and committed staff team. The last five years have asked a lot of our farm members, and our dedicated and talented staff have always been there, morning, noon, and night
“I’m honoured to be appointed to this role, and to have the opportunity to lead such a talented team of policy, service and operational professionals.” – ANNABEL JOHNSON Interim CEO
– striving to make a difference on the things that matter most to our members.” INTERIM CEO: ANNABEL JOHNSON
As October began, so did Annabel Johnson’s role as interim CEO of NSW Farmers. “I want to thank Pete for all he has done over a challenging few years,” she says. “It is hard to believe, but even before COVID-19, we had drought and bushfires. After emerging from the pandemic, the state was hit with extensive floods, and let’s not forget throwing in a mouse plague for good measure. Pete has done a tremendous job ensuring that we deliver for members in the most trying circumstances. “I’m honoured to be appointed to this role, and to have the opportunity to lead such a talented team of policy, service and operational professionals,” Annabel said. “Agriculture is critical to feeding and clothing our nation, and it makes a great economic contribution locally and nationally “We will continue to progress our important advocacy work while delivering value and benefits to our members.” l
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l AID FOR FARMERS IN THE HUNTER
Aussie Hay Runners on six runs this season Convoys of trucks are running thousands of bales of donated hay to where they’re needed most this spring and summer. Words JAC TAYLOR
recent operation involving 34 trucks, 1,200 bales of hay and a storm of media attention brought the Upper Hunter region into the spotlight, but it’s just the beginning of this season’s ‘hay running’. In October, the convoy was loaded up with the hay, valued at $114,000, to help farmers and their communities experiencing dry conditions and recovering from fires. The trucks travelled a total of 77,660km, with the premium hay directly assisting 125 farmers and their families. The rapid return to drought conditions this season, along with the recent bushfires in the
LOAD ‘EM UP
The convoy was loaded up with $114,000 of hay to help farmers.
Upper Hunter, caused many in the region to reach out to the Aussie Hay Runners organisation, requesting assistance. So with the support of the NSW Rural Assistance Authority, Scott Stevens and the Heyfield Lions Club, Ray Akers of Gippsland Hay Relief, and Steve Carton of Denman Lions Club, Aussie Hay Runners (AHR) headed to the Upper Hunter area for the first time. >
TAP-IN BEFORE RAIN TAPS-OUT It’s never too late for drought-planning, now is the time to act. They tap into deep underground flows even in regions where groundwater has been notoriously difficult to locate. They combine water mapping, geographic information system analytics and onsite survey technologies including Passive Seismic to pinpoint drill sites with expected drilling depths.
While Dorothea Mackeller’s My Country romanticises, “I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains”, we are constantly aware of the sobering reality of this land of extremes. It is true we have been fortunate of late with a generous amount of rainfall, although if we look back to before this brief period, we were experiencing a prolonged and severe drought. The increase in rainfall has been welcomed although graziers and producers should remember to stay vigilant, being mindful of the fact that we are at the mercy of the unpredictable nature of our weather. Let us not be led into a false sense of security and instead be ready for the possibility of a ‘dry future’.
“I’m not talking Great Artesian Basin, I’m talking sub artesian water.” Identifying a potential water source is just the start, according to co-founder of Sustainable Water Solutions, Jim Conley. Once located, the water needs to be properly extracted, he said, and having the correct equipment operated by a skilled team is the golden ingredient.
There is an answer at hand. For the past four years, Sustainable Water Pty Ltd has unlocked water in extraordinary volume using a combination of proven science and field experience. Sustainable Water boasts an incredible success rate in finding water at sites they have identified on land across Australia.
“Unless you have experience doing such a task and the adequate tools to pull it off, finding and extracting bore water can be a complex, costly and lengthy process.” While we are grateful for the generous rainfall we have experienced for many months, we would benefit from a more reliable source of water, looking forward. Sustainable Water Pty Ltd are here to assist in a ‘wet future’ for farmers.
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This run was AHR’s 11th run, with hay donations coming from farms in Victoria and southern New South Wales, according to the organisation’s founder Linda Widdup. “It’s so dry up there and I had people emailing me,” says Linda. “It’s heartbreaking. I’m very lucky – I’m in the southwest of Victoria, and we’re pretty drought proof there. We might get a little bit crispy on the grass, but not to the extent of the people doing it tough up in the Hunter. “I’m just gobsmacked that we have such a great community of people, to have these 34 trucks loaded and delivered,” she says. “I’m getting goosebumps. I’m so proud of our volunteers and so thankful to all the help we got from the Rural Assistance Authority, (Gippsland) Hay Relief and the Lions Clubs.” The hay-running volunteers and drivers were well looked after by Denman Lions Club who provided dinner and breakfast. Linda says there is always a fantastic atmosphere surrounding the runs, with plenty of help offered by community organisations like the Lions Club, although there are still a lot of logistics to plan. Since AHR’s formation four years ago, the organisation’s large group of volunteers has delivered a staggering number of donated bales to NSW farmers. To date, 267 trucks have driven 10 runs over 683,380 kilometres, delivering 9,856 bales to the value of $936,320 and assisting more than 1,000 farmers. This year, another five runs are on the calendar. “It’s not a hand out – it’s a hand up,” says Linda. “You’ve just got absolutely awesome, generous people helping us make this happen. I’m a farmer’s daughter and I’m off the land, and it’s hard to see people struggle. A lot of our guys have big acreage farms, and they cut what they need for their
customers and then they simply say ‘We’re going to cut a 50-acre paddock for you too. It puts a smile on their dial to be able to help, and actually a lot of the guys that do cut it also come along on the runs with us. They love to get out there. Farmer to farmer, it lifts a lot of spirits.” Friends and well-wishers can follow the convoy on AHR’s Facebook page (facebook.com/ aussiehayrunners); if you see them on the road, Linda hopes other drivers will show support with a toot and a wave. l
To date, 267 trucks have driven 10 runs over 683,380 kilometres, delivering 9,856 bales to the value of $936,320 and assisting more than 1,000 farmers.
Argyle Station Pastoral Co. Western NSW Yes, Mike often looks out over his farm with pride. He does this knowing that the work he has done in partnership with GreenCollar has helped ensure long term productivity for his farm. Seeing improvement in native vegetation, increases in biodiversity, and greater drought resilience, Mike’s securing a profitable future for him and his family. Working in partnership with Mike and other farmers like him, now that’s green collar work.
Learn more about Mike’s story.
The Muster l INDUSTRY
The oyster industry’s future looks bright The resilient oyster industry emerges from turbulent times, and a promising summer season is anticipated. Words LIBBY-JANE CHARLESTON
n the aftermath of devastating back-to-back flooding events, NSW oyster farmers finally have reason to celebrate – thanks to dry weather and a settled environment, the outlook is looking great for this summer. According to NSW Farmers Oyster Projects Manager Andy Myers, the state’s oyster farmers have good reason to feel positive. “There’s no doubt the last few years have been very tough, with bushfires, floods, the Covid pandemic – all of these events knocked the oyster industry around. Water quality is everything to the industry, so coming out of those disturbance periods into a dry spell is very good news.” Mr Myers says having stability in the estuaries provides a lot more certainty for oyster farmers, and more sales opportunities for the industry. “When there’s a major rain event, automatically the estuaries close to harvest and the farmers can’t sell for a certain period, as they work out what the impact has been. So, normally, that’s about three weeks that the farmers are missing all their sales opportunities during that window,” Mr Myers said. “But with a dry period, the water quality is more predictable and there are obviously more sales opportunities. “Our oyster farmers have seen a lot of stunted growth over the last two years, with some mortality in the stock, due to the compounding effect of all the disturbances they’ve faced. But with the dry weather, they’re definitely looking forward to a very positive summer.” Oyster farmer Anna Simmonds, from Pambula Lake, says it’s a huge relief that conditions are improving, following a tough few years. “There’s been compounding effects starting off with the fires, Covid lockdowns, significant flooding events and the devastating disease outbreak at Port Stephens. At my farm at Pambula Lake, we were hit with a devastating flood event in March, >
P O SITIVITY ON THE HORIZON
According to NSW Farmers’ Oyster Projects Manager Andy Myers, stability in the estuaries provides a lot more certainty for oyster farmers, and more sales opportunities for the industry.
Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
The Muster 2021 – entire leases were taken out into the ocean, and more than 20 silage bales from nearby farms came down the river with the floodwaters,” Ms Simmonds says. “The bales are around a tonne dry so you can imagine what they’re like when they’re water logged, so that was a devastating event, causing extensive damage to oyster infrastructure. Following that was the compounding freshwater events that meant oysters weren’t growing during that time, so we were dealing with stunted growth, and high levels of mortality. So, it wasn’t a good time to be an oyster farmer. But Ms Simmonds claims things are definitely looking up - the 2023 season has been very positive, with drier conditions, particularly down south. “There was strong demand for Sydney rock oysters around Easter and then oyster farmers have enjoyed a decent winter, so it’s looking good for the oyster industry overall. Prices for Sydney rock oysters are good so we’ve got the supply and the good conditions there,” Ms Simmonds says. “We’ve really changed our mindset from treading water and being in survival mode, to a position where people are starting to be more positive. So now we’re looking forward to making more strategic decisions again, which is wonderful to see.” However, Ms Simmonds cautions that there are still challenges ahead. “It’s not all fantastic news because we’re already seeing some bushfire activity close to Bermagui River and Wapengo Lake (both oyster farming estuaries). So while we are positive and it’s looking to be a good season, the bushfire threat of this summer season is at the forefront in farmers’ minds – especially as so many of us are not only oyster farmers but many of us have rural holdings,” Ms Simmonds says. “Our homes are surrounded by bush, and we store most of our gear there, so it’s positive but we are still very mindful of what Mother Nature might throw to us over the next three to six months.” l
Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
KEEPING A CLO SE EYE ON THE FUTURE
“While we are positive and it’s looking to be a good season, the bushfire threat of this summer season is at the forefront in farmers’ minds – especially as so many of us are not only oyster farmers but many of us have rural holdings,” Ms Simmonds says.
“We’ve really changed our mindset from treading water and being in survival mode, to a position where people are starting to be more positive.” – ANNA SIMMONDS Pambula Lake oyster farmer
Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
The Muster l NATIONAL AG DAY
Grow you good thing! National Agriculture Day calls on Aussies to get behind farmers. Words JAC TAYLOR
ational Agriculture Day – aka AgDay – comes around each November, as a special day for Australian consumers to celebrate and appreciate the hard work and achievements of Australian farmers. This year, AgDay will be held on Friday, 17 November, and the theme is ‘Grow you good thing!’. The theme has been put forward as a catchy way to express the admiration and gratitude that Australians have for their farmers, growing worldclass food and fibre amongst challenges of climate, pests, and market fluctuations. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is encouraging all Australians to get involved in AgDay activities and show their support for the farm sector. NFF President Fiona Simson said AgDay was an opportunity to recognise the vital role that farmers play in feeding and clothing the nation, as well as contributing to the economy, the environment, and the social fabric of rural and regional communities. “Aussie farmers work hard to make sure the impact of dry times is barely felt at dinner tables.
Our farmers are the best in the business. A huge amount of planning and careful management goes into making sure food and fibre still gets grown despite difficult times,” Ms Simson said. She said AgDay was also a chance to educate and inspire the next generation of farmers and consumers about where their food and fibre comes from, how it is produced, and why it matters. There are many ways to celebrate AgDay, such as hosting or attending a lunch, BBQ or event with friends, family or colleagues; wearing an “I Love Farmers” T-shirt or hat; entering a photo or video competition; or connecting with a farmer through Farmer Time, an online program that links students with producers. The NFF has created a website (agday.org.au) where people can register their events, shop for merchandise, enter the competition, sign up for Farmer Time, and access other resources and information. One of the highlights of AgDay is the annual photo and video competition, which showcases the diversity and innovation of Australian agriculture
CO OL AS A KELPIE
David Williams won the 2022 AgDay’s photo and video competition with his photo of a Kelpie cooling off in a trough.
through stunning images and clips. The competition is open to all ages and camera abilities, and has a prize pool of $5,000 thanks to sponsors Syngenta. The winner of the 2022 competition was David Williams from New South Wales, who captured a cool Kelpie enjoying a dip in a trough watched by some Jersey cows. The judges praised the photo for its joyfulness and spontaneity, as well as the obvious contrast between the dog’s enthusiasm and the cows’ curiosity. CONNECTING STUDENTS WITH PRODUCERS
Farmer Time is an online program that links students with producers and helps them learn about where their food and fibre comes from, how it is produced, and why it matters. Farmer Time is an initiative of the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia (PIEFA), the peak body for food and fibre education in Australia. PIEFA aims to engage students and teachers in Australian agriculture and inspire them to pursue careers in the sector. It uses live video streaming technology to bring farmers into classrooms across the country. Students can interact with farmers, ask questions, see their farms and animals, and learn about the challenges and opportunities they face. Farmer Time sessions are usually 20 to 30 minutes long and can be scheduled at a convenient time for both the teacher and the farmer. To celebrate National Ag Week 2023, PIEFA are developing a new digital learning kit to support educators in delivering meaningful learning experiences that explore technology and innovation in Australian agriculture. A series of pre-recorded Farmer Time videos will showcase different agriculture, food and fibre industries. l
GETTING INTO IT
Top to bottom: Winner of the 2021 AgDay photo and video competition – The Bee Keeper by Russell Ord; Chef Matt Moran shows off his AgDay T-Shirt and tattoo.
