CLIMATE CHANGE The conversation that must be had
SAFETY ON FARMS
CAMPING & BIOSECURITY
VFF gives defibrillators to seven towns to save lives
Helping our farmers to get the workers they need
Farmers on riverland caught up in the hot debate
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Egg farmers help those in need; More traction for Kids to Ag program; New partnership with Mobil to fuel farmers; The Farmy Army helps those in times of need; Push to increase safety for kids on farms; Not-to-be-missed upcoming events.
Climate change and sustainability are topics that have to be discussed by farmers to ensure that the agriculture industry continues to provide people with enough produce, while protecting the planet.
The VFF awarded seven communities defibrillators so that more lives can be saved on farms.
Biosecurity is always going to be a major topic of concern in the farming sector, but now it is in the spotlight due to new laws allowing people to camp by the river on farmers' properties.
As the debate continues to heat up, the new Ag Visa that VFF has been pushing for may still be a way off being put into motion.
From powering machines that sow crops, to filling trucks that keep the supply chain going, fuel is crucial to the ag industry, and a shortage could spell disaster.
MEET A FARMER
THE LAST WORD
Stefano Botti has written a moving children's book that sheds light on the power of communities and the strength of connection.
The Windfall Gains Tax was supposed to reign in big developers, but farmers are being affected.
Our members share some interesting, amusing and poignant moments of life on the land.
VFF member Fiona Conroy (pictured here on her farm in the hills of the Bellarine Peninsula) says that the conversation of climate change amongst farmers is well overdue.
Behind the Steak
Behind the Pavlova
Behind the bánh mì
Behind the Tart
This #AgDayAU on Friday 19 November, the NFF is celebrating the fabulous and fulfilling career opportunities on offer in agriculture. From mustering cattle in the Top End to developing the next breakthrough wheat variety, there's a career pathway whatever the passion, you really can choose your own #AgVenture. The VFF is putting a twist on this and is telling the stories of what is Behind the Farm Gates in our State. Visit our social media channels to see the stories.
Behind the Socks
Behind the Beer
Behind the Brownie
Behind the Sunday Roast
Victorian Farmers Federation
Victorian Farmer PUBLISHER James Wells EDITOR Michelle Hespe ART DIRECTOR Ryan Vizcarra
EDITORIAL ENQUIRIES Michelle Hespe: email@example.com
A message from our President Hi everyone,
CONTRIBUTORS Annabel Mactier Charlie Kinross Doug Gimesy Emma Germano Kirsten Lloyd Luke Hooke Ryan Moloney Steve Madgwick Sue Wallace Tony Blackie
THE INTERMEDIA GROUP
CEO Chris Baker MANAGING DIRECTOR Simon Grover FINANCE MANAGER Mina Vranistas PRODUCTION MANAGER Jacqui Cooper HEAD OF DIGITAL Pauline Grech HEAD OF EVENTS Beth Tobin Victorian Farmer is published for the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) (ABN: 67 079 980 304) by The Intermedia Group (ABN: 94 002 583 682) 41 Bridge Rd, Glebe NSW 2037. @2021. All rights reserved. Printed by IVE Group. Getty Images were used throughout the magazine.
VICTORIAN FARMERS FEDERATION
CEO Jane Lovell GENERAL MANAGER POLICY Luke Hooke GENERAL MANAGER PROMOTIONS & COMMS Anita Donnelly STAKEHOLDER MEDIA & COMMS ADVISOR Ryan Moloney
Firstly, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read the spring edition of the Victorian Farmer. It’s a busy but exciting time of the year for us all. This edition features a range of interesting stories on the issues that matter most to our Members. We take a look at climate change, labour shortages, fuel security and feature a number of exciting initiatives and Member offers, including our new partner Mobil that promises to deliver you savings at the fuel pump. Before you read any further, I would like to acknowledge the issues and challenges we’ve all faced throughout this year. Our resilience has been tested, the sense of uncertainty has been lingering for a long time and there have been so many external stressors for us to navigate. In our usual sense of style we have demonstrated to the community that farmers just keep on farming. In current times, it only highlights the absolute importance and need for strong advocacy for our industry. We’ve never faced such a crisis that inherently impacts not only what we do for a living, but also how we live our lives. From ensuring business continuity, keeping supply chains operating, advocating for clarity on vaccine mandates and ensuring our Members’ interests are protected, our job isn’t to take sides, but is to do what is required to enable secure farming futures for us all. In many ways, you, our Members are a reflection of the wider community. It may be impossible for everyone to fully
agree on the issues we confront, but this is a positive sign of a functioning VFF and enables us to listen to everyone’s views. I was taken aback by a Twitter troll who suggested that ‘acknowledging the wide and diverse views’ of our Members was somehow a bad thing, and that we should just pick a side and that would be better leadership. I absolutely disagree. Our diversity is not our weakness, but indeed our strength. We continue to be a vital link between Victorian farmers and decision makers at all levels and I can assure you, this is what our staff get out of bed for and our elected farmer representatives give up time in their business to progress. As I’m writing this, I’m under no illusion that just because we can see some light at the end of the tunnel, all of our problems will disappear, but I look forward to the opportunity to be able to get out and meet with as many of you as possible over the coming months. Take care of yourself and your family, and as always, happy farming. Emma Germano VFF President
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CLIMATE CHANGE The conversation that must be had
SAFETY ON FARMS
CAMPING & BIOSECURITY
VFF gives defribrillators to seven towns to save lives
Helping our farmers to get the workers they need
Farmers on riverland caught up in the hot debate
DISCLAIMER: This publication is published by The Intermedia Group Pty Ltd (the “Publisher”). Materials in this publication have been created by a variety of different entities and, to the extent permitted by law, the Publisher accepts no liability for materials created by others. All materials should be considered protected by New Zealand and international intellectual property laws. Unless you are authorised by law or the copyright owner to do so, you may not copy any of the materials. The mention of a product or service, person or company in this publication does not indicate the Publisher’s endorsement. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the opinion of the Publisher, its agents, company officers or employees. Any use of the information contained in this publication is at the sole risk of the person using that information. The user should make independent enquiries as to the accuracy of the information before relying on that information. All express or implied terms, conditions, warranties, statements, assurances and representations in relation to the Publisher, its publications and its services are expressly excluded. To the extent permitted by law, the Publisher will not be liable for any damages including special, exemplary, punitive or consequential damages (including but not limited to economic loss or loss of profit or revenue or loss of opportunity) or indirect loss or damage of any kind arising in contract, tort or otherwise, even if advised of the possibility of such loss of profits or damages. While we use our best endeavours to ensure accuracy of the materials we create, to the extent permitted by law, the Publisher excludes all liability for loss resulting from any inaccuracies or false or misleading statements that may appear in this publication. Copyright © 2021 – The Intermedia Group Pty Ltd
News PARTNERSHIP WITH MOBIL HELPS FUEL FARMERS
VFF Egg Group President Brian Ahmed with the donated eggs
EGG FARMERS HATCH PLAN TO HELP THOSE IN NEED Our generous egg farmers have donated pallets of local eggs to help feed thousands of in-need Victorians as part of Foodbank Victoria’s ongoing effort to distribute much-needed emergency food relief associated with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since early September, Victorian egg farmers have been donating at least two pallets of eggs per week to help those struggling to put food on the table. If you stacked them on top of each other, it’s roughly enough to scale the height of Melbourne’s Eureka Tower more than 30 times. A huge congratulations to everyone involved.