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Putting the E into farming Farming and research organisations are ramping up efforts to find ways of adding natural capital to the income and environmental ledger for farm businesses.
Words MICHAEL BURT
THE BIG ISSUE ESG
here has never been a period of greater expectation placed on farmers to contribute to environmental and social transformation. It’s coming from all angles, but consumers and market demand are now leading the charge. Mandatory Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) targets are rapidly moving down the supply chain to the farm gate from the likes of Woolworths, Coles and McDonalds. These targets are driven by consumer demand and are being followed by Federal Government Legislation on climate-related financial disclosure for large farm businesses starting in 2026. The good news is that Australian farmers already have or are adopting the practices and technology needed to preserve and enhance natural capital assets and farm sustainability. Many of the looming ESG requirements will be met through industry programs such as BMP cotton certification and the Australian Dairy Sustainability Framework, and through sustainability declarations to access export markets like the EU. The bad news is the potential for farmers to be wrapped in more green tape with little financial benefit, and farm businesses will have to spend time and money to prove their natural capital worth. “One of the key premises for practice change with respect to natural capital is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you won’t invest in what you don’t value,” says National Farmers Federation (NFF) CEO Tony Maher. “There is already an extensive knowledge base and capability amongst farmers but there is not currently a comprehensive and consistent set of natural capital measures to support widespread adoption of natural capital measurement across Australia.” That has led Australian agriculture to leap into the emerging world of natural capital accounting in recent months. This includes the release of the Farming for the Future program’s preliminary findings in September on financial, ecological and social data collected from 130 Australian grazing and cropping enterprises. The second phase of this research program has found that investment in the ecological condition of a farm is associated with financial benefits through improved productivity and measuring natural capital assets. The CSIRO released its Natural Capital handbook in the same month to provide guidelines on measuring and incorporating natural assets such as clean air, water, soil and living things into farming, forestry, mining and non-government organisations. The international Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) also recently released its final recommendations and nature-related risk management and disclosure in New York. > NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
Led by 40 Taskforce members representing over US$20 trillion in assets under management, the TNFD drew on the input of market and non-market stakeholders from almost 60 countries around the world, including Australia. While the TNFD may not rank highly on an Australian farmer’s priority list, Farming for the Future Program Director, Dr Sue Ogilvy, says it was vital Australia had a seat at its table. Dr Ogilvy says the release of the TNFD’s 14 Disclosure Recommendations and implementation guidance comes at a critical time, with rapidly growing interest across business and finance globally on nature and biodiversity issues. “It is a very important global initiative. In addition to supporting the Farming for the Future program, the Macdoch Foundation has been a key voice for Australian agriculture in the TNFD process,” says Dr Ogilvy. “This includes making sure that farmers are not burdened with the cost and responsibility of all the
NATURE CLIMB S TO THE TOP OF THE AGENDA
“Investors are rapidly lifting their expectations of top ASX companies across the board on sustainability, and nature appears to be the next big issue on the agenda,” Dr Leeson says.
reporting when many of the benefits are beyond the farm gate.” Dr Robyn Leeson, a consultant for the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework has also been monitoring the development of the TNFD. Dr Leeson suggests it may follow a similar path to the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). The TCFD developed a framework designed to solicit decision-useful, forward-looking information that reports the financial impacts of climate change on a business. “Investors are rapidly lifting their expectations of top ASX companies across the board on sustainability, and nature appears to be the next big issue on the agenda,” Dr Leeson says. “Banks are expected to look at their various portfolios, including agriculture, in terms of naturebased impacts and dependencies as well as risks and opportunities, who they’re lending to and for what purpose.
THE BIG ISSUE ESG
“One of the key premises for practice change with respect to natural capital is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you won’t invest in what you don’t value.” – TONY MAHER National Farmers Federation (NFF) CEO
“Significantly, most of the impacts and dependencies, risks and opportunities for banks and large corporate customers are in their value chain and on the land. So, this is likely to be felt in the food and agriculture sector before the TNFD matures and the regulators get around to issuing a domestic naturerelated financial disclosure standard for business.” Dr Leeson says for beef industry interests, knowing the specific locations of your value chain will be critical. “The food businesses at the end of the value chain will want to know the location of their impact on nature at source,” she says. “So that will mean using tools such as geospatial analysis to find out where their beef is coming from and what impacts and dependencies that location reflects when it comes to nature, as well as the risks and opportunities.” ACCOUNTING FOR NATURAL CAPITAL
A mix of 130 livestock and wool farmers from across Australia can head to the accountants armed with natural capital figures after taking part in the Farming for the Future Program. “We had to have robust and reliable measurements of natural capital and it had to be down to the paddock level so that it is relevant for farmers,” says Dr Ogilvy. “We needed to have farms that represented the bulk of the livestock sector, so we excluded very large operations and small farms.” The sample set of farms in NSW ranged between 600 and 5,000 hectares. “The participating farmers can use the information and data that we collected about the natural capital as part of their reporting to supply chains and accountants. The data we collected is the same that is required for ESG reporting. “What we are trying to do enables farmers and the people that support to respond to this new world of ESG by understanding the value of natural capital to agricultural operations. “We are also trying to make sure that the supply chain and financial services industry are sharing the cost and responsibility of natural capital management. All roads lead to agriculture when it comes to natural capital.”
Dr Ogilvy says measuring natural capital on farms is not a simple process. “We used a combination of satellite imagery analysis and machine learning, complemented with field observations. Most farmers are aware that present satellite imagery is not accurate enough yet at a paddock level. It will be in the future, but for now field work by ecologists is a critical part.” Dr Ogilvy says the different ecosystems on farms can represent forms of natural capital. “A farm ecosystem could be a broadacre cropping soil, or a perennial pasture or orchard through to a grassy woodland and native vegetation. Each of the natural capital pieces can deliver ecosystem services through biodiversity or carbon storage. “It’s really important that as initiatives like the TNFD are adopted that farmers have good quality measures of natural capital that are suited to Australian conditions. One of the next questions for the Farming for the Future program is how to ensure farmers are fairly compensated for collecting natural capital data and providing environmental benefits for the wider community.” The prevalence of price premiums, or bonus payments, attributed directly to on farm environmental and social outcomes in Australia are few and far between. Advances in soil carbon monitoring and management are generating ‘environmental’ income for farmers, but the NFF and NSW Farmers are calling for a wider range of incentives including sustainability linked finance, insurance discounts, tax benefits and support for the uptake of methane reduction products like seaweed additives. “We are also going to put more effort into including what we have learned so far helping to develop the field of natural capital accounting, and also to influence things like future developments from the TNFD,” says Dr Ogilvy. “I do think that we will see a world where farm accountants are adding natural capital to the financial accounts. Accountants will be vital in this process and we are already talking to the Australian Accountants Standards Board and CPA Australia. “For smaller farms, it’s also important we investigate ways of providing a basic set of natural capital accounts alongside something like the local rates notice.” > NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
THE BIG ISSUE ESG
develop the tools and benchmarks to inform decisions about investment in a farm’s natural capital and the opportunity for improved financial performance.” CSIRO LENDS A NATURAL CAPITAL HAND
Dr Ogilvy has had the benefit of working closely with world leading researchers of natural capital accounting from the CSIRO and La Trobe University. Her research over the past decade has focused on adapting and extending ecosystem accounting concepts and standards to enable farmers to include natural capital as part of their asset base. “I think Australia is leading the way on this, but we don’t know it and we don’t talk about it,” she says. “The EU are taking a strong lead on sustainability reporting, but we are leading the agricultural pathway with research and programs like ours and others from the CSIRO, the NFF’s Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework and commodity specific schemes, and I think Australian farmers will stack up pretty well on the natural capital front.” Initiated by philanthropic foundation, the Macdoch Foundation, Farming for the Future is industry led and supported. Funding for the first phases came from a broad network of supporters, including philanthropists, government, banks, and industry bodies including Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation. Dr Ogilvy is encouraging more farmers from NSW to get involved in the program, with expressions of interest for the next round of mapping and data collection coming out in early 2024. “We do want to add more farms to the data set and expand into cropping, horticulture and viticulture,” she says. “By working hand-in-hand with farmers and their advisors during the research to understand what information would be useful, we can start to
ADDING NATURAL CAPITAL TO AS SETS
Dr Sue Ogilvy’s (above)
research over the past decade has focused on adapting and extending ecosystem accounting concepts and standards to enable farmers to include natural capital as part of their asset base.
Natural capital accounting is gaining momentum as a way to quantify and integrate the value of nature into decision-making processes for a variety of businesses and organisations. Lead author of the CSIRO’s Natural Capital Handbook, Dr Greg Smith says the failure to account for nature in decision-making has led to environmental decline over time and is increasingly recognised as a material risk to business. “While nature underpins our economic growth, the value of nature is excluded in dominant financial analysis tools and not always factored into decisionmaking by businesses,” Dr Smith says. “This is now being recognised as a critical component in helping to reverse environment decline, and in future, is expected to become a mandatory requirement for businesses globally.” The handbook harmonises resources, frameworks, and indicators to help Australian businesses across all sectors measure, track and manage their natural capital assets. “How companies track and measure their impacts and dependencies on nature can be challenging,” Dr Smith says. “Currently, there is a lack of practical guidance that brings together the many different standards, frameworks and example approaches that have been developed in natural capital accounting, impact, dependency, and risk/opportunity assessment.” ARE OYSTER FARMS CARBON NEUTRAL?
The humble oyster leads the fresh food pack when it comes to meeting the ‘E’ targets in the emerging world of ESG accounting. Its plusses for the ‘E’ ledger include providing aquatic habitat for other species and improving water quality through the removal of pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus, and there are no methane emissions or high-energy usage to pile onto the minus side. >
“A farm ecosystem could be a broadacre cropping soil, or a perennial pasture or orchard through to a grassy woodland and native vegetation. Each of the natural capital pieces can deliver ecosystem services through biodiversity or carbon storage.” – DR SUE OGILVY Farming for the Future Program Director
THE BIG ISSUE ESG
“Oyster farming is a great example of the nature of a positive industry, and there’s a belief that many oyster farms would be close to being carbon neutral already.” – ANDY MYERS NSW Farmers Oyster Project Officer
NSW Farmers is now looking to add another green tick to the plus ledger through a project examining the carbon balance sheet for oyster farmers and the industry as whole. “Oyster farming is a great example of a nature positive industry,” says NSW Farmers’ Oyster Project Officer Andy Myers, “and there is a belief that many oyster farms would be close to being carbon neutral already.” Electricity and fuel usage are the principal components on the negative side of the carbon balance sheet for oyster farming businesses. “It’s only really the energy required to run grading machinery in the oyster shed and fuel used for oyster punts at a farm level,” Andy explains. “The offset solutions to those can be quite simple, like installing solar panels on the shed. There are also some developments in the electric outboard market, mostly overseas, but I am sure that this technology will be commonplace in Australia soon.”
GO OD NEWS FOR OYSTER FARMERS
Above: An oyster lease in Merimbula. Oyster shells sequester carbon, with approximately 12 per cent of the calcium carbonate shell, being composed of carbon.
On the plus side, oyster shells sequester carbon, with approximately 12 per cent of the calcium carbonate shell, being composed of carbon. “Given that oysters respire, and shells can dissolve under some conditions, the 12 per cent figure is not set in stone, and it’s a bit unclear on what percentage can be used in carbon calculations. That’s one reason why it will not be included in the Australian Government Emissions Reduction Fund any time soon, but it may be acceptable to be used in carbon neutral accreditation calculations. “Unlike land farmers, there won’t be opportunities for oyster farmers to receive offset payments, but we can get prepared for future market demands for sustainably produced food and to use the environmental credentials for marketing fresh oysters.” The audits will be conducted on 30 large, medium and small oyster farms. “For oyster farms, we will be taking the cradle to gate approach and assessing the carbon usage and sequestration throughout the oyster’s life,” says Andy. “If the numbers are good, the farmer can then pursue third-party certification at their own cost.” “Working with NSW DPI, through this project we ultimately want to extrapolate this sample data for the whole of the NSW oyster industry. Growers can then make an informed decision on whether they’d like to push forward with an industry-wide approach to carbon neutrality.” This NSW Farmers project is jointly funded by the Australian and NSW governments under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements. l
CROP PERFORMANCE IN DRY TIMES Are you in the process of building the biology in your soil? It’s never too late to start. Farmers today are taking a fresh look at soil, whether it is to sequester carbon, for environmental reasons, or to grow more resilient crops. It might even be for long-term investments, to reduce the farmers work load, to minimise inputs, or to decrease costs. Either way, soil has captured our attention.
ginger, and turmeric crops for the Australian market, for the last 12 years.
Studies show an increasing number of farmers utilising regenerative farming practices to build soil fertility, and grow crops that are better equipped to cope with changing conditions and climatic stressors.
“I do that with things like products from the ocean. There’s a lot of nutrients available in the ocean, that are not available on the continent of Australia. We can bring them back, by using things like fish hydrolysate, and seaweed.”
Tom and Carolyn from Mirum Creek Organics, mid north coast NSW, have been producing certified organic garlic,
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When discussing crop resilience with Tom, he says “It’s really important to provide homes for the biology, and a little bit of food (for the biology), when its tough times.”
rich organic minerals and trace elements found in Australian seaweed (kelp), and ocean fish (leftover from processing). Seaweed provides one of the world’s richest sources of pure minerals and micro-nutrients. It is beneficial for all soil types. Where water scarcity is a concern, biological fertilisers can be incorporated into evening spray regimes, to utilise the nights ground moisture. Applying biological seaweed fertiliser, particularly during dry times, can benefit crop performance due to seaweeds large amount of alginate. Alginate is a gel-like substance that acts as a reservoir for water, and provides moisture holding capabilities in the soil. For crops to withstand and recover from environmental stresses such as drought, floods, pests, and disease, the number one key according to Tom is “If you’ve got the biology there, you’ve got the resilience.” For dedicated support on applying effective biological soil care strategies, chat to the Sonic team for an individually tailored solution, 0423 139 578. www.sonicnaturalfarming.com.au.
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The Big Picture
TAKING THE BULL BY THE HORNS Succession planning is so often an awkward, complicated or even painful subject, but there is advice at hand to help families to overcome the inertia and move forward constructively.
Words LIBBY-JANE CHARLESTON
very family farm is a labour of love, marked by years of dedication, risks taken, and countless sacrifices, all with the enduring hope that it will stand the test of time. The quest for a legacy that encompasses both the preservation of cherished family traditions and the rich tapestry of heritage has always been seen as a noble endeavour. However, when the moment arrives to hand over the reins of the family farming business, it can bring forth a complex blend of conflict, confusion, and uncertainty. Often a business, a home and a family unit are all on the line, and the very mention of the word ‘succession’ in some farming families is enough to unleash the kind of drama they’ve spent decades trying to avoid. But while the complexity of the succession process is palpable, there is evidence that traditional ways are being challenged – although for many families, the most difficult step is the first one. That step is instigating the tricky conversation that’s been put off over and over again – until somebody dies. SONS AND DAUGHTERS
Succession is such a huge issue that the University of New England has created two new online postgraduate courses in the hopes of helping farming families and other businesses tackle their succession dramas. The Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma in Transition and Succession Planning are aimed at upskilling a range of people involved in family businesses, such as farm business consultants, family counsellors, lawyers, and financial advisors. The courses cover areas such as dispute resolution, communication, and legal issues. With women making up 50 per cent of Australian students studying agriculture, >
the tides are turning away from old ways of thinking. For instance, prior to 1994, women could not list ‘farmer’ as their occupation on the census form. Instead, they were viewed as ‘non-productive silent partners’. In Australia, the most recent research carried out on farm transfers identified that daughters were the nominated successor for the family farm in only 10 per cent of cases. Dr Lucie Newsome from UNE has recently completed a study on succession: Changing scripts, gender family farm succession and increasing farm values in Australia. The issue of succession is explored with a particular focus on understanding how changing gender norms and increasing asset values may be impacting common patterns of farm ownership. It also focuses on how social scripts inflect traditional patterns of farm succession and review what makes up a ‘family farm’, as well as the changing economic environment in which family farms operate. Dr Newsome says, while there has definitely been some progress, it has been remarkably slow. “Expectations are changing,” she says. “Sons are no longer seeing farming as their only option, and daughters are seeing no reason why they wouldn’t be considered in the succession plan.” According to Dr Newsome, there has been a disruption in the past 30 years regarding children’s expectations in regards to their roles, choosing their own occupation and being more geographically mobile. “There are economic issues around farm liability, and social issues of managing expectations of farm children. But there is still an enduring theme of a desire to keep the farm within the family and preserving >
“Sons are no longer seeing farming as their only option, and daughters are seeing no reason why they wouldn’t be considered in the succession plan.” – DR LUCIE NEWSOME Lecturer and researcher, UNE.
THE BIG PICTURE
Advisors’ witness accounts The UNE team interviewed 22 farm succession advisors to find out what they have recently witnessed. Some of the advisors’ comments published in the report include:
the connection with the community and workers,” Dr Newsome says. “There’s a default assumption that the son will inherit but because children’s expectations are changing and because women’s agricultural education has increased, these expectations are starting to move in the right direction.” Dr Newsome says now there is “wriggle room” for considering daughters – particularly if families go through a formal farm succession plan with a planner, a lawyer or an accountant. “There’s a forum for the children to say what they want, unlike previous generations where the transition might happen through the will. The enduring theme from the interviews with the advisors is to start early.
LEAVING THE FARM
“People get to an age and stage of their life where they want to finish with the farm. The complexity of that is a driver; they want to retire with an income, they want to have a life beyond the land and they need to get the succession plan going.” Rev. Noel Williams.
“A farmer would say succession is done well if the oldest son gets the farm, and… the farm is safe from any divorces.” “It’s still that view there’s some things men can do and there’s some things women can do, and… it is still patriarchal, but it’s seen to be right.” “The general community’s expectations have changed. And certainly, women’s expectations have gone through a process of change.” “I do see the majority of people now, they don’t mind whether it’s their son or daughter.” “We are still seeing people being appointed to roles in families because they were born male, rather than being the best person for the job.”
“Succession is about life and living; and being in solidarity as a family. And, if that’s not in place, then the nuts and bolts of succession become very problematic.” – REVEREND NOEL WILLIAMS The Barwon Bush Chaplain for Frontier Services
“There’s this assumption that females can’t and don’t have the skills to take on certain roles.” “It’s effectively first in best dressed… it generally is males because males are probably seen more as farmers, and it’s more an expectation that the farm will go to the eldest son.”
Think of a succession plan as a living document that will need to be revised regularly as families change. This also helps to challenge the socialisation and implementation around succession,” Dr Newsome says. “Family law has changed and there’s no way to exclude either non-inheriting siblings or safeguard the farm from partnership breakdown – this is a crucial point. This means, legally, challenges can be made under the Family Law Act about unequal provision to other siblings but also, if the inheriting spouse breaks up with their partner, then that is wide open to making a claim on the assets.” The overriding message from the professionals included in the UNE study is that you are better off to include all the family members. “Communicate regularly, have everyone on the same page and allow a forum that allows everyone’s voices to be heard. This is better than excluding them from decision-making, because that is more likely to create a stronger reaction and, legally, you won’t have many legs to stand on,” Dr Newsome says. PASTORAL CARE AND HARD CONVERSATIONS
But the biggest sticking point of all is not unique to farming families, and that is how to start that difficult conversation without igniting a family feud. Rev. Noel Williams, the Barwon Bush Chaplain for Frontier Services has seen it all when it comes to family conflict and other struggles. Regarding succession planning, Rev. Williams says
putting off the crucial conversation until it’s too late has dire consequences. “Some people become less capable of making the tough decisions, or the work on the farm is so intense that they don’t get around to saying what they want. For others succession is just not on their radar,” he says. “I’m on the land myself, as well as being the bush chaplain, so I understand that you’ll have critical focus on the issues that are front of mind: there’s the stress of the cost of living, El Niño, the price of beef, lamb and pork falling and so on, and all of this has a flow-on effect. “I don’t believe any farmers are saying that succession is not important – they’re all very aware – but there is just so much other white noise around us that it just gets lost in the static. Part of my role is to encourage people to get moving with succession planning. But it’s the emotional side that’s the killer.”
MORE DAUGHTERS TO JOIN THE TABLE
Dr Lucie Newsome says now there is “wriggle room” for considering daughters – particularly if families go through a formal farm succession plan with a planner, a lawyer or an accountant.
EMBRACE THE PROCESS
Noel believes, taking into account all these serious issues, it’s no wonder some farming families drag their feet when it comes to starting a conversation about succession. “People get to an age and stage of their life where they want to finish with the farm. The complexity of that is a driver; they want to retire with an income, they want to have a life beyond the land and they need to get the succession plan going. And then the > NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
THE BIG PICTURE
The five ‘Ds’ Like many on the land, Rev. Williams has heard stories about people reaching their ‘tipping point’ that eventually leads them to deal with succession plans quickly. Noel calls these the five ‘Ds’ that can make succession planning so problematic: DEATH/DISASTERS
“Death is a major catalyst for families to say, ‘OK, now we really have to deal with succession planning’. Disasters can also be a major catalyst in pushing people towards the process. They get to a point where they have no choice but to put a succession plan in place, however it’s at a time when they are possibly grieving the death of a loved one, or dealing with any number of other disasters.” DEPRESSION
“Depression is another big issue on the land and can have a huge, devastating impact on succession planning.” DEMENTIA
“A growing issue is dementia. Dementia shows itself uniquely in every individual, and for some people, you wouldn’t pick it – but others drop off very quickly and it’s a huge matter I deal with constantly.” DIVORCE/DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
“Dysfunctional relationships in families often have a long history that might have started over an argument years ago that was never properly resolved. This is a huge issue because when there are clashes within the family, it makes people push succession to the very back of their priority list. The unresolved conflict causes fear and anger, which only makes succession issues more difficult. DESPERATION
“People reach the point of desperation and, generally, I find desperation does not produce ideal decision-making. When people make decisions in desperation, the decisions are generally very bad.”
process of actually doing that involves transition, and people don’t usually transition well until they have it thrust upon them. And that leads to pressure, which can exacerbate their desperation,” Rev. Williams says. “The pressure and desperation are very important to acknowledge because that makes the emotions more intense. So, when emotions are high and a consultant comes in to complete a very complex process, it is generally a recipe for disaster.” Rev. Williams also claims he’s seen problems arise when advisors might not have the awareness of the remote family, or can’t read the room in terms of family dynamics, and they devise a ‘one size fits all’ process that doesn’t suit the family at all. “And some people just don’t have the ability to listen,” he says. “The divide between city and bush is a huge thing that is ever widening. In the ‘city bubble’ there’s often a belief that any problem in the bush can be fixed – but succession isn’t a problem to fix. It’s a process that is very complex and takes a lot of effort to be able to manage the difference between desired outcomes versus expectations of the succession plan and the distribution percentage. Then it often comes down to kindergarten talk such as ‘why does he get more than me?’ “Succession planning is more than dividing up the assets. Hopefully you’ve been able to coach your children and support them in re-engaging in the farm if it is going to stay in the family and, if
not, then it’s about selling the farm and dividing the money. “Succession is about life and living; and being in solidarity as a family. And, if that’s not in place, then the nuts and bolts of succession become very problematic.” Rev. Williams advises people to not leave succession planning until it is too late. He also encourages people to pay close attention to their total wellbeing because this will lead to better decisions being made. “There’s physical wellbeing – taking time to relax – and emotional wellbeing which is making sure you’re sleeping without being anxious or worried. Emotional wellbeing is all about relationships and love, and finding goodness in everything, even in toil,” he says. “The other element in total wellbeing is social wellbeing. The network of social interactions is very important when it comes to succession planning. When you’re so focused on the land, you get overwhelmed and the first thing that drops off the radar is your friends. You need to pay attention to social wellbeing before and during succession planning, but also as an outcome of succession planning. “Another element of wellbeing is spiritual, and that might be something as simple as reconciling with someone, or forgiving and letting go. Once you focus on your total wellbeing, you will be in a better place to make better decisions about succession – and that will benefit your entire family.” l
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SPECIAL REPORT REGENERATIVE & SUSTAINABLE FARMING
OF FARMING It’s no secret that the agricultural industry is once again changing. With unpredictable weather conditions and new technologies impacting the landscape, farmers are evaluating the best ways to protect their properties and continue supplying for the country.
Words MATILDA MEIKLE
SPECIAL REPORT REGENERATIVE AND ORGANIC FARMING
ow, more than ever, regenerative agriculture and organic farming practises are being adopted by farmers. Instead of turning to artificial applications, many farmers are considering natural processes, climates and livestock to help them restore ecosystems and conserve land. This often leads to an increase in productivity and profitability, ensuring precious resources and the land are protected for future generations. Regenerative agriculture encourages us to work with different ecosystems, rather than against them, in order to find solutions.
“We focus on grazing management and feed budgeting, which is my specialty, and partner that with GreenCollar’s specialty, which is scientifically looking at vegetation regeneration and biodiversity.” – MIKE ROSSER Western NSW grazier
CARBON PROJECTS WITH GREENCOLLAR
Regenerative farming is recognised as a system of farming that enriches soils, increases biodiversity, improves water retention and enhances the ecosystem – all benefits that are shared with a well-managed carbon project. That’s why anyone looking to shift towards regenerative farming practices could also find alignment with carbon farming and benefit from an additional and diversified income stream that can be invested back into improving agriculture operations. Working with an experienced project partner is the best way to develop a high-quality carbon project that aligns with your goals and aspirations. Western NSW graziers, Mike and Lucy Rosser, recommend identifying a partner that will work with you to understand the landscape and your operation.
“GreenCollar was the best choice for us,” says Mike. “It’s all about better grazing management and working with their experts and data.” “We focus on grazing management and feed budgeting, which is my specialty, and partner that with GreenCollar’s specialty, which is scientifically looking at vegetation regeneration and biodiversity. Their data shows us how good our rotational grazing is, so we can learn a lot from the results – and that’s what excites me,” he says.