Earlier this year we launched our partnership with Mobil to help fuel Victorian farmers. Whether you are hauling heavy freight, preparing for harvest or simply looking for the best deal to ensure you get the best possible value, Mobil is your trusted go-to for all of your fuel and diesel needs. Mobil offers VFF members access to the Mobil Card, giving you options for your business like never before. The VFF/Mobil Card program provides discounts to VFF members at a range of outlets across Victoria and other states for fuel and other products. This exclusive VFF Member benefit is estimated to save $700 per truck per year in fuel costs. Visit the VFF website to learn more.
GET INVOLVED IN THE ‘KIDS TO AG’ PROGRAM Have you heard of the Kids to Ag project? It aims to increase primary school students’ understanding of where their food and fibre comes from, and to raise awareness of the career opportunities within the agriculture sector. Kids to Ag offers grants up to $2,000 for primary school students to visit farms and primary production sites across Victoria – providing students with a hands-on, practical experience in agriculture. Applications are now open for activities up until the end of Term 1 2022, and further information is available on the VFF website at http://www.vff.org.au/kidstoag or you can call VFF Project Coordinator Kath Dunn on 03 9207 5524 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Kids to Ag is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, through funding from the Australian Government’s Educating Kids About Agriculture initiative.
FARMY ARMY INITIATIVE IS HERE TO HELP The VFF recently put out the call for all willing farmers and their communities to register their need for assistance or to donate their time, produce or resources. The initiative has been dubbed the ‘Farmy Army’ and is part of a long-term plan to help coordinate a response for farmers and communities in their time of need anywhere in Victoria. The VFF will act as a link between those offering help and farmers requiring assistance. If you are looking to learn more and get involved, please contact the VFF on 1300 882 833 or visit our website.
PUSH TO INCREASE KIDS’ FARM SAFETY Our newly formed Child Safety on Farms Steering Committee is aiming to help reduce the occurrence of heartbreaking trauma and death on farms. Many incidents on farms involve farmers taking children for joy rides on quad bikes, side-by-sides, or children wandering into the path of farm machinery. These are 100 per cent preventable, and this new Committee will be pivotal in helping ensure farmers have the knowledge, tools and resources to stop kids being injured or dying on farms. If you have any questions or are looking to get involved please call us on 1300 882 833.
VFF Events Calendar Make sure you visit our VFF events page at vff.org.au/events for the latest information on when we’ll be visiting a town near you. You can come and see us at: •
Annual Commodity Group Conference Meeting (Chicken Meat) – November 19
Bendigo Farm Safety Briefing – December 1
Annual Commodity Group Conference Meeting (Pigs) – November 25 in Bendigo
Peninsula Branch Luncheon – December 5 in Shoreham
Mansfield Branch Meeting – November 30
Members & Stakeholder Engagement Meeting – December 1
Wangaratta Farm Safety Briefing – December 7, 12.30pm, at Wangaratta Rovers Football and Netball Club
Annual Commodity Group Conference Meeting (Eggs) – December 1
Wodonga Farm Safety Briefing – December 7, 6.30pm, at Wodonga RSL
Coverage matters: how we’re keeping Australia connected Reliable connectivity is vital in a world with so much uncertainty. It ensures we can stay connected to family, friends and colleagues. It enables remote learning, facilitates business and improves our overall lifestyle through access to entertainment – experiences everyone deserves. This knowledge underpins Telstra’s commitment to keeping regional and remote Australia connected.
Connectivity is fundamental to the Australian way of life and ongoing prosperity, wherever you live in the country. To make sure this happens, our local teams regularly meet Local Government Associations to hear what you need from us. Here’s some answers on main topics that get discussed.
It’s why we have invested more than $3 billion in regional and rural Australia in the last five years, and why more than 7% of our capital has been invested in services for 2% of Australians – people who live in the most remote parts of the country.
that Telstra is the only major mobile provider to win projects and commit funding as part of the Federal Government’s Regional Connectivity Program. Under the program, we are proud to be delivering 72 new projects in regional and remote Australia.
Our focus on reliable connectivity is also why, under the Federal Government Mobile Black Spot Program, Telstra has contributed three times more than the rest of the industry combined, and is building more than two thirds of all mobile base stations jointly funded under the program.
We also announced in May that over the next four years we will commit $200 million of co-investment funding aimed at enhancing and extending coverage in rural and regional areas. We plan to stimulate infrastructure co-investment with governments, local councils and businesses in areas that would otherwise be difficult to justify on economic grounds.
Given this demonstration of consistent and comprehensive service provision, it makes sense
3G is closing but not until June 2024 An increasing number of people are moving to 4G and 5G so we will be closing 3G, but there will be no change until June 2024. To support the move we are expanding our 4G network so it has equivalent coverage to 3G today. Telstra highway coverage Thanks to our investments in the Mobile Blackspot Program, there is now coverage along 5800km of Australia’s busiest, longest and most isolated trucking and tourism routes.
Getting communities back online after a disaster In most disaster situations, a power failure causes outages of mobile and fixed telecommunications. Getting services back up and running quickly relies heavily on being able to assess the damage quickly and accurately so the right parts and crew can be sent in. In the last few years, the availability of drones has made this much faster and safer for our teams, especially in areas that are still under threat. Our teams are often the first ones on the ground when a disaster hits to reconnect and rebuild communities, and they’re there until the job is done.
Australia’s largest internet of things network is supplied by Telstra The Internet of Things offers unprecedented, data-driven insights across your business and community, giving you the power to better inform and automate your processes. Telstra’s NB-IoT coverage now extends to around four million square kilometres and our LTE-M coverage reaches around three million square kilometres making it Australia’s largest IoT network.
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Risk and reward – beyond the climate debate A lot of energy has been put into the political debate over climate change. Both nationally and within our own farming community, the debate has been divisive and ideological. This has made the conversation difficult. But it was and will always be an important if not crucial conversation. Words: Luke Hooke Photography: Doug Gimesy 10
limate change is a conversation that has to be had, because as Victoria and Australia continue to focus more attention and investment on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture will be expected to contribute. And so, in order to represent Victorian farmers and protect their interests, the VFF needs a strong climate change policy. In a 2007 VFF policy paper titled Climate Change: A Case for Investment, former VFF President Simon Ramsay said: “The farming community is split on the issue of climate change. Many farmers agree with the evidence put forward that human induced activity is causing a heating of the earth’s climate. Others believe that the past few years are not indicative of a climate shift, but rather a function of normal variations in the earth’s climate.” That policy paper was 14 years ago.
Above: VFF Branch Secretary Fiona Conroy farms livestock on the Bellarine Peninsula. "Climate risk may be one driver of practice change, but so is productivity and resource efficiency."