BORING DOWN WITH STATE-OF-THE-ART SUSTAINABLE WATER SOLUTIONS
Ross Martiensen and Jim Conley launched their company in 2018 as a response to the arid climate and constant drought faced by many farms in Australia. Sustainable Water Pty Ltd uses state-ofthe-art technology, including satellite imagery and geophysical mapping, to locate and access sustainable groundwater, providing farmers with reliable water sources to support them through rough periods and increase their productivity. According to Georgina Tweedie, Promotions Manager at Sustainable Water PTY LTD, “When we actually go in and locate massive amounts of water for farmers, it’s a lifesaver for them. It’s the difference between making it or not making it on a property, and it’s something that we see as very valuable.” The company employs a variety of techniques to identify bores which will continue to produce water. Often, time and money is wasted drilling into shallow bores which cannot sustain a farm. By identifying these ‘high probability zones’, Sustainable Water PTY LTD has a high success rate for tapping into more sustainable and long-term water resources. “If a farmer has gone ahead with our service, we know they’re going to get the product so they can be
prepared. It’s a lot of stress on the people on the land if they don’t have the water they need,” says Georgina. Sustainable Water PTY LTD is also focused on caring for the environment and promoting sustainable agriculture. They seek to help the land as well as producers by reducing the number of ineffective bores being drilled on farms. “It cuts down the expense for the farmer, because cattle will only go so far away from a bore. So if they’ve got a big property, they need multiple bores that are going to have reliable water.” THE WAY FORWARD
By adopting less conventional practices, farmers remain adaptable to the challenges thrown at them in the harsh Aussie climate. Both GreenCollar and Sustainable Water PTY LTD highlight the impact of combining creative thinking with natural features in order to get the best out of the land while ensuring its survival. Working alongside our environment is necessary to promoting sustainability as well as developing economically. Businesses on the forefront of this move towards organic practices are reaping the benefits of an expanding market, and contributing to the new face of farming. l
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INNOVATION WHEAT INDUSTRY
Topping up the crop Scientists are working on a new wheat variation with the genetic capabilities to thrive in Australia’s harsh climate.
Words MATILDA MEIKLE
$12 million project run by CSIRO is attempting to increase the reliability of crop sowing. The research, funded by Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), will introduce wheat with specific genetic capabilities into the Australian market, allowing farmers to grow crops in a more diverse set of weather patterns. The CSIRO are working with several state agricultural groups to encourage an industry-wide uptake of this enhanced wheat, ensuring continued production and yield in increasingly volatile weather. THE WHEAT INDUSTRY
According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the value of Australian wheat production reached its highest levels in 2022-23 at $15 billion. This equates to around 25 million tonnes of wheat produced every year, providing much of Australia’s grain needs and a major export income.
THE VALUE OF WHEAT
According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the value of Australian wheat production reached its highest levels in 2022– 2023, at $15 billion.
But with a variety of weather patterns across the country, crop growth and quality can be hard to maintain, especially in an environment impacted by climate change. This can lead to weaker crop harvests, impacting food security and income for many Aussie communities. As such, scientists have focused their attention on breeding crop varieties that can adapt to complex weather conditions, improving the stability of yield for farmers and ensuring this industry can continue to thrive. FROM LITTLE THINGS, BIG THINGS GROW
The new CSIRO-led project will promote wheat varieties with long coleoptiles in their genetic makeup. Coleoptile is the protective layer found on wheat plants which supports the shoot and its first leaves. Having a long coleoptile means there is a greater likelihood the crop is sown deep into stored soil moisture, which can be brought to the surface for survival.
The risks associated with crop sowing are also reduced for wheat with long coleoptile genetics. This means farmers have more control when deciding what depth to plant their seeds, and predicting the timing for germination. Greg Rebetzke, lead researcher and CSIRO plant geneticist, says this project is just one in a series of studies targeting enhanced wheat growth. Scientists have been working hard to find solutions for Australia’s harsh weather, ensuring crops can be grown year-round. “We are very much focusing on how we can build a system and a package so that with the release of new long coleoptile wheat varieties, adoption and take up will be very rapid.” SOWING THE SEEDS
The project will be undertaken across four years, with grain-growing states testing several genetic, environmental, and management factors to determine how wheat crops with longer coleoptiles can adapt to different climates. On top of this, the team will be creating a common industry standard for measuring and defining wheat coleoptile length. But it’s not just about developing a solution.
“We are very much focusing on how we can build a system and a package so that with the release of new long coleoptile wheat varieties, adoption and take up will be very rapid.” – GREG REBETZKE Lead researcher and CSIRO plant geneticist
PART OF THE PACKAGE
“For me, success in this project is that long coleoptiles won’t be talked about, they’ll just be part of the package of new wheat varieties that come to growers.”
Researchers also want to ensure that these wheat varieties will spread quickly and efficiently through the Australian market in order to promote greater wheat crop production. According to Dr. Rebetzke, “For me, success in this project is that long coleoptiles won’t be talked about, they’ll just be part of the package of new wheat varieties that come to growers.” If the research proves effective, similar genetic studies may be applied to other crops such as canola and barley. Climate change will only continue to impact our environment, meaning further study could ensure our crops are protected from volatile weather. l
TRADE DOG SCHOOL
FARM DOG SCHOOL Based in Nyngan in outback NSW, the Gary White Working Dog School is so popular that Gary travels around the world teaching the secret to training the perfect working dog.
Words LIBBY-JANE CHARLESTON
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e’re in awe of their stamina, speed, dedication and their ability to herd even the most unruly and stubborn livestock. Working dogs can thrive in the unforgiving, scorching plains of Australia; kelpies have been recorded travelling over 60 kilometres, just in a day’s work. A great farm dog can achieve complex tasks in minutes – tasks that would take hours for a human. Above all, they’re an essential part of running a farm and they’re also very loyal companions who seem to actually love what they do. Even better: they’re much cheaper to employ than any human worker. A skilled working dog is worth its weight in gold, and some farmers are prepared to pay big dollars for the best of the best. The record price paid for a working dog in Australia was broken last year following a sale at Newbridge, near Blayney in Central West NSW, for a 20-month-old kelpie that pulled a whopping $49,000 – topping the previous record of $35,000 from 2021. The trick to raising a good farm dog is not all about natural ability – it’s also about the training, and that’s where Gary White steps in with his internationally acclaimed Gary White Working Dog School. FROM THE OUTBACK TO EVERYWHERE
Since 1999, Gary has been travelling around Australia and even crisscrossing the globe, to share his wisdom of working dogs by holding clinics for farmers. His work has taken him to the Americas, Europe and Britain, and he is constantly in demand. The world of working-dog training flows through Gary’s veins. Born and bred in Nyngan, Gary has grown > NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
TRADE DOG SCHOOL
up around dogs; his father began White’s Kelpie Stud around 60 years ago, also being one of the original studs of the Working Kelpie Council. “Dad always managed properties and always had working dogs to help him because, on the farms, he was working by himself so the working dogs were his righthand men,” Gary says. “When I was a kid, Nyngan was very remote. There was no television or any other kind of entertainment so you had to make your own fun outside, and the farm dogs were always my best mates. We did everything together. I was lucky to have a very outdoor life as a kid, and the dogs were such a huge part of my world throughout my childhood. Most of what I know about working dogs was taught to me by my father. “I was very young when I started working with dogs,” Gary recalls. “I loved nothing better than helping dad with cattle or sheep work and I remember Dad would leave me with the sheep and with one or two of his older trained dogs. So working with and training dogs is very much in my blood.” After building up a local reputation for training local dogs, Gary was approached about travelling to the US to hold special clinics. These are usually held on a farm for two to three days, with a major focus on helping owners work with their dog’s natural instincts. Those first US clinics were so popular that the offers to return kept coming, and it wasn’t long before Gary was travelling to other countries too. “It doesn’t matter where in the world I am; I train the dogs all the same way. The method never changes. Dogs overseas are reasonably similar, even though they might be used slightly differently. When I go to the US, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany – they’re not working the big numbers of livestock that we are,” Gary says. “But whether the dogs are working big or smaller numbers of livestock, the basics are exactly the same.”
“When I was a kid, Nyngan was very remote. There was no television or any other kind of entertainment so you had to make your own fun outside, and the farm dogs were always my best mates.” – GARY WHITE
WORKING TO GETHER
Top left: Gary training some of his dogs; Bottom, left to right: Angela White, Mari Kaplan and Gary; On the job with another student.
Gary believes the art of teaching a working dog has a lot of similarities with educating young children. He also thinks that if owners reminded themselves of this simple fact, they’d have an easier time training their best mate. “There are definitely many similarities between kids and working dogs. Kids need a bit of discipline, structure and lines in the sand – and dogs are pretty much the same. You also have to gain their respect, which is so important,” Gary says. “You have to work with them – always be patient and kind. I’ve been training dogs for a long time now, it’s a big part of my life and much of my training is geared toward helping farmers on the land utilise their dogs in a better fashion. But it all starts with building that relationship with them.” Australian farm dogs comprise a variety of breeds, with the Kelpie, Border Collie, and Australian Cattle Dog standing out as the primary working breeds, all shaped by more than 100 years of deliberate selective breeding. According to research into working dog behaviour at the University of Sydney, the Australian working Kelpie was shaped for our harsh conditions to use a “strong-eyed style” of herding. >
> NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
TRADE DOG SCHOOL
“It doesn’t matter where in the world I am; I train the dogs all the same way. The method never changes.”
TOP OF THE CLAS S
Gary (above and right with a class of farmers) says that not all dogs can be trained to an extremely high level. There are some dogs with a certain personality and you just know they’ll only go so far, just like some kids will excel at some things and not be too great in other things.
This means the dog gets into a low posture and uses what’s called ‘eye-stalking’: keeping its eyes on the livestock as it tracks their movements. It’s a style also used by Border Collies, enabling them to control the herd with great sensitivity just by using their mere presence. In the same way a predator approaches prey animals, the working dog’s behaviour includes the stalking posture with its head and body low, with quiet, controlled steps. Gary believes every working dog can be trained to a certain level; however, he says there are some dogs who just aren’t able to truly excel – and that usually comes down to their type of personality. “You can’t train every single dog to work to an extremely high level, that’s just not possible. And it’s just another similarity the dogs have with children. There are some dogs with a certain personality and you just know they’ll only go so far, just like some kids will excel at some things and not be too great in other things, no matter how much you try to teach them. So as soon as you can, you need to figure out what the dog’s ability level is,” Gary says. “Using horses as an example, there’ll be some
horses that can jump five feet, while others can only manage jumping two feet. So I quickly work out what the ability level for a particular dog is, and then see if they have the right temperament to be trained.” “Over the years, I’ve seen some brilliant dogs with a lot of natural ability but they might still not be trainable, or he won’t let you train him to the highest level. I’ve found that the really good dogs will have a very high level of natural ability, as well as being very able and willing to be trained.” Gary usually holds his training sessions in groups of 10-12 people. He begins with a talk about the basics of training a dog, and how to understand your dog in relation to his breeding and working qualities. “Then, I’ll address the all-important body language. I’ll teach the dogs what my verbal commands are and I teach this by body language. If I can’t show them my body language, I can’t teach them what a particular word means. So that’s how I start teaching the dogs – and the humans. So, it’s as much as training the owner as the dog, so when they go home, they know exactly how to train their dog,” Gary says. >
TRADE DOG SCHOOL
There are around 25 Working Dog School sessions around Australia every year – demand has been growing recently for his international classes – in April and May this year, Gary was training dogs in the US and Canada. Next year, Gary and his wife Angie are off to Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland. “I do love my work, I feel very privileged to be working with the dogs and helping farmers get the most out of their best mates,” Gary says. A GRADUATE’S TAIL
Canowindra farmer Sharron Steer is one of Gary’s regular clients; he’s helped train her three kelpies from a young age - sometimes all three at once. “We only have a small farm but I couldn’t move sheep around or do drenching without my dogs,” Sharron says. “The first working dog school I went to was with an inexperienced young dog with limited natural ability. Gary’s approach was pragmatic but positive, and he showed me how to work with the dog’s ability. “I find the schools with Gary to be very supportive and encouraging. He is very good at identifying where the handler and the dog is at – you could have someone who is very skilled but have a dog that has some sort of issue – so he’s very good at working out how to help the handler address the problem with the dog at a level that’s suitable for both.” Sharron says she’s now able to work stock by herself with her dogs. She’s also learned enough to take them to the occasional sheep dog trial and have fun with them as well. “Another thing Gary helped me with is the bitch I have who is just very busy. She’s always over working! So Gary helped me to understand how to slow her down, get her to stop in the right position and not let her move too close to the sheep because, getting too close makes the sheep move and you don’t always want them to move. What you want is for the sheep to move when you want them to move, not when the dog wants them to move,” she says. “I wasn’t born knowing how to work stock or dogs, so Gary helped me realise that it’s my job to let her work if she’s working effectively but to intervene when the work isn’t effective. And I couldn’t do the work without my dogs.”