When the VFF surveyed our members last March this split was still present, however almost two thirds of members now want to see the VFF proactive on climate change policy (see page 11 for a summary of results). Responding to the views of members, VFF Policy Council adopted a climate change policy in September this year (see page 12). This was significant progress for the organisation, and will strengthen our ability to contribute more actively in debate and negotiations over climate policy. It’s important to note that a key part of the policy is respecting the diversity of views in the farming community. Now that we have put some significant differences behind us we can focus on getting the best possible outcomes for Victorian farmers, and that means talking seriously about climate risk and the opportunities for reward. SPRING 2021
A farmer’s perspective
In the green rolling hills of Bellarine Peninsula farmland, VFF member Fiona Conroy is buoyed by the federation’s new climate change policy. “I think it’s well overdue,” she says. “For a long time the VFF has been viewed as being a bit slow on the issue of climate change, and this damaged our reputation among the younger generation of farmers.” Fiona is a livestock farmer, the local VFF Branch Secretary, and member of the Victorian Agriculture and Climate Change Council. On her farm, Fiona has been analysing her practices and adapting to change for a long time. “We aim to have a production system that can respond to changing seasonal behaviour. We calve and lamb in spring, use early weaning, aim to optimise herd and flock fertility, monitor stock growth rates and condition scores. We have a mix of different perennial pasture types and monitor pasture growth rates to make key management decisions, and have strategies in place to maximise pasture production for hay and silage in good years, but also to reduce stock numbers when needed,” she explains. “These actions all have a positive impact on our farm business and also improve our ability to manage changes in climate we have experienced. “We have invested in improved stock water systems, putting in pipes and troughs to all paddocks, we have put in hay sheds and silos
to increase our fodder storage store, and we put in extensive shelter belts which provide shade and shelter for stock, improve biodiversity and store carbon.” These are all common investments and system changes that were identified in the VFF’s climate change survey of members. They deliver benefits beyond adapting a farm business to climate change and demonstrate an important point – adapting to climate change has benefits beyond controlling climate risk. “Absolutely, that’s true,” says Fiona. “Climate risk may be one driver of practice change but so is productivity and resource efficiency. Climate risk goes beyond the farm. Our consumers and service providers also expect us to be good citizens, and I think this pressure in that sense is only going to increase.” When asked about the use of agriculture as a bargaining chip coming up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Fiona’s concern is apparent. “It’s frustrating. I think the farming industry is united behind the idea of agriculture being part of the solution, and if we are not, we’ll be left behind.” “Any talk about the cost to agriculture of meeting climate change requirements, doesn’t address the real costs farmers have to deal with if we don’t do something about climate change.” This frustration is something echoed by VFF President, Emma Germano.
“We have invested in improved stock water systems, putting in pipes and troughs to all paddocks, we have put in hay sheds and silos to increase our fodder storage store, and we put in extensive shelter belts which provide shade and shelter for stock, improve biodiversity and store carbon.” LOCAL VFF BRANCH SECRETARY AND VFF MEMBER, FIONA CONROY.
Big Issue “The NFF has a clear position supporting an economy-wide target of net zero by 2050, and it’s supported by the VFF. It’s pretty clear.”
ESG investment heating up
Farmers are adept at managing the risk associated with climate variability. It is part of farming in Australia – a land of droughts and floods. But these risks are changing and in the future they are not going to be limited to climatic events or change, and they will increasingly involve other socioeconomic factors. In the world of bankers, insurance brokers and lawyers, the term ESG – or ‘Environmental, Social and Governance’ – is well understood, and this is becoming more of a feature of financial reporting and boardroom discussion. Geoff Davis, Investment Director (Agriculture) at Merricks Capital explains that there is no hard and fast definition of ESG, rather it is a prioritisation of the three concepts in a strategic framework that promotes risk management. “Investment capital into agricultural has long been focused on understanding production seasonality and commodity cycle trends. Climate risk is an extension of this and has become a core tenet due to its intersection with a shifting policy landscape and the strategic commitments of public companies to advance ESG outcomes,” said Geoff.
Left and above: “Any talk about the cost of meeting climate change requirements, doesn’t address the real cost farmers have to deal with if we don’t do something,” says Fiona. On her own farm she has been honing practices to adapt for change for a long time: “We calve and lamb in spring, use early weaning, aim to optimise herd and flock fertility, monitor stock growth rates and condition scores.”
VFF SURVEY FINDINGS
63 per cent of respondents said they
have observed noticeable climatic and environmental changes during their time farming, with seasonal change, reduced rainfall, changes in growing season behaviour and increased average temperatures the most common changes observed.
66 per cent
• Of these, believed that the changes identified were wholly or partly attributable to anthropogenic (human induced) climate change.
• of respondents said they had changed their farming practices or decision making to adapt to changes in climate, with investment in improved stock water infrastructure, changed crop selection and investment in feed storage and feed out infrastructure the most common business adaptations.
4 per cent
• said they had participated in carbon or natural capital markets, with native vegetation credits the most common.
60 per cent
• either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that the agriculture industry has an important role in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The cause and effect of this is that ESG values have increasingly been pushed upstream on the supply chain and now something primary producers must understand and engage with. “The benefits of an increased focus on ESG risk management still come at an initial cost and appropriate incentives are needed to generate buy-in at a primary producer level. Incentives could range from reduced capital costs (sustainability linked bonds are popular in the US and EU) or improved pricing that captures a consumer willingness to pay for ESG produce. “When providing capital to the sector, especially for growth and development of a business, Merricks Capital seeks to incorporate ESG considerations in working with capital partners to identify their key business risks and how they plan to mitigate the potential impacts through operational strategies.”
Where there is risk there is opportunity
The risk/return trade-off is a well-worn economic principal, and no industry is quite as aware of its
VFF CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY STATEMENT – GENERAL PRINCIPLES 1. The VFF acknowledges that climate change both poses challenges and presents potential opportunities for Victorian farmers. 2. The VFF acknowledges and respects the diverse views held by the Victorian farming community regarding the impact of human induced climate change and natural climate variability. Irrespective of these views, the VFF’s priority is to ensure that public responses to climate change have limited negative impacts on the agriculture industry. 3. The VFF acknowledges that agriculture is both a greenhouse gas emitting and sequestering industry. The VFF believes it is essential that the role of carbon cycling and methane’s atmospheric lifetime is considered in climate change policy affecting agriculture. 4. The VFF believes that government mitigation programs in the agricultural industries should be measurable to ensure farmers’ efforts to reduce emissions are reported and recognised in Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions reporting framework. 5. The VFF believes governments must acknowledge the work of Victorian
farmers to date in reducing emissions and adapting to climate change including through their investment in renewable energy, changed farming practices and investment in new technology. 6. The VFF commits to constructively participating in government and industry discussions and policy development regarding adaptation, mitigation and natural capital markets. Emissions Reduction Targets 7. The VFF recognises agriculture’s role in helping to meet national emissions reductions goals and targets. The VFF supports the National Farmers Federation led economy-wide aspiration of net zero emissions by 2050. 8. The VFF’s support for emissions reductions targets specifically for the agriculture industry is contingent on those targets recognising the relevant factors outlined in Items 3, 4, 5 and 9 of this Policy Statement. 9. The VFF supports the establishment of strong emissions baselines for the agricultural industry and a strong recording framework to ensure measurable outcomes from mitigation efforts. Farm Business and Industry Support 10. The VFF believes government and industry mitigation efforts should not negatively impact productivity and should support and
reward farmers in their emissions reduction and sequestration efforts. 11. The VFF encourages investment in research and development regarding the observed and future impacts of climate change to assist farm business decision making and adaptation. 12. The VFF encourages investment in adaptation and emissions reduction technologies to ensure Victorian farmers have the tools to adapt and contribute to mitigation efforts. 13. The VFF supports investment to improve the accessibility and affordability of on farm emissions and sequestration measurement, management and reporting tools. 14. The VFF supports improvements in the accessibility of and the development of natural capital markets. 15. The VFF encourages government financial support for adaptation and mitigation efforts on farm, including but not limited to: a. R enewable energy technology; b. Energy, resource and input efficiency projects; c. Stock feed and water infrastructure; d. Genetic and animal husbandry research and projects. This policy should be read in conjunction with the following VFF Policy Statements: Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy, Right to Farm Policy, Land Access Policy.
Big Issue The risk/return trade-off is a well-worn economic principal, and no industry is quite as aware of its realities as agriculture. Australian agriculture has been built off individuals and businesses turning risks into opportunities.
realities as agriculture. Australian agriculture has been built off individuals and businesses turning risks into opportunities. The Grattan Institute released its report in September called Towards net zero: Practical policies to reduce agricultural emission, and it found: “There are not yet credible ways to eliminate methane from cattle and sheep (the largest source of emissions) – it will take time to implement better manure and fertiliser management across the nation’s 50,000 broadacre farms, and electric vehicles and equipment are not yet fully available to substitute diesel ones. Nonetheless, there are things that can be done now.” This is an important point as there are some serious challenges when it comes to reducing emissions in agriculture, but it does not mean we should not tackle them, or take the opportunities available now. Agriculture has already seen significant investment at the state and federal level to reduce emissions on farm. In Victoria the Agriculture Energy Investment Plan invested $30 million in 2017, to help farmers understand their energy use and invest in technology to improve energy efficiency or production, such as rooftop solar, biodiesel and waste to energy systems. The program was over-subscribed and another $30 million was allocated in 2020. This has again been over-subscribed, and the VFF will ask the Victorian Government to re-invest in this program in the 2022 budget. At the federal level the 2021 budget saw a significant $238 million investment in helping farmers better understand and manage their soils.
Left and above: Fiona’s farm from above; Fiona believes farmers are united behind the idea of agriculture being part of the solution to climate change. “If we are not, we’ll be left behind,” she warns.
Natural capital markets are another area for potential gain for farmers, where landholders are paid to lock up and look after tracts of valuable biodiversity. However, in the VFF climate change survey just 4 per cent of respondents said they had participated in a natural capital market. This demonstrates that there is a long way to go in making these programs more accessible, but the potential reward is the opening up of new revenue streams for landholders. As action to combat climate change pushes ahead across the globe, the VFF is now better placed to be an active participant in the conversation. VFF President Emma Germano says there is too much to lose from inaction and too much to gain from action on climate change. “As farmers we simply cannot keep our heads in the sand on this issue, and I’m proud to say the VFF is going to be part of the solution, not the problem. The longer we wait and the more we perpetuate inaction, the more difficult it will be for industry.” SPRING 2021
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In some of Victoria’s remote farming communities the wait for an ambulance can be up to an hour. After a cardiac arrest, every minute without defibrillation reduces the chance of survival by 10 per cent.
A shocking new reality We all know defibrillators save lives, and to support the health of regional communities the VFF has recently announced the seven farming communities that have received defibrillators as winners of the VFF Making Our Farms Safer (MOFS) program. Words: Steve Madgwick
s Denise Leed leaned over her husband’s prone body, desperately pumping his chest with CPR compressions for 40 harrowing minutes, she would have given the world for a defibrillator. As a CPR trainer and former community health nurse, Denise knows that a defibrillator is far from a miracle machine, even when operated by professionals in a clinical setting. But out on a remote farm, when your life partner is in cardiac arrest, it’s a weapon that you really need in your community’s medical arsenal. Two years ago her husband, Allan, was clearing a fallen tree, blown down in a storm on their Pyramid Hill crop farm in the Loddon Shire in Victoria’s north. It seemed like a routine job for the then fitter-thana-fiddle 64-year-old. “I just found him out in the yard,” says Denise. “They think a root had given way and the tree rolled 90 degrees, which encapsulated him.” The only other person on the property, Denise had to make some critical decisions in those first few minutes, where every second was precious. First, thanks to mediocre mobile-phone coverage, she had to run 100 metres to the house that Allan’s greatgrandparents built to call 000 as well as a neighbour for help. She was having chest pains herself, so couldn’t run as fast as she wanted to. Next, Denise had to free Allan from under the tree – somehow. “The front-end loader was there, but I’d never been on it so I had no idea how it worked. I’d never used a chainsaw before either but I managed to get it going. I thought, ‘now that I’ve got it going, I may as well cut it’.” Just as she finished cutting through the tree
bough, a work colleague also happened to turn up. Together they were able to drag Allan out. “We did CPR for 40 minutes before the fire brigade arrived. And another five to 10 minutes before the ambulance turned up and he was declared deceased.” The official cause of Allan’s death was ‘mechanical asphyxiation’. Denise, now 63, has had two years to reflect on the loss of her partner, painfully sifting through the events of that day in her head. As with any regional farm fatality, there are countless factors to consider – but isolation from appropriate medical assistance is one of the big ones. “The nearest ambulance is 50 kilometres away from here,” Denise says. “The nearest hospital is Bendigo, 80 kilometres away – so you are looking at two hours. I even asked for an air ambulance but the first one available would have arrived when the road ambulance would have arrived anyway. “When the hospital closed at Pyramid Hill, 26 years ago, I was working as a community health nurse and we did emergency on-call. If I got an ambulance there in under 50 minutes, I was doing well. It’s still the case.” On the day of accident, the few defibrillators in the area that may have helped save Allan’s life never made it to the scene, for a variety of reasons familiar to farmers on remote properties. With only one person on that day, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) just couldn’t make it in time. The fire brigade didn’t have a defibrillator onboard that day because they had to return one that wasn’t compatible with Ambulance Victoria’s. They have one now. SPRING 2021
In June this year, Denise jumped at the chance to apply for one of seven defibrillators worth $2,700 that were being given away to farming communities as part of the VFF’s Making Our Farms Safer (MOFS) program, in partnership with St John Ambulance Victoria. More than 70 applications for the St John Ambulance G5 automated external defibrillators (AED) came in from the length and breadth of Victoria. Non-VFF members were also eligible to apply. “To win a defib, people just needed to tell their story and we assessed who needed them the most right now,” says John Darcy, Senior Farm Safety Advisor for the VFF. “The criteria included ambulance response times and distance from their nearest hospital, as well as how many farming families would have access to the defibrillator and its life-saving impact for the community.” According to Ambulance Victoria’s most recent data, ‘urgent’ response times in the regions are, on average, five minutes longer than in metro areas. Ambulance response times in the giveaway-applicant communities ranged from around 20 to 60 minutes, underlining the need for critical safety equipment such as defibrillators so first responders – ostensibly whoever is at the scene – can act immediately in lifeor-death emergencies. “Every minute without defibrillation reduces the chance of survival by 10 per cent,” says Gordon Botwright, St John Ambulance Victoria CEO. “If the patient receives defibrillation within the first few minutes of having a sudden cardiac arrest, their chance of survival is increased to beyond 70 per cent. It is critical more easily accessible defibrillators are available in the community, so bystanders can act immediately when required.” Having a defibrillator in the community is one thing, but knowing where it is and having public access to it is another. “I was doing CPR when Mum called Allan’s phone, asking if he was all right, as she had heard the fire engine’s siren,” remembers Denise. “I said: ‘no, I think he’s dead, you better come out'. So there are locals who could have brought one out, but the ones in town – at the footy club, the swimming pool and the school – were locked up because it was Saturday around lunchtime.” Public access was an essential condition to receiving a defibrillator in the Making Our Farms Safer giveaway. “Some communities have a defib in their local CFA station, but it’s locked by the end of the day and nobody can access it,” says John. “One requirement was that if it is to be on private property, you need to make your local community aware that it’s there, and they need to have access to it at all times.” Slightly delayed by the COVID-19 lockdown, each of the seven communities, from Nhill in the Wimmera to Barwite in north-east Victoria, has now received their defibrillator. The Pyramid Hill one will be installed on the external wall of the local caravan park’s amenities
Clockwise: The G5 defibrillators awarded in the giveaway are designed to be used by anyone, but the seven communities to receive one have also been offered instruction by a trainer from St John Ambulance.