COMPARING KID S & D O GS
Gary (above with some of his students) believes the art of teaching a working dog has a lot of similarities with educating young children. He also thinks that if owners reminded themselves of this simple fact, they’d have an easier time training their best mate.
As for Gary’s own working dogs, he’s had many special dogs over the years, including highly skilled mustering and paddock dogs. They’re the dogs that can do the drafting, or the penning up at shearing time, or loading the truck when they’re sending stock to the sale yards. Those dogs are the hard-to-find all-rounders. But there was one boy who stands out in his memory as being one of the very best. “The most special dog of all was called Fella – a red tan kelpie. There was just something about him. He just seemed to know exactly what to do, even when I took him to different places because I was a contract stockman. He was a dog who seemed to have been there before. It was very strange. If you went to a new paddock he’d never been to previously, he just seemed to know exactly where the stock needed to go and where the gate was – he was pretty amazing,” Gary says. “He was a very smart dog and a very loyal dog to me. He was the type of dog that didn’t actually like to work for anybody else, and he was very much a ‘oneman dog’. Kelpies are very intelligent, much smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, and they are very sensitive towards us. They often know if there is something wrong with us, they can pick our moods very easily. Fella just seemed to have been around this life before.” l
Gary’s top tips for farmers
The most important thing you need to do from the start is to form a good bond with the dogs. They have to be your mate and if you don’t have that bond, you’ll never get along with them. So, it’s crucial you set up that special bond from the very beginning.
Education is key – many farmers don’t actually educate their dogs on a step-by-step basis. Natural ability is one thing but education is so important too.
Be patient. Many farmers don’t give their working dog time to grow up. We educate our children, we educate our young Weiner cattle and other stock but most people don’t actually educate their dogs. As soon as the instinct is out, they expect them to know how to do everything but that’s not the case – they need to be educated, just like our children are.
BUSINESS CAMEL MILK
A camel milk journey
FROM THE DESERT TO DENMAN
The farm’s camels originally came from the desert, and so a process of adaptation was needed to build up a flock. .
Hunter Valley farmer Michelle Phillips has conquered a number of challenging humps to become the first and only camel milk producer in NSW.
Words MICHAEL BURT Photography RONI BINTANG
BUSINESS CAMEL MILK
unter Valley farmer, Michelle Phillips and her husband Daniel have tapped into a huge resource of almost half a million ‘feral’ camels in the Aussie outback to produce fresh milk for a small but loyal market. Their camel journey began in 2014, with a mission statement to produce their own camel milk. “We started with five mothers and six babies from Western Australia. We picked them up at Shepparton before they got to the abattoir,” Michelle says. “We’ve been rescuing more along the way to get the herd up to 50, which is about our capacity for this farm.” “They are straight out of the bush, and it costs around $800 for a mature female these days.” The caravan of camels share Michelle and Daniel’s 40-hectare Denman farm with horses and a small herd of Scottish Highland cattle. Camels do have a reputation for being cranky, but Michelle says she has only seen their good side in nine years.
“People do say to me that they have heard camels are cantankerous, but I think that reputation comes from being chased around by four-wheel-drives in the desert. “The camels we have here are fantastic to work with. We’ve got one stud bull named Huey, after Hugh Hefner, and he is a real sweetheart teddy bear. I was warned about getting a bull, but Huey has never been aggressive with anyone. He’s happy with his caravan of girls and has no one else to compete with.” Huey’s ‘girls’ include Pamela (named after Pamela Anderson), Dolly (named after Dolly Parton) and Double D. His calves are sold as ‘teenagers’ at three years old to fulfil various roles: to organic farms for weed control, as well as to petting zoos and lifestyle farms. “It can take five to six years before a female is ready to breed, and then it’s a 13-month gestation period. So there are seven years of feeding before you get a return,” Michelle explains. “We then have to leave the calves with their mothers, otherwise the milk production dries up.” The cost to produce camel milk is significantly
ONE BIG FAMILY
Right, then clockwise: Michelle and Daniel Phillips with their daughter and German Shepherd; Camel milk, Hump Fat, soap and lip balm; and the camels. The farm has a stud called Huey (after Hugh Hefner) and so Huey’s girls include Pamela (after Pamela Anderson), Dolly (after Dolly Parton) and of course, there’s good ol’ Double D.
higher than cows. Camels produce a much lower yield of milk compared to a cow and you cannot milk a camel without sharing it with a calf for up to 18 months. Michelle’s ‘girls’ are milked in the morning using a portable Show Milker in an existing set of cattle yards. “We bring the camels into a shed at night and separate them, so the mothers have full udders of milk in the morning. They have four teats like a cow, and we just put the cups on while they are in a race. “These are camels from the wild, not milking camels that have hundreds of years of selective breeding, so we do only get an average of four litres per camel per day.” The milk is first stored in two vats on the Show Milker, then refrigerated, pasteurised and bottled on farm. Michelle’s Camel Milk NSW business has won awards for its cheeses, but the focus these days is supplying fresh milk to retailers in Western Sydney. “We’re doing everything ourselves. We bottle the milk, label it and then drive it to our resellers in Western Sydney once a week.” > NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
BUSINESS CAMEL MILK
Michelle sells 150 to 200 litres per week, mostly to IGA and Woolworths where it retails for up to $25 per litre. “It does sound expensive, but it is on par compared to the much higher production you get with a dairy cow. And it does represent value when compared to other alternatives like almond milk, which retails for about three dollars per litre and is only about three per cent almonds, and the rest water. “It can be a viable business for us at times. Like any farm business, it has its up and downs and it is very much a boutique product. No one else wants to deal with the small amount of production that we do.” Running Camel Milk NSW is a full-time job for Michelle and part-time for Daniel, who also manufactures trailers on farm and does some local farm contracting. Camel Milk NSW also offers farm tours and a real ‘safari experience’, including meeting stud bull Huey. HEALTHY PROPERTIES
“It was a lifestyle choice for us, initially,” says Michelle. “I got into camel milk because one of my sons suffered from bad anxiety. I did not want to use the medication recommendations, so I started researching diets and came across the wonders of camel milk. “There was only one dairy in Western Australia at the time, and I could not find anywhere to buy it on a regular basis. It was absolutely helping my son, so that’s why I started my own dairy.”
“It can take five to six years before a female is ready to breed, and then it’s a 13-month gestation period. So there are seven years of feeding before you get a return.” – MICHELLE PHILLIPS
CURATIVE CAMEL MILK
Left, top to bottom: Camels wandering about the farm; Michelle and Daniel’s homestead. Michelle (below) initally got into camel milk because her son suffered from anxiety, and she discovered that camel milk had probiotics that helped his condition.
Michelle attributes the probiotics found in camel milk for the behavioural improvement in her son. She says most camel milk consumers are interested in its purported health benefits, including for people living with diabetes, autism and behavioural problems. It has been the core dairy foodstuff in Bedouin cultures for millennia, in which camel herders report surviving for weeks on camel milk alone. One of the more definitive benefits is for patients with diabetes. Camel milk can contain up to 52 units of insulin per litre, and studies in India have shown that individuals with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes had significantly reduced blood sugar levels after two years of daily camel milk consumption. Claims about the powers of camel milk in treating autism are mostly unsubstantiated, but anecdotal reports abound about its benefits for behavioural issues. >
BUSINESS CAMEL MILK
“It does have a great taste as well. It’s like cow’s milk, but a little thinner on the palate,” Michelle says. “It’s great with Baileys. It froths really well and there are a few coffee shops now buying it to make Camelccinos.” FROM THE DESERT TO DENMAN
Camels are hardy, but adapting these desert animals to the temperate climate of the Hunter Valley has presented a number of humps in Michelle’s camel adventure. The first is the need to satisfy a love of variety in their diet, including browsing on trees. One of Michelle’s farm routines is trimming tree branches on the property to produce fresh flushes of vegetation for the camels. “They love to eat a wide variety of vegetation, from lucerne and clover right through to the thorniest of bushes that you can imagine. They enjoy bark, twigs and branches and do love to munch on wattle trees.” Michelle and Daniel produce hay from lucerne and oat crops, and the camels also graze on improved pastures. “Camels do not naturally graze on lucerne and oats of course, but they seem happy to have it added to their diet here,” says Michelle. “We do have to provide them with a lot of minerals and salts that were naturally available to them from evaporating lakes in central Australia. Camels can’t lick, so the minerals are provided as a loose mix and they eat bags of pool salt like it’s going out of fashion.” Michelle says combating worms has been the biggest challenge. “There are no worms in the desert. The camels come from the desert super healthy and start grazing on some grasses here, and they don’t have the same tolerance to worms like horses and cattle. “Worm management is something we monitor closely. There are only five different drenches we can use, and we must avoid any form of resistance to these drenches over the camel’s lifespan, which can be up to 40 years. “I know my camels pretty well now, and I know that worms have a party when the weather warms up and after it rains. “Other than the worms, they are bombproof. You don’t have to work on their feet because they do have hooves and do not suffer from bloat.” Michelle also says the camels provide a dose of health benefits for other animals on the farm, particularly the Scottish Highland cattle. “They are good companion animals to have on the farm. One reason is because of the bacteria in their saliva, which they transfer to the water troughs when they drink, and the cattle consume them when they have a drink. These bacteria then improve the conversion of grasses to weight gain in the cattle. “We first noticed this when our livestock agents in Scone were questioning why our steers were getting so heavy in such a short time.
“They love to eat a wide variety of vegetation, from lucerne and clover right through to the thorniest of bushes that can you can imagine. They enjoy bark, twigs and branches and do love to munch on wattle trees.” – MICHELLE PHILLIPS
A DA PTING TO DENMA N
Left, top to bottom: A caravan of camels; Michelle and Daniel check their stock. The couple have had to add minerals to the camels’ diets as they would normally get these from dried-up lakes on the desert plains.
“We had been told by our mates within the camel industry that they are good to run with other animals, but were not aware of this benefit until our agents realised we had camels and they said that’s the reason why.” The experience of Michelle’s livestock agents is backed by a University of Queensland study completed in 2014 which found that microorganisms present in camels do indeed improve the digestive system in cattle. Conducted in Richmond in North Queensland, the study discovered that cattle that were co-grazed with camels had a better ability to digest low-quality tropical grasses like Mitchell Grass. l NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
USING TECH TO COMBAT CRIME Technology is one of the ways property owners can reduce or stop rural crime, particularly theft from farms.
Words JEANETTE SEVERS
SPECIAL REPORT FARM TECH SAFETY
n September and October, NSW Farmers collaborated with WFI Insurance, NSW Police Force Rural Crime Prevention Team, and Meat and Livestock Australia to host nearly two dozen workshops across NSW, giving farmers opportunities to learn about what they can do on their properties to reduce crime risk, and to express their concerns about criminal activity in the agricultural sector. Large properties in particular are at risk of being targeted by criminals, and security systems can be a visual deterrent to them. The same technology that’s used for security can also be used to monitor water infrastructure and identify when livestock are using it, fences, yards and machinery, and identify expected and unexpected visitors as they enter the property via the main gate. An alert can be transmitted to the operator, or an external security officer, for any of these situations. Western region NSW Farmers regional service manager, Caron Chester, said rural crime costs landholders and businesses millions of dollars every year. This was measured in theft and criminal damage and increased insurance premiums. “Theft of livestock, produce, equipment and machinery, illegal shooting, trespass and other crimes
TECH TO THE RESCUE
Left to right; Earle Swan, of OES Systems, said security and monitoring systems can be stand-alone or integrated; Livestock should carry identifying marks including eartags to make it easy to identify the property they were stolen from.
affect people’s livelihood and wellbeing,” she says. “Reporting criminal activity is crucial to creating a secure and thriving environment for everyone. “Simple security measures that deter criminal activity include locking trucks, tractors, sheds and petrol tanks and using permanent engraving to mark equipment.” Presenting at one of the workshops, Detective Chief Inspector Cameron Whiteside said cameras are also a deterrent, and serve to identify and record criminal activity. This is very helpful when it comes to identifying and prosecuting criminals. >
“Theft of livestock, produce, equipment and machinery, illegal shooting, trespass and other crimes affect people’s livelihood and wellbeing.” – CARON CHESTER Dubbo region NSW Farmers regional service manager
SPECIAL REPORT FARM TECH SAFETY
TRESPASSING AND THEFT
A common theme at the workshops hosted by NSW Farmers was trespassers identified as a significant issue, and theft was also a common link. Surveillance systems was a common solution, and so was placing signs on fences and gates, warning of prosecution, in conjunction with surveillance systems. When farmers first approach Earle Swan, of OES Systems, to discuss security and monitoring systems, he seeks to identify the services they actually need, to provide usability and value. Earle said theft can vary from deconstructing a shed to its slab, and stealing everything in the shed as well, or stealing diesel from a tank, to theft of tractors and other machinery. Or monitoring who is walking or driving through gates. “Alarm systems can be put on anything these days,” Earle says. “This includes on remote properties where security and surveillance may be challenging. “OES Systems provides alarm monitoring and intrusion alarm systems on properties all around Australia,” he adds. “Camera systems can monitor gates, equipment and infrastructure. You may want to monitor a water source with a camera, but if you have 18km of water infrastructure that needs monitoring, you can also put technology on that. Tracking security hardware and software can be installed into anything. “OES Systems also provides alarm monitoring and intrusion alarm systems which communicate to a 24-hour monitoring centre. “This means if someone is opening a tractor door at 2am in the morning, and overnight sowing or harvesting is not part of planned operations, the intrusion system will report in real time to the control room that someone is opening the tractor door.” The property owner or manager receives an instant alert on their mobile phone and by email of the activity and that an alert to police is pending. “Current apps give you the flexibility to monitor your site from anywhere, at any time,” Earle says. “A key feature of our system is its ability to be customised and to integrate with other systems, so you end up with a comprehensive solution for monitoring and managing your site remotely.” MONITORING ASSETS, AND BIOSECURITY
Monitoring information provided by property owners has enabled criminal activities to be successfully prosecuted. “Any security on a farm – from locking tractors and sheds to a comprehensive monitoring system – can make criminals think twice about targeting a farm,” says Caron Chester from NSW Farmers. “Some of the strategies are common sense, many of them are easy, and all of them make it harder for criminals to get away with crime.” A point that came out of the workshop, was that landholders need to inform the workers on their property if cameras are installed.