building – about 10 kilometres from Denise’s farm – “so anyone driving past can see it and use it”. The critical next step, according to Denise, is to ensure that the location of this and all accessible defibrillators are registered on the Ambulance Victoria website. The seven recipients have recently received instruction from a St John trainer (via Zoom, again thanks to lockdowns) and were encouraged to share their knowledge with nearby farmers. While the idea of using a defibrillator might sound overwhelming, the G5 AED is designed to be suitable for an untrained lay person, essentially a ‘defib for dummies’. Users don’t even need a first aid certificate to operate one. “The defib itself talks you through the steps when you open it,” says John. “It literally reads you instructions on what to do. For example, you might need to shave someone’s chest hair before putting the pads on to make sure it works. It won’t go to the next step until you’ve done the current step. “But having someone demonstrate it to the winners and talk through the scenarios they might face during someone having a cardiac arrest was really useful, too.” Importantly, the G5 has a USB that stores all the patient’s cardiac activity, which can then be transferred to paramedics and ultimately be passed on to the hospital.
Almost 25 per cent of the Fish Creek population (another defibrillator recipient) is 65 years and over, statistically an at-risk age bracket for cardiac arrest. And the bottom line is that early intervention with defibrillators in these communities leads to better survival outcomes. “Defibrillators are not miracle machines,” says Denise. “Allan probably wouldn’t have survived, but it would have been another string to our bow. Out in the country, you really have to fend for yourself. You hope a defibrillator never gets used, but it’s just another way of looking after the community.” You can contact the VFF's Making our Farms Safer team on 1300 882 833
AND THE WINNERS ARE… The defibrillator is part of the Making Our Farms Safer project funded by the Victorian Government to provide all Victorian farmers with support and resources to improve health and safety of farms. “Our am is to deliver free farm safety tools and services that are accessible, practical and useful to all Victorian farmers in terms of safety, wellbeing and mental health.” The VFF is currently in discussion with St John Ambulance to see how more of the defibrillators can be distributed to communities in need. Because it’s not just isolation and the relatively hazardous nature of farming that makes these potentially life-saving devices essential in regional Victoria, but also a matter of protecting at-risk demographics.
These seven communities have received a St John Ambulance G5 automated external defibrillator (AED) as winners of the VFF’s Making Our Farms Safer (MOFS) giveaway in partnership with St John Ambulance Victoria. • Barwite, North-East Victoria (Valerie O’Halloran) • Nhill, Wimmera (Dianne Koop) • Chetwynd, South-West Victoria (Steve Dillon) • Derrinallum, South-West Victoria (Jack Salter) • Pyramid Hill, Loddon Valley (Denise Leed) • Tambo Crossing, East Gippsland (Jen Smith) • Fish Creek, South Gippsland (Brigit Senior)
When it comes time to check your harvester, consider checking your insurance cover too. Harvest season is almost here. And with that comes an increased risk of fire. At WFI, we want to make sure you get through the season safely. Consider the tips provided, and don’t forget to check your insurance cover as well, to help ensure you’re adequately insured should something go wrong.
wwfi.com.au Find your Local Area Managerwat w.wfi.comor .aucall 1300 934 934
Insurance issued by Insurance Australia Limited ABN 11 000 016 722 AFSL 227681 trading as WFI (WFI). This is general advice only and does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs (“your personal circumstances”). Before using this advice to decide whether to purchase a product, you should consider your personal circumstances and the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations available from wfi.com.au. Victorian Farmers Federation is an alliance partner of WFI and does not make any recommendation or provide an opinion about WFI’s products. Victorian Farmers Federation has a referral relationship with WFI, and if you acquire a product issued by WFI, Victorian Farmers Federation receives a commission payment between 5% and 10% of the annual base premium. In relation to the referral arrangement. *Grains Research and Development Corporation Adelaide Office 2017, Ten tips for reducing the risk of harvester fires, GRDC, viewed 17 September 2021, https://grdc.com.au/news-and-media/news-and-media-releases/south/2017/12/ten-tips-for-reducing-the-risk-of-harvester-fires.
Fire safety tips for harvest season* • Clean your harvester regularly, starting at the front and working from the top down. • Consider checking and recording your harvester’s bearing temperature using an infra-red gun or thermal imager to help identify at-risk bearings. • Adhere to state-based grain harvesting codes of practice and be aware of harvest bans. Look out for high fire risk days and abide by the Grassland Fire Danger Index (GFDI) protocol. • Have water and a fire-fighting equipment in the paddock you’re harvesting. • Consider storing both a water and an A/B/E extinguisher at the cab entry and near the back of your harvester. • Put a fire plan in place and make sure your harvest team is aware of it and understands it. • Keep a list of emergency numbers or uhf channels in the cab.
On the biosecurity frontline
Strict biosecurity practices have never been more important for the Australian livestock industry, but new Crown Land Regulations are increasing concerns for farmers on properties bordering Crown riverside land. Words: Sue Wallace
Something seemingly harmless such as cattle licking a discarded European salami wrapper at a riverside campsite could easily introduce an exotic disease that has the potential to wipe out the Australian livestock industry.
ourth-generation farmer Stuart Gilmore believes something such as cattle licking a discarded European salami wrapper at a riverside campsite could easily introduce an exotic disease that has the potential to wipe out the Australian livestock industry. Stuart runs beef cattle on 200 hectares at ‘Hughendon’ at Thornton – between Lake Eildon and Alexandra – with Goulburn River frontage on the western side and the Rubicon River running through the centre of his land. He is concerned that the new rules that came into force in September in the updated Land (Regulated Watercourse Land) Regulations 2021 – providing more Crown land river frontage land for camping, fishing and recreation – will further threaten livestock biosecurity. Stuart, whose land has been farmed by the Gilmore family for 155 years, says there has not been adequate thought given to the consequences of the new regulations. “The regulations will no doubt increase biosecurity risks, quite significantly, in terms of the threat of letting exotic animal diseases in,” Stuart says. “Any threats to biosecurity in the livestock industry are extremely concerning, and the need for proper regulation is vital. “Many fishermen and campers have salami and imported meat that are easy to take camping, and if rubbish is left behind cattle love to lick anything that’s salty, so the cattle industry could easily be
WHAT IS BIOSECURITY? Biosecurity is the management of risks to the economy, environment and the community, of pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing or spreading. How is it implemented? Guidelines and a range of practices are established to keep livestock free from disease and pests. Farm biosecurity highlights five key areas of risk as the main ways the disease is spread, including people and livestock movement, product movement, vehicles and equipment, feed and water and pests and weeds. Why is it so important? Keeping pests and diseases out is important because they can reduce on-farm productivity, and affect farm incomes and animal welfare. It can also reduce the value of farming land, close export markets and reduce export prices, and some diseases can also be passed to humans. New regulations The new regulations have been introduced as the result of a 2018 election promise for more camping opportunities on public land along Victorian rivers. They specify there will be 27 camping sites on Crown river frontage assessed by the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning and other agencies. Environmental values, camping suitability and Aboriginal cultural heritage research undertaken by the relevant Traditional Owner group of the area are considered. The areas designated for camping will be listed and announced as they are assessed as suitable on the DELWP website. Initially the assessment and designation of camping areas will be in northern Victoria – including the Goulburn, Broken, Ovens, Campaspe, Loddon and Murray Rivers. Camping will not be permitted in licensed areas where no assessment has been undertaken. The regulations stipulate a maximum stay of 14 nights. There’s no camping within 20 metres of the waterway and within 200 metres of any nearby house.
destroyed. Livestock biosecurity is in danger and the whole thing could lead to a disaster.” Stuart says although he doesn’t think there will be campers on his river frontage because it’s narrower than stipulated in the regulations, he is worried for others who must cope with rubbish, faecal matter and general pollution that could be left behind by campers. “We are only about 100 metres from the river so that doesn’t fit the regulations, and we don’t mind day-trippers and put up with fishermen, but camping brings its own problems,” he says.
Above: New rules designed to open up Crown land adjacent to waterways for camping and fishing are causing major biosecurity concerns for farmers.
“Most people do the right thing but it’s those 20 per cent who don’t that can upset the delicate biosecurity balance.” In the past he has had six sheep killed by stray dogs from campsites. “We let people camp on the Rubicon River, and fishermen walk along the river, and that’s okay as most fishermen are very good and very easy to deal with,” he says. “But it’s when alcohol comes into it at a campsite that things can get out of hand. The new regulations involve a lot of stipulations including how far people can camp from the river and where toilets have to be set up, and that in itself could easily lead to confrontation with farmers.” Stuart adds that farmers don’t want to be involved in policing the regulations when people set up camp. “There are plenty of campsites people can camp at without this, and there will no doubt be different rule interpretations by farmers and campers at times,” he says. “There are also genuine concerns about people driving on your property and what they could bring in on their tyres, which cattle could lick. People think it will never happen to them – but look at Mad Cow Disease in the UK.” Fires are another issue, and there are often no tracks along the river frontages so fire trucks could have difficulty getting access. “If people are camping without easily accessible tracks, an emergency or accident can be very dangerous,” Stuart says.
Hot Topic to police and haven’t been thought through properly by the Government. “Some bureaucrats in Melbourne have worked on this without consultation with farmers,” he says. “They haven’t listened to rural people about the problems it poses.” Ben says there are plenty of campsites for campers without encroaching on farming land. “It will cause angst for farmers and the situation could easily get out of hand as farmers try to enforce regulations. People don’t like being told what to do,” he says. “There are alternatives out there and we just don’t need these campsites to be opened up.” Ben is the fifth generation of his family to breed Merinos at Marnoo in Victoria’s Wimmera region. He wants to see a national identification system for sheep, so that if a threat of exotic disease is detected, information can easily be sought and action can be taken. “A national EID system – not run by states – is essential in helping minimise any damage an exotic disease outbreak would cause,” he says. “COVID-19 has shown that when a crisis occurs, states will look to protect themselves, blame others and hinder the recovery process. Exotic diseases don’t know borders, so time and not being held up in each individual state’s legislation would be critical if an outbreak occurred,” he says. Ben says that the Federal Government needs to play its part in protecting borders. “There needs to be tougher laws and penalties, and people should be sent back home if they are found bringing in products of threat,” he says. “We are an island nation that has the capability of preventing exotic disease outbreaks, so it should be one of the government’s top priorities to help protect our booming agricultural industry. It’s a real worry if this is all opened up, and it could bring the livestock industry to its knees.” Problems with stray dogs and boxing up sheep are other issues Ben believes will become more prevalent with the new regulations.
Lack of boundaries between farming and Crown land are also concerning, and according to Stuart, they are an invisible line. “The boundaries are not clear so that’s another matter for confusion and frustration,” he says. “I would be constantly policing which side of the boundary campers should be on, plus there are concerns about public liability insurance in the case someone was injured.”
Listening to farmers
Stuart thinks the new regulations should be reconsidered to protect livestock biosecurity. This is echoed by VFF Livestock Councillor Ben Duxson who says the new regulations will be difficult
Patrick MacDonald, the VFF Stock Sense Project Manager, says Stock Sense is a producer-led extension project aimed at further educating Victorian livestock producers. “By improving the management skills and knowledge of producers in relation to animal health and welfare and biosecurity, it will provide more security,” he says. Workshops, webinars, newsletters, factsheets, social media and other relevant activities will be undertaken to share information later this year. Patrick says the project was initially developed after Victorian livestock producers identified a gap in extension delivery for Victorian livestock producers, and after a hiatus will be reintroduced in late 2021. Stock Sense has a specific focus on cattle, sheep and goat producers and is co-funded by the Cattle Compensation Fund and the Sheep and Goat Compensation Fund, and is delivered by the Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group. SPRING 2021
The Ag Visa debate continues After a series of foreign policy issues, the Federal Government recently announced the long awaited Agricultural Visa program in an attempt to address the now critical supply of seasonal workers on Australia’s farms. Words: Tony Blackie
n an attempt to resolve the growing crisis around itinerant farm workers, a plan has been formulated to provide a special visa offering a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship to eligible foreign workers as an encouragement to get them to travel to Australia and to work on farms. The current plan, while well intentioned and indeed strongly supported, is short on detail as farmers and state and regional authorities attempt to fathom how the plan will work. The Seasonal Workers Program (SWP) and the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) – which are aimed at providing farm work to people from neighbouring Pacific Island nations – will continue and will run in tandem with the new plan. As east coast Australia heads rapidly into harvest season, the realisation is that the new Ag Visa will not be in place in time to facilitate the required numbers of workers to meet the demand, therefore, the SWP and the remnants of the backpacker brigade will be relied on to assist. But how did the new Ag Visa system come about?