STOPPING RURAL CRIME
Clockwise from top: Integrity System Company’s George Basha presents at one of the NSW Farmers’ workshops, in Mudgee; Many properties are large and remote, so using solar power and satellite or wireless technology enables monitoring and security systems to report activity in real time; tags can monitor cattle.
Another common theme from attendees was biosecurity – especially how this was breached when people from off-farm handled livestock without the farmer’s knowledge. MLA representatives discussed the integrity of the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) and the importance of ear-tagging aimals for lifetime traceability. Australia’s red meat industry’s Lifetime Production Assurance program manages on-farm food safety, animal welfare and biosecurity risks. As livestock producers know, the national vendor declaration is a legal movement document that underpins and enables the NLIS database to track livestock movements around Australia. The NLIS is crucial for biosecurity and food safety, and has an important role in investigating livestock theft.
George Basha, Integrity System Company, a subsidiary of MLA, said the NLIS database should make it easier to identify stolen livestock, and return them to their owners. He said this was why all livestock location data and movements need to be recorded on the NLIS database. All livestock producers should also undertake an annual reconciliation of their data, to ensure accuracy. There are a range of resources available to farmers on the NLIS website, at https://www.integritysystems. com.au/identification--traceability/national-livestockidentification-system/ MLA has recently undertaken a review of assets and is developing an app and other electronic information that is intended to make it easier for primary producers to use the NLIS and NVD systems. Of course, using the NLIS database to identify stolen livestock depends on the thieves not cutting out and replacing the original tags on the stolen animals, which is a common practice. Branding and other marks, such as notches and tattoos, are also helpful for recovering stolen animals that haven’t been slaughtered soon after they are taken. Police also use DNA to identify stolen livestock. Other issues raised in the workshops included illegal hunting, machinery theft, drone activity, guns and cybercrime. l
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PLOTTING THE FALL OF THE ARMYWORM Could sex pheromones be a natural ally in controlling the march of the fall armyworm (FAW) across Australia? A new collaborative research project involving the horticulture and grains industries is set to find out.
Words MICHAEL BURT
CURRENT AFFAIR FALL ARMYWORM
“This data-driven approach will empower farmers with a more effective and sustainable strategy for managing FAW, thereby reducing the economic losses associated with this pest.” – DR VIVIAN MENDEZ Project lead – Macquarie University’s pheromone research project
THE MARCH ACRO S S AUSTRALIA
Native to the Americas, the fall armyworm was first detected in Australia at Bamaga, Cape York, in 2020. It quickly spread across northern Australia and down to northern NSW.
acquarie University researchers are leading the charge in seeking to exploit regional differences in FAW sex pheromones with the backing of Hort Innovation Australia (HIA) and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). The innovative project aims to develop improved monitoring and management tools for farmers and synthesise pheromone blends used by female FAW moths to attract mates, ultimately guiding male moths into traps. The FAW (Spodoptera frugiperda) moth is a formidable opponent in the pest control world. Some traditional chemical methods have had limited success due to resistance issues and its larvae enjoy a wide range of food crops and grasses, with a particular hankering for sweetcorn, corn and sorghum crops. FAW also have the potential to infest various horticultural crops and pasture grasses and have been recorded in sugarcane, cotton and wheat in other countries. Native to the Americas, it was first detected in Australia at Bamaga, Cape York, in 2020. It quickly spread across northern Australia and down to northern NSW. Authorities ruled out any eradication plans and have instead focussed on control measures and monitoring the seasonal movements of moths. Macquarie University’s pheromone research project aims to significantly narrow down the FAW control zones for farmers to incorporate into Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plans. Field and onfarm work will begin in November with research locations secured in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and will be ongoing for the next three years. Phase 1 will investigate the geographic variation in the sex pheromone of Australian FAW populations and compare the effectiveness of commercially available lures at different locations. “The comprehensive data gathered from trapping networks across Australia will serve as the foundation for developing models that forecast the timing and extent of seasonal pest abundance,” says project lead Dr Vivian Mendez. “This data-driven approach will empower farmers with a more effective and sustainable strategy for managing FAW, thereby reducing the economic losses associated with this pest. “The research outcomes will enable growers to accurately target insecticides when and where they are most needed, thereby reducing costs and improving the sustainability of production.” Phase 2 of the project will look at synthesising pheromone blends specifically suitable for each region based on the proportions of compounds found in natural blends. Pheromones are chemicals emitted by animals to communicate with their counterparts of the same species. They serve various purposes, including attracting mates, demarcating territories, or signalling danger. > NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
CURRENT AFFAIR FALL ARMYWORM
Macquarie University Research Fellow Dr Meena Thakur says sex pheromones, in particular, hold significant promise for monitoring FAW populations, as they can be employed to lure male moths into traps. “Once the pheromones are identified, they will be synthesized and incorporated into traps to monitor the population of FAW,” Dr Thakur says. The project will also explore the potential of pheromone lures to cause mass mating disruption. This involves saturating the environment with artificial pheromones to impede males and females from locating each other. “If successful, these approaches could substantially reduce the reliance on insecticide applications, thereby
“The research outcomes will enable growers to accurately target insecticides when and where they are most needed, thereby reducing costs and improving the sustainability of production.” – DR VIVIAN MENDEZ Project lead – Macquarie University’s pheromone research project
The project will explore the potential of pheromone lures to cause mass mating disruption. Far left, then clockwise: Fall armyworms in the lab; Researchers in the field; Fall armyworm found on corn crops; Close-up of the fall armyworm.
minimising the environmental footprints of food production.” The $6.5 million ‘Effective fall armyworm pheromone blends for improved monitoring and population estimation in Australia’ project is funded by HIA and GRDC. It involves collaboration with the CSIRO, Cervantes Agritech, the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research, the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and government bodies in Queensland, Northern Territory, and Western Australia. “The project is ongoing, and the research team hopes to continue to uncover more about the pheromone communication system of the fall armyworm in Australia, ultimately offering a beacon of hope for more sustainable and effective pest management strategies,” Dr Thakur says. FAW FOCUS IN NORTHERN NSW
FAW has quickly climbed the priority list for insect pest monitoring programs in corn crops across northern NSW since it was first discovered near Moree in 2021. LLS Business Partner for Agriculture and Plant Biosecurity, Dale Kirby, says FAW is no longer regarded as an emerging pest threat.
“It is now part of regular management activities for farmers and their advisors, particularly in corn crops,” Dale says. “The awareness of this pest and the damage it can cause in NSW has certainly increased in the last two years.” LLS teams continue to monitor FAW in the North Coast, Northern Tablelands, North West, Hunter and Sydney basin regions. “FAW has been found around Croppa Creek and North Star this year and corn crops were impacted. Farmers were able to control it as part of their pest management programs. “Farmers with corn crops, which are particularly susceptible, should continue to monitor for FAW. Monitoring really kicks off in September and should continue through to late summer.” The LLS’s awareness campaign in the Sydney basin region has been boosted this season, with the Greater Sydney LLS holding a FAW management workshop for local sweetcorn growers. “The lessons learned from Queensland, the Northern Territory and the top end of Western Australia have been important. The LLS is keeping abreast of monitoring and control activities in those areas to ensure farmers in NSW are getting the best advice.” l NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
Dr Fabiola Barba Ponce and Professor Stefan Truek at the entrance to a farm in Mildura, Victoria, where the project is taking place
EDUCATION & COLLABORATION FOOD MOVES SKILLS
SKILLS, FOOD & FRESH FUTURES The Food Moves Skills Into Migrant Women program – an initiative by Macquarie Business School, is paving the way for former refugees to acquire vital business skills.
Words FROM THE LIGHTHOUSE
n innovative collaboration between Macquarie University Centre for Risk Analytics and Food Next Door Co-Op is changing lives by imparting financial literacy, social entrepreneurship and leadership skills to former refugee women via online learning. Food Moves Skills is a two-year project spearheaded by Dr Fabiola Barba Ponce, who has a PhD in psychology and is a research fellow at the Centre for Risk Analytics, and her colleague, Professor Stefan Trueck, who provided the financial literacy component. The project received essential backing from not-for-profit and philanthropic organisations, funding was provided by the Ecstra Foundation and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in Melbourne through the Eldon and Anne Foote Trust. Crucially, the program was co-created with the three participants who were part of the pilot program. DREAMS ROOTED IN AGRICULTURE
“All of the women who participated in the program came from farming backgrounds and had their own farms in Africa,” Dr Barba Ponce says. “They were growing food here in Australia for self-consumption but they also wanted to sell it. We knew they needed financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills. Because they come from a refugee background, we also needed to take a trauma-informed approach.” The team established a culturally sensitive learning environment for participants, providing mentorship manuals and resources. The program also covered project management, social enterprise development, leadership skills and financial acumen. >
EDUCATION AND COLLABORATION FOOD MOVES SKILLS
COMING TO GETHER AND SHARING SUCCES S
MQ team visiting Mildura (L to R): Joseyne Majambere, Beatrice Kabahire, Mazambi Yumunino, Dr Fabiola Barba Ponce, Deborah Bogenhuber, Professor Stefan Trueck (back) and Kieran Mangan (artist translator).
LEARNING, GIVING, GROWING AND COLLABORATING
Joselyne teaching others about green manure (L to R): Professor Stefan Trueck, Beatrice Kabahire, Dr Olivia Dun, Joseyne Majambere; Joseyne teaching Beatrice about seeds and biodynamic farming techniques.
“It opened many doors around my community. I am using computer skills now in my daily work. I am proud of myself when I am using the skills in the community group as a leader.” – JOSELYNE NTAHOMVUKIYE
LEARNING SKILLS FOR LIFE
IN IT TO GETHER
As the project evolved, the team adapted it to participants’ interests. “One participant wanted to learn more about how to invest, so we adjusted the content of the program and included additional modules on making investments and buying shares,” Professor Trueck says. “The participants learned about budgeting and important basic concepts of financial literacy. They learned how to create any project from the ground up. They learned about mentoring and how to lead and pass on the knowledge they gained.” On the agricultural side, project partner Food Next Door helped the participants learn about biodynamic techniques, regenerative farming and more. The women all have a strong connection with the land and farming. Growing crops native to their homeland such as African eggplant, melons, snap peas, and cassava provided a sense of familiarity, crucial for their transition into a new environment, Dr Barba Ponce says. “You need to have familiarity when you have a lot of change, as it helps the transition process. So the way they achieved that was through enhancing their business and leadership skills in farming and growing crops, an area they already knew well.” Despite facing challenges such as geographical distance, online delivery, and external crises like floods and the loss of a participant’s spouse to COVID-19, the team persevered.
Despite facing challenges such as geographical distance, online delivery, and external crises like floods and the loss of a participant’s spouse to COVID-19, the team persevered.
starchy root vegetable commonly grown in Africa, catering to diverse communities in New South Wales. “The program was extremely educational and focussed not only on the farming aspect but also financial literacy and computer development skills,” Ms Kabahire says. “It was a great foundation for understanding how to operate our projects efficiently and the team were supportive and assisted in every way.” With the pilot program’s successful conclusion, Dr. Barba Ponce and Professor Trueck are setting their sights on expansion to other parts of NSW, Victoria and Queensland. They aim to secure additional funding to enhance the educational offerings of Food Moves Skills and compensate the participants, who can then mentor and teach their communities. “This program can also be taken to other regions where farmers who have English as their second language live,” Dr Barba Ponce says. “You can see the results in the community, you can see the transformation in the women, their confidence and how they pitch their business. “We have the heart, the passion and the collaboration. All we need now is the funding to continue making a difference in the lives of migrants and their communities.” l
MAKING A DIFFERENCE TO MANY
Joselyne Ntahomvukiye, who came to Australia from Burundi, began growing and selling melons in her community via a social media platform. She is also excited to share her new skills with other members of the community. “I was able to learn project planning which gave me an opportunity to continue by myself with projects I have,” Ms Ntahomvukiye says. “It opened many doors around my community. I am using computer skills now in my daily work. I am proud of myself when I am using the skills in the community group as a leader.” Beatrice Kabahire, who was also born in Burundi, says she learned a lot from the program and is eager to expand into cassava cultivation – a nutty-flavoured, NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
EL NIÑO ARRIVES
EL NIÑO WILL AFFECT LATIN AMERICAN FARMERS
El Niño could cause severe drought in Latin America. But Colombia, Peru (pictured above), Ecuador and Chile, which straddle the Andes Mountains, will have above-average rains towards the end of the year.
INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCE CLIMATE CHANGE
ACROSS THE WORLD A forecast of what El Niño could mean for the millions of people living in major farming countries around the world. Words IAN NEUBAUER
> NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCE CLIMATE CHANGE
n July, the World Meteorological Organisation declared the return of El Niño for the first time in seven years. A climate phenomenon in which surface waters of the central and eastern Pacific become unusually warm, El Niño sets the stage for a surge in global temperatures and extreme weather events like bushfires, tropical cyclones and drought. “The onset of El Niño will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records and triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas says. Estimates by Bloomberg suggest this year’s El Niño could affect more than a quarter of agricultural areas in the world and the farmers, as is always the case, will be on the frontline. There is however a small upside: the unique slow onset of El Niño makes it possible to prepare mitigatory actions and emergency responses many months in advance. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s El Niño Anticipatory Action and Response Plan for 2023, every dollar invested in anticipatory action can create a return for farming families of more than seven dollars in avoided losses. Here, we look at how El Niño is impacting the weather and agriculture in different parts of the world and what governments, nonprofits and farmers are doing to mitigate losses of crops yield and animal protein.
In Thailand (above) rice farmers are being advised to grow one crop this year instead of the usual two, and many are digging wells and ponds for use during the dry season. Right, top, then clockwise: Devastation left after a cyclone in Thailand; the Atacama Desert in Chile; Fields on fire in Africa.
In Thailand, where agriculture accounts for 9 per cent of GDP and nearly a third of all jobs, Kasetsart University has forecasted that farmers’ income will fall 5 per cent this year because of decreased rainfall and drought caused by El Niño. Heat waves in March to May saw temperatures rise above 45°C, while rainfall between January and July was low in every part of the country, especially in the Central Plains – the ‘rice basket’ of Thailand – down 20 to 40 per cent. Water levels in dams nationwide are also critically low and similar to those last recorded in 2015 when the country last saw drought. In September, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin led a two-day fact-finding mission to the Central Plains to observe the situation and hear local concerns. He ordered policy makers in Bangkok to work more closely with technocrats in the countryside. Reservoir construction projects are being accelerated, especially in the east, while irrigation zones, which only cover 20 per cent of Thailand’s farmland, are being extended. Rice farmers are being advised to grow one crop this year instead of the usual two, and many are digging wells and ponds for use during the dry season. That will help if El Niño only remains for one year. But if it returns for two years or three times as occurred with La Niña, farmers will not have enough water for their crops. >
“The onset of El Niño will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records and triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world.” – PETTERI TAALAS WMO Secretary-General
INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCE CLIMATE CHANGE
As El Niño and drought return to Southern Africa, the countries that will be most affected are those that are already facing ongoing crises: Cyclone Freddyaffected areas of Mozambique, war affected areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Malawi. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation will this year spend $30 million on anticipatory responses in the region like early warnings and agricultural advisories that help farmers form risk-management strategies to minimise crop and livestock losses. The UN will also distribute drought-tolerant seeds for cereals and legumes, small-scale irrigation kits along with training in water management and cash to farmers. Animal health will be protected through disease monitoring, vaccinations and veterinary treatment, while fishing kits and aquaculture assets will also be distributed. The response will help shore up nutritional requirements of 420,000 people: a little more than half of one per cent of the population of Southern Africa. “Urgent additional support is required to ensure the following actions can be implemented at the required scale and coverage in 2023,” the UN said in a statement.
Left to right: The countries that will be most affected in Southern Africa are those that are already facing ongoing crises: incuding Malawi (pictured above); In India, fears of a rice shortage saw the government ban the export of non-basmati white rice in July.
Famed for its emerald-green rice terraces, the fields of Bali turned bright yellow in August of this year as Indonesia experienced a longer and drier than
normal dry season as a result of El Niño. Indonesia’s Meteorology agency BMKG predicts the wet season, which normally starts in October, is not expected to start until November in more than 60 per cent of the country, disrupting rice production and pushing rice prices to multi-year highs. The government has responded with a raft of anticipatory measures: an $800 million programme to get more rice into 21 million poor households between September to November, accelerating rice planting in several areas where it is still raining and distributing 3,616 irrigation systems and 18,922 water pumps to farming collectives. The government is also encouraging rice farmers to use drought-resistance rice varieties like Gajah Mungkur, Batutegi and Situ Patenggan, while rehabilitation and upgrades of irrigation channels are also being accelerated at 1,531 locations. Government insurance has also been allocated for one million hectares of rice. LATIN AMERICA
El Niño could cause severe drought in Latin America this year, with forecasts predicting below-normal rainfall for Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. But Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile, which straddle the Andes Mountains, will have above-average rains towards the end of the year.
To help mitigate the fallout, the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation is distributing backyard vegetable gardening kits, supporting community seed banks and training farmers with water management practices. In Chile, a state of emergency was declared after a freak winter heat wave ended with torrential rains, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. The emergency declaration allowed the government to divert funds and assistance to flood-affected regions. But in less developed parts of Latin America like Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, governments have less financial flexibility to cope with the current El Niño than they did seven years ago. This will see many farming families leave the countryside, migrate to cities and fall into poverty and despair. To help mitigate the fallout, the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation is distributing backyard vegetable gardening kits, supporting community seed banks and training farmers with water management practices. It is also protecting livestock through disease
control campaigns, distributing animal feed, supporting fodder storage and implementing zoonotic disease control campaigns. INDIA
When El Niño returned to India this year, the change coincided with the monsoon season, from July to September. Coupled with ample reserves of rice, wheat and coarse grains, the impact of El Niño on food availability in India is predicted to be mild in 2023. But unpredictable rainfall at the start of the year has already disrupted agricultural activities in India. The planting of rice for the second crop in November is down 26 per cent compared to the previous year, as the monsoon delivered 8 per cent less rain than average, according to government data. Fears of a rice shortage saw the government ban the export of non-basmati white rice in July. It follows a wheat export ban introduced last year when a series of deadly heat waves spread across the country. Critics say bans are short-term solutions that are not likely to last longer than the duration of one El Niño. “We must take proactive steps in our daily lives to safeguard the environment, rather than relying on short-term measures that may only last during the duration of El Niño,” opines the Hindu Newspaper. “By prioritising long-term solutions and taking action to combat climate change, we can create a sustainable future for agriculture in India and beyond.” l NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
SPOTLIGHT ELIZABETH FARM
The mother of the Merino John Macarthur may have featured on the $2 note alongside the Merino, but it is his wife Elizabeth’s legacy that still stands in the urban sprawl of Western Sydney, just a stone’s throw from the site of the 2023 NSW Farmers Annual Conference.
Words CARLY MARRIOTT
lizabeth Farm, flanked by suburban Parramatta, is Australia’s oldest surviving European homestead, having been built in 1793 and housed New South Wales’s original power couple. According to the pages of history, Elizabeth had nine children (seven of whom survived) and moved in social circles that included Charles Darwin, Admiral Arthur Phillip and Captain Matthew Flinders in her role as the wife of a lieutenant of the NSW Corps.
OUR OLDEST SURVIVING EUROPEAN HOMESTEAD
Left to right: A charming study space overlooking a part of the undercover cobbled verandah; The tree-flanked entrance to Elizabeth Farm. Images supplied by Museums of History NSW
The daughter of a Devonshire farmer and the first educated woman to arrive into the reported squalor of the convict outpost of Sydney, Elizabeth holds the title for establishing the first Merino stud book in Australia. John, however, was by most accounts a chaotic character. Duelling with his commanding officer, as well as leading the Rum Rebellion against Governor William Bligh, meant he was court martialled and banished from Australia not once, but twice. Together, the couple successfully raised sheep > NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
SPOTLIGHT ELIZABETH FARM
– albeit in a long-distance relationship, with Elizabeth spending 12 of her first 28 years in the colony without a husband. Perhaps it makes one pause before using the term ‘harvest widow’ in modern-day Australia. THE FARM, THE INDUSTRY
According to her letters, a hugely valuable historical source, the mother of the Australian wool industry was never simply a farmer’s wife; she was a businesswoman, diplomat and enthusiastic wool farmer in her own right. Elizabeth wrote in 1798 that “we enjoy here one of the finest climates in the world. The necessaries of life are abundant, and a fruitful soil affords us many luxuries… Our gardens with fruit and vegetables are extensive; and produce abundantly… it is now Spring, and the eye is delighted with the most beautiful variegated landscape; the native shrubs are in flower, and the whole country gives a grateful perfume”. With John away in England (1801-1805 and then again in 1809-1817), Elizabeth managed the 1000-acre Elizabeth Farm and later the 5000-acre Camden Park with her daughters. John was tasked with overseeing their son’s education in England and working his PR magic to spruik the quality of the Merino wool being produced in the faraway colony.
With John away in England (1801-1805 and then again in 1809-1817), Elizabeth managed the 1000-acre Elizabeth Farm and later the 5000-acre Camden Park with her daughters.
LADY OF THE HOUSE
Elizabeth was also a businesswoman, diplomat and an enthusiastic wool farmer in her own right.
Whilst the Macarthurs are often championed for bringing the Merino to Australia, it was in fact Captain Henry Waterhouse and Lieutenant William Kent who transported 26 Merinos from the Cape of Good Hope to Port Jackson in 1797. Fast-forward to today and, according to MLA and AWI Wool and Sheepmeat surveys, the Australian flock currently sits at 79 million head, of which 64 per cent of breeding ewes are Merinos and 40 per cent of lambs are pure Merino, with NSW remaining the largest sheep-growing state. Just three years after Merinos set their cloven hooves on Australian soil, the Macarthurs were busily working to improve the bloodlines in the colony. Speaking of bloodlines, Elizabeth was of ‘reputable and affluent’ pedigree meaning she could write, giving her family the advantage of linking the Australian mob with the British market. >
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SPOTLIGHT ELIZABETH FARM
At the time, communication was a real barrier for international trade, however Elizabeth’s articulate and knowledgeable correspondence bridged that gap. She would ride out to visit properties with the aim of increasing flocks, expanding wool sales to Britain, and to discuss rams and fleece with the free settlers and convict labourers. Elizabeth would then put her superpower to work, diligently reporting back to her husband via detailed correspondence, which enabled them to expand the Macarthurs’ business and promote NSW’s ability to grow fine wool amongst London buyers. All the while, violence and brutality in the burgeoning colony swirled around Mrs Macarthur; food rations and supplies were regularly ambushed and stolen, abhorrent crimes against Indigenous people were committed, and a tinder box of fury smouldered at the mistreatment of convict labourers in the penal colony. Part of Elizabeth’s day job (and let’s not forget the seven children) was overseeing the convict labour. Any modern-day farmer can take comfort in the fact workplace relations and recruitment have been causing headaches since the first settlers broke dirt. She had a reputation for being a good boss, which in the day meant feeding and housing the farm’s workforce, and not punishing people by harsh colonial standards. Mutton stew and Irish soda bread was a staple for the time, and wattle and daub huts were the go-to accommodation for workers.
Elizabeth would then put her superpower to work, diligently reporting back to her husband via detailed correspondence, which enabled them to expand the Macarthurs’ business and promote NSW’s ability to grow fine wool amongst London buyers.
Left, top to bottom: The Residence of John Macarthur (1825) by Joseph Lycett; Elizabeth Farm homestead, now a hands-on museum. Below: Some of the museum’s rooms.
For a dozen years, the Macarthurs’ marriage was based on sheep-themed snail mail that also played a hand in promoting migration to the colony. Elizabeth wrote of life as a settler in such an optimistic and glowing manner that she may have been guilty of using a little poetic licence when describing the liveability of the place. Her words reached friends and family back in the counties of England, encouraging others to try their luck in the wild, far-flung land of Australia. THE HOUSE
Today, if the spirit of Elizabeth chose to remain in her homestead, she would see that the good news spread relatively quickly; throughout the 230 years since Elizabeth penned letters on the banks of >
SPOTLIGHT ELIZABETH FARM
The Macarthurs built their ‘forever home’, a simple three-roomed brick cottage, on a slight hill overlooking the Parramatta River.