Ag Visa action stations
A joint media release in late August, co-signed by no less than four federal ministers including the Foreign Minister, Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Immigration and the Deputy Prime Minister loudly announced the new scheme stating that it would be in place by the end of September 2021. While some quarters have wholeheartedly embraced the new policy, many farming, labour hire, and business organisations have expressed concern. They are not concerned about the Ag Visa concept, rather they are worried about when it will arrive and how it will work. They say it is obvious that the scheme will not be in place until early 2022.
Trade For the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF), the Ag Visa can’t come too soon. Emma Germano, VFF President, understands the needs of farmers, particularly those in horticulture, around the regular and secure supply of on farm labour. As the granddaughter of Italian migrants who came to Australia in the 1930s she understands the process of moving to a new country and working to build a new life. Her grandparents and parents before her worked for farmers until they could buy their own farms. Emma has been pushing for a visa for more than six years both as a horticulturist and as a VFF office holder. Her dogged pursuit of a regulated and secure flow of overseas skilled and unskilled workers had some people calling the planned legislation the Emma Germano Visa – a tag she laughs off. “I was told to stop saying ‘Ag Visa’ because they said it would never happen,” Emma says. “There really was and is a need for it within the horticulture industry. We did try a Harvest Visa for a while.” Emma says that there is a need across the spectrum of agricultural sectors, despite the lack
IN THE INTERIM Because the new system is still some way off, New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian governments along with farming groups and labour hire organisations have been working on programs to meet the immediate needs of farmers.
of political will at the beginning that the farms pushed on. “The pandemic has brought this all into sharp focus and this year the situation is probably worse than last year, in terms of availability of workers.” She says that the good growing conditions, good export opportunities and the mild weather conditions have worked in favour of farmers. However, there has been a dramatic need for political and bureaucratic input to make it happen. She agrees that while the Ag Visa was supposed to commence on 1 October, Emma agrees it is not likely to be fully operational for some time, perhaps even into 2022. There has been a lot of work on the operation of the visa to ensure that all the checks and balances are in place – that workers’ rights are protected and that farmers understand their obligations. Emma believes that the Agricultural Visa will reduce both the perception and the reality of farm worker exploitation it provides for, and stipulates the work conditions that must be offered.
Maintaining farm production
Praise has come from the National Farmers’ Federation which has lobbied the government for some time for just such a visa that would allow farmers the opportunity to obtain the workers they need to maintain farm production. According to NFF President Fiona Simson, there would be a “sigh of relief” from farmers all over Australia as a result of the new policy. In a media statement Fiona said: “Thanks to the leadership and commitment of Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, NFF’s calls have been answered. This is a significant step towards solving the farm sector’s enduring workforce crisis with a bespoke visa designed to meet the industry’s many and varied skill needs.” Because the new system is still some way off, New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian governments along with farming groups and labour hire organisations have been working on programs to meet the immediate needs of farmers. The state ministers say that Federal Agriculture Minister Littleproud has ignored requests for a consultation after the visa was announced. They say urgent discussion is required around workforce issues and quarantine needs. The Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Mary-Anne Thomas, told Victorian Farmer that while the visa concept was a welcome addition to the process of providing workers for Victorian farmers, there appeared to be a long way to go before the plan will come into force. She says there is already a plan in place to support the upcoming harvest season to ensure that there are workers available for local farmers. “We have a proven and safe quarantine pathway for Pacific workers for the upcoming harvest season, and discussions continue with Tasmania on a longerterm arrangement,” Minister Thomas said. “The visa has the potential to play an important role in meeting future workforce needs – but it SPRING 2021
doesn’t provide any help for farmers needing workers this year. “No-one can plan an appropriate quarantine pathway until details of the new Ag Visa are finalised, including where these workers will be coming from, how many and when they will be able to take up the visa. “In the continued absence of Federal Government leadership on urgent workforce issues, we are working with other east coast states on a coordinated approach to supporting industry with its seasonal harvest workforce.”
It’s all in the details
One person who has been integrally involved in the development of the Agricultural Visa is Tyson Cattle – National Public Affairs Manager at AUSVEG and Horticulture Council Executive Officer at National Farmers’ Federation. AUSVEG has also been calling for a more reliable flow of skilled and itinerant workers to meet the needs of Australian growers. “This is a very complex situation that is still on track,” Tyson says. “The framework we have developed will be high level and broad – to give departments the opportunity to work out the details.” He pointed out that the Ag Visa involved international negotiations and that high level bilateral negotiations had been going on with the various target countries. While there is an admission that it will take at least six months for all parties to get their heads around the detail of the new agreement, measures have been taken to ensure sufficient workers to meet current needs. Tyson says that the SWP focussing on workers from South Pacific nations will continue to be part of the mix, with about 25,000 workers being on farms by March next year. He says that many farmers have developed good relationships with the SWP workers and are happy to continue with that arrangement. The signing of the new free trade agreement with the UK has meant that British backpackers, and presumably other young European Union travellers on the working holiday visa scheme, will no longer be required to do agricultural work in order to extend their visas. Agriculture has relied heavily on the backpacker workforce and this means the 30,000 to 40,000 backpackers who engaged in the Australian horticulture industry each year, will be greatly reduced. Under the Ag Visa scheme, Tyson suggests that growers will have the opportunity to select and sponsor people with appropriate agricultural skills.
A win-win for farmers and workers
Robert Hayes is the Victorian State Manager of Harvest Labour Services at MADEC, and he has been integrally involved in providing farmers with the necessary workforce to meet harvest needs. He says the Ag Visa will mean a great deal to the Australian agricultural sector. “It is a very significant piece of policy which over
MORE HELP NEEDED AUSVEG has also been calling for a more reliable flow of skilled and itinerant workers to meet the needs of Australian growers.
Trade treated fairly. Some poor publicity of the treatment of a small minority of foreign workers has been aired internationally. “What has bought this to a head is the working holiday visa numbers have dropped off due to the pandemic and supply has dried up.” But Chris says the demand for the new visa is definitely there from both farmers and potential workers. He claims to have had many letters from families of people in Asian target countries asking whether they might be eligible. “Unfortunately, when the Government says a scheme will be up and running by September, it means I have farmers ringing me and saying they need to get some of those people,” he says. Employers are currently asking for more detail around the implementation of the visa scheme such as which countries will be the priorities, how employers can access the program, and when details will be available so they can plan and ensure they can get workers with the skills they need.
The question of quarantine
time will have a major impact on the harvest labour market,” he says. “There is a lot of detail to be worked out and it is unlikely that there will be a lot of workers coming through until mid next year. “There might be one or two plane loads of workers coming before the end of the year and that will help to define the policy,” Robert says. “The key design of the Ag Visa is to create a pool of workers who are more mobile than those on the Seasonal Workers Program. Generally, we find that the SWP’s work for one employer whereas the Ag Visa is designed for farms with shorter harvest time frames.” Chris Johnson is principal with the specialist law firm Work Visa Lawyers, and he believes there are many benefits provided by the Ag Visa. He points out that many organisations like the NFF have been working towards a visa since 2006. He says that the bilateral negotiations currently underway are vital as many of the target countries for the visa workers want to be assured that their citizens will be
QUARANTINE QUANDARY Lingering questions remain on how workers will quarantine and what requirements will be needed to enter Australia
Another major question around the implementation of the program is how workers entering the country will be quarantined or even if it will still be required. Will the workers quarantine in Australia, in their home country prior to entering Australia, or travel here via a travel bubble with another country? The Victorian and Federal Governments have agreed to building a special quarantine accommodation hub outside Melbourne’s CBD. This could be used for the agricultural workers. Recent announcements by Minister Thomas and other Victorian government ministers, includes the $84 million package to address the workforce challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In September the Victorian Government announced a new agreement with the Tasmanian Government to deliver a quarantine pathway for a further 1,500 Pacific workers for the agriculture industry, and discussions continue on longer term arrangements. Under the new scheme, Federal Government department inspectors will be watching to ensure the visa workers are treated fairly. In Australia the minimum wage an employee can be legally paid is AUD $19.84 per hour, before tax. Horticultural workers like fruit pickers however, are often paid a piecemeal rate per unit picked or processed (e.g. $1 per bucket of apples) rather than an hourly rate. The new visa scheme will address these areas of employer-provided conditions and payments. In order to give migrant workers additional protection, the Federal Government has proposed new laws which would make it much harder for employers to exploit vulnerable people. Any employer who attempts to coerce a visa holder to accept a work agreement that breaches their visa conditions; or coerce a visa holder to accept a work arrangement by leading the visa holder to believe that if they do not accept, they will be breaching their visa conditions, may be fined up to $399,600 and/or receive a sentence of up to two years in prison. SPRING 2021
for farmers From powering the machines that sow crops, to transporting food and fibre to market, fuel is a crucial element at all stages of modern agricultural production. Words: Annabel Mactier
he 2012 Geelong Shell diesel refinery breakdown highlighted the vulnerability of Victoria’s agriculture industry to fuel shortages. During this period diesel had to be rationed after the Geelong Refinery – which supplies more than 50 per cent of Victoria’s fuel requirements – was damaged, resulting in many farmers being unable to access adequate quantities of fuel during the peak of harvest. The VFF received calls from growers who were having to dump grain because they didn’t have enough fuel to transport it to the silo or having to make the decision between fuelling their machinery or their trucks. “This was a wake-up call on the potential risks of fuel shortages,” says VFF Grains President Ashley Fraser. “As producers of perishable essential goods, security of supply and timeliness of supply are critical. Sowing and harvest periods are especially high-risk periods for Victorian producers, as even short-term delays can significantly impact grain production.” Since that time the VFF has actively championed a reform of Australia’s fuel security policies. As a member country of the International Energy Association (IEA), Australia is obliged to hold emergency stocks equivalent to 90 days of net imports, and have effective policies in place in order to be able to contribute to an IEA collective action. Despite this, however, Australia has been non-compliant since 2012. Unlike other IEA members, Australia had no public stockholdings or minimum stockholding
VFF Grains President Ashley Fraser said the 2012 Geelong Shell refinery breakdown was a "wake-up call" on the potential risks of fuel shortages.
obligation for the domestic oil industry. Instead, Australia’s fuel supply system operated on a ‘just in time’ approach, with approximately 80 per cent of oil delivered directly from refineries or import terminals to service stations or other endconsumers, and limited storage capacity along the supply chain, with only three days of fuel supply at petrol stations. While this may have been cost effective it meant there were limited reserves, leaving the supply chain highly vulnerable to shocks. Australia’s policies relied largely on market forces to ensure a secure supply of fuel, with Commonwealth Government intervention viewed as a last resort. The Liquid Fuel Emergency Act of 1984 provided the authority to prepare for and manage a national liquid fuel emergency. In the event of a supply interruption, Australia largely relied on consumers to respond to price signals to address demand for fuel. The Commonwealth Government also had the power to ration the purchase of fuel, and while a small list of ‘essential users’ may be exempted from rationing during an emergency, it is important to note that agriculture was not included. The VFF ran a long campaign with other peak industry bodies to highlight the risks of this approach, meeting with Ministers as well as presenting at a number of inquiries and industry round tables. The events resulting from COVID-19, however, have been a key turning point for fuel security policy, exposing the frailties of global supply chains.
VFF Report The Federal Government has now committed to returning to full compliance with the IEA’s 90-day oil stockholding obligation by 2026 through a raft of new measures, including minimum stock holding requirements, increased diesel storage and the establishment of a national reserve. “It is really positive to see a real recognition from the government of the importance of fuel for agriculture, which is a big change from when we first started campaigning,” Ashley says. “While these changes are a positive win for farmers, there is still more work to be done.” The VFF is still deeply concerned about the future of domestic refineries. Since 2000 the number of Australian domestic refineries has halved to just four, with a further two announcing they will be closing shortly, leaving Australia highly dependent on imported fuel. “Protecting local domestic refinery capacity is vital to future-proof the agriculture industry against any fuel shortages,” says Ashley. Similarly, the VFF is continuing to lobby for strategic national fuel reserves to be moved on shore. The Federal Government has purchased $94 million fuel stocks – which is the equivalent of another four or five days of oil for Australia's emergency reserves. However, the oil is stored in the US, and would take several weeks to be shipped to Australia in the event of an emergency. The VFF will continue to lobby this issue to ensure agricultural supply chains always have the fuel that they need. Above: The number of Australian domestic refineries has halved since 2000, with two of the remaining four scheduled to close. Right: Without the recommended 90 days’ onshore stockpile of fuel, Australia is susceptible to the frailties of global supply chains, with agriculture likely to be hard hit.
Farmers and the employer – the OHS challenge One of the cultural challenges that the industry needs to confront to improve safety outcomes is for farmers to accept that they have legal duties for the safety of their employees, subcontractors and other people. Words: John Darcy (VFF Senior Farm Safety Advisor)
any farmers do not perceive themselves as employers – even though they pay wages to the people that work for them – because they work directly alongside these people every day and so think of them more as co-workers. Many farmers use expressions such as – “I think we do a good job of safety on our farm, but there is always room for improvement”. This expression is often used by farmers with good intent, but some have no real knowledge of what the OHS