STEP BACK IN TIME
Photos supplied by James Horan and Paolo Busato, Leo Rocker for Museums of History NSW. You can visit Elizabeth Farm. FREE Admission Fridays & Saturdays More info: mhnsw.au
the Parramatta River, migrants have been making themselves at home in what is now Western Sydney. It could even be said that her shining reports of fruitful lands and delightful climes went viral, seeing as Elizabeth Farm is now wedged between dense rows of houses, crowded train lines and car-filled highways. The Macarthurs built their ‘forever home’, a simple three-roomed brick cottage, on a slight hill overlooking the Parramatta River. The construction industry was primitive back in the day due to the poor quality of spades and axes and a shortage of nails, materials and expertise. The homestead underwent renovations as the family grew and was later described as a “smart country house surrounded by pleasure grounds”. Interestingly, John returned to the colony in 1805 bearing olive trees, convinced they would grow well in the climate. Elizabeth tended to them, and two olive trees remain at Elizabeth Farm on the Northern lawn, potentially the earliest olive trees to have survived in Australia. The foresight and spirit of this pioneering pair lives on in the Australian food and fibre industry in the shape of innovation and adaptation. The maxim that ‘behind every great man there is a great woman’ rings true in the Macarthurs’ story. In the State Library of NSW, the Macarthur papers give us a wonderful insight to the family’s life as they in turn helped to shape the future farming life of Australia. Elizabeth was praised for her “intelligent interest in the development of colonial society, and her humorous and uncomplaining acceptance of the deprivations of colonial life”. Elizabeth lived on Elizabeth Farm until her death on the 9th of February 1850; 150 years later, the estate was listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, in fact as the first property entered on the register. Mrs Macarthur would be chuffed to know that hundreds of farmers from throughout NSW, representing numerous commodity groups, converge yearly just down the road at Rosehill, to debate rural topics of significance at the NSW Farmers Annual Conference. For those who attend Conference in 2024, take the opportunity to visit this hands-on museum that recreates the Macarthur homestead of the 1820s. It exists as a reminder of how far agriculture has come and the role it plays in our national identity, battling the challenges of weather, markets and logistics to feed and clothe people the world over. l NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
COMMUNITY FARM DOGS
Emmy and ‘The Cats’ Emmy the kelpie keeps the farm in order, supervising everyone from the warmongering cats to the headbutting lambs. EDITED BY JAC TAYLOR
IF YOU BECAME FAMOUS FOR ONE THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Being a peace negotiator, as it’s me who steps between ‘The Cats’ – when they’re singing battle hymns at each other, right before they get a chance to fight. IS THERE SOMETHING THAT DRIVES YOUR PARENTS MAD?
When I’m in ‘crazy kelpie’ mode, and won’t listen to commands to settle down. IF YOU COULD HAVE ANOTHER ANIMAL AS A FRIEND, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
REAL NAME AND NICKNAME:
My real name is Emmy, but my nickname is Skunk, for “obvious reasons” my family say whenever I am introduced. I think it’s the strong scent I wear – Eau de Ceased.
over and that didn’t go down well. The chook was pretty stressed, but hey, it survived. I never knew my humans could be so angry and loud!
FAVOURITE THING TO PLAY WITH? WHAT IS YOUR WORST HABIT?
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING TO DO ON THE FARM?
Supervising my humans as they work in the paddock, playing with ‘The Cats’ and going on long walks.
I do have other animal friends, thank you very much! Nibbles the poddy lamb and ‘The Cats’, who I love hunting with. The lamb is a bit of a problem though – it’s always trying to headbutt me, and its head is harder than mine.
Finding something dead to roll in, and then coming home to share the delightful new top notes that I’ve discovered with my whole family.
Old jeans to play tug-of-war. I love ripping and tearing them to pieces. WHAT DOES EVERYONE LOVE ABOUT YOU?
My companionship, and my loyalty to my family and ‘The Cats’.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD? HAVE YOU EVER DONE SOMETHING REALLY NAUGHTY?
Chasing chooks! One time I bowled one
Anything ‘The Cats’ have left behind. Sometimes they even bring in things from outside that smell off, which is great.
ANY LAST WORDS?
This was fun, but can we get back to throwing sticks please?
The Saleyards The days are longer and temperatures have soared, which means it’s time to think about the festive season and treat your loved ones to some Australian-made goodies – or simply treat yourself. From perfume essentials to beautiful clothing and room spray, here’s our handpicked selection of homegrown treasures, capturing the essence of summer. Compiled by LIBBY-JANE CHARLESTON
BEST FOOT FORWARD
This fresh range of stylish, fashion forward and ultra-comfortable women’s shoes are designed by Wagga Wagga founder Jane Robertson. Millwoods is an authentically bush-based business committed to delivering comfort, style and quality in women’s shoes. The Willow slide is a pair of fashionable flats that ooze style while offering all-day comfort. $219 millwoods.com.au
Natural, organic fragrances can elevate your energy and enhance your mood. Perfume samples are a great way to find a signature scent that magnifies your presence and makes you feel and smell fabulous. Sensoriam has a range of mini perfume sets so there’s no need to choose just one. From $21. sensoriam.com
SET A DRIFT
The Drift Trading Co Sunrise rug is the perfect throw rug for any occasion. It is soft and non-irritant with good air permeability, keeping the wind off your skin on those cold nights. The tightly woven material also allows it to be used as a picnic rug, shielding you from sand, dirt, and grass. $177 drifttradingco.com.au
Spritz the natural scent of the Australian wilderness in your bathroom, entrance hall, bedroom or car. With 99% plant-derived ingredients, Wash Wild room spray kills germs, naturally deodorises and infuses the space with the scents of Australian native flora. $10 washwild.com.au
WOOL FOR SUMMER
HIS AND HERS
The Irving and Powell Brooks Oxford unisex shirt is a light weight 100% cotton classic. This one is buttery soft and lighter-weight than a typical Oxford cloth. Just enough length in the back makes it flattering and comfortable, and it’s ideal for the half-tuck – which we all love. $169 irvingandpowell.com
Australian-designed, this is the OG merino wool singlet for any functional wardrobe. Sitting perfectly on the hips to tuck seamlessly within any waistband, the Original Wool Knit Singlet features linked side-seams for minimal waste and offers a natural stretch for ultimate comfort. A twist on classic Australian merino wool clothing, the INTACT range is designed to be worn all year round. $160 intactco.com NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023
COMMUNITY MEET A MEMBER
A DOUBLE DOSE OF VALUE-ADDS
Denman farmer Peter Dixon-Hughes has been value-adding to his experience as a NSW Farmers’ member to spread the good word on agriculture in the heart of Sydney’s Kings Cross.
Words MICHAEL BURT
For more than 15 years, Peter and wife Jann have spent most weekends being ambassadors for the agricultural sector while selling paddock-to-plate fresh and value-added beef, lamb and duck at markets in Kings Cross and Gosford. Their diverse menu of local food all comes from a 400-hectare farm that is home to a 200-strong breeder herd of Red Lincoln cattle, 100 ewes and around 100 ducks. HOW DID YOU GET INTO FARMING?
I came from the city, but my grandfather had a farm at Murrurundi and my great uncles also had properties in different parts of Australia, including Tasmania and in the Riverina region. I spent most of my holidays on these farms and loved it. I ended up working for Naroo Pastoral Company and eventually the family bought into a farm at Denman and moved into dairy farming. It was never my intention to take over the farm, but circumstances changed, that was 44 years ago, and we are still here.
Name: Peter Dixon-Hughes Farm Location: Denman Branch: Hunter (formerly Denman) Years as Member: 35+
“We are ambassadors not only for our products, but for farming in general, and that’s so important for us. Jann does it more than I do now and travels to Sydney and Gosford every weekend – rain, hail or shine.” PETER DIXON-HUGHES Denman farmer
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT FARMING AND AGRICULTURE?
The interaction with the animals and the joy of growing a crop through to making hay. You can see what you are achieving. There is nothing better than seeing a paddock full of round bales ready to pick up when you get up in the morning. It’s fantastic seeing a crop respond to rain or irrigation and knowing that it will become part of the interaction with the cattle and sheep. Nowadays we get to share that joy directly with our customers every weekend at markets in Kings Cross and Gosford and be ambassadors for agriculture and farming. It’s very important to us to bridge the gap and explain how things work on the farm, dispelling social media myths about farming. Examples of that include the myth about the use of RNA vaccines in cattle, or the ramifications of largescale renewable infrastructure in the regions. What we do has enabled us to connect with people in Kings Cross and provide an understanding of where their food comes from. In our case, that is grass-fed Red Lincoln beef, lamb, duck, and duck eggs, beef and duck pies, and sausage rolls. Everything we sell is born and bred on our farm and we know every traceability aspect. We also get to share the features of Red Lincoln cattle, which is an old English breed that is the foundation for many other breeds. They have never let us down over many tough years with consistent quality grass-fed beef that marbles nicely. We have chefs that rave about the product and an incredibly loyal customer base. We have managed to survive for a long time with an exclusive product for an exclusive market, and in an exclusive area amid exclusive competition. We are ambassadors not only for our products, but for farming in general and that’s so important for us. Jann does it more than I do now and travels to Sydney and Gosford every weekend – rain, hail or shine. WHO IS YOU BIGGEST INSPIRATION IN AGRICULTURE AND WHY?
My neighbour in Sydney was Reg Wise. He worked a soldier’s settler block at Brewarrina into a beautiful property, which led to him being able to invest in office space and apartments in Sydney. First and foremost, he was always a grazier, but he showed me the opportunities that could be created from agriculture. I also had some great uncles to look up to, who were successful in their grazing operations.
SPREADING THE WORD TO CITY FOLK
“What we do has enabled us to connect with people in Kings Cross and provide an understanding of where their food comes from... Everything we sell is born and bred on our farm and we know every traceability aspect.” Peter Dixon-Hughes.
What is your favourite section of The Farmer? I like reading the stories about farmers who are doing similar things to us in terms of value-adding and selling direct to customers from the farm. The innovation stories on subjects such as drones are also well worth a read. l
THE TAIL END
Hungry, hungry caterpillars eating plastic waste Caterpillars could be the key to reducing Australia’s plastic waste – according to a recent study from Macquarie University. Words MATILDA MEIKLE has propelled many scientists into action in order to find sustainable solutions for plastic waste. And for a team from Macquarie University, the results are already sparking hope. ANALYTICS AND ANSWERS
CHOMPING D OWN
The caterpillars’ appetite for plastics is so great that they will even eat right through plastic cages and have to be kept under lock and key in glass and metal enclosures.
he research, undertaken as part of a collaboration between Macquarie University researchers and enviro-tech start-up Samsara Eco, has made significant progress towards developing recycling practices for highly damaging single-use plastics. And the results are astounding. AUSTRALIA’S PLASTIC PLIGHT
Each year, Australians are responsible for consuming a million tonnes of singleuse plastic. Around 130,000
tonnes of this plastic ends up in the ocean and other marine environments, resulting in higher levels of carbon emissions and threatening the life of local marine animals. Australia recycles only 18 percent of its plastic packaging, with the rest ending up in landfill or as litter in our precious natural environments. If serious action is not taken, experts believe that the amount of plastic in our oceans will outweigh the number of fish by 2050. This scary statistic
The new research is thanks to a collaboration between Microbiologist and ARC Future Fellow Associate Professor Amy Cain, as well as partners such as Samsara Eco. Amy was granted around $675,000 as part of the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme to fund her work on polyurethane (PU) recycling. According to Amy, “PU is ubiquitous in our lives, from lacquer coatings and elastane clothing to durable foam padding in car seats, cushions and mattresses. There are currently few avenues for recycling and much ends up in landfill.” In fact, the only method for recycling PU currently involves re-using the material in other products like benches. However, this is only achievable once, as the process erodes the integrity of the plastic and limits its capabilities. Equally, some forms of PU aren’t recyclable at all. Polyurethane foam is used in mattresses, car seats and more. However, there are currently no process through which to recycle
TIME TO GET SERIOUS
If serious action is not taken, experts believe that the amount of plastic in our oceans will outweigh the number of fish by 2050.
this material. And as mattresses can hold up to 20 kilos of foam, this can result in large amounts of waste ending up in landfills. CLEVER CATERPILLARS
In an exciting discovery, Associate Professor Amy Cain and her partners found that there are
some insects that can naturally support the biodegradation of PU. Using molecular discovery, microbe bioprospecting and synthetic biology, the scientists found that insects have developed the capacity to break down plastics and other synthetics over a long process of evolution. In Macquarie University’s Applied Biosciences laboratories lives the only fully functional facility for Galleria caterpillars, one such insect that is capable of breaking down single-use plastic. “Galleria caterpillars attack beehives in Europe and eat the wax which has a similar chemical structure to polyurethane,” Associate Professor Amy Cain explains. “We are figuring out how they do what they do, picking out the relevant enzymes then creating platforms – in this case synthetic microbes – that eat the plastic more efficiently than the original.” The team is currently working to better understand this process of plastic biodegradation, and how it can be utilised to sustainably recycle PU. If it is possible to turn PU into other plastics or biofuels, it may result in continued life for this otherwise harmful product.
“This process, which translates nature’s solutions into flexible and efficient synthetic enzyme technologies, will allow plastics to be infinitely recycled,” Amy adds. The team believes that waste products such as carbon dioxide and water can serve as feedstock for other processes and products, giving them a renewed purpose and limiting the damage to the environment. Excitingly, these caterpillars can break down more than just traditional single-use plastics. When they were fed polyurethane foam, they were able to eat through roughly 95 percent in less than three days. According to Amy, “The caterpillars’ appetite for plastics is so great that they will even eat right through plastic cages and have to be kept under lock and key in glass and metal enclosures. “Once we fully understand how they are doing this, we will take out the active component and create a safe, synthetic microbe that can be scaled up to become industrially relevant,” she says. It’s an exciting prospect, and one which many experts believe will lead to more permanent recycling solutions. l
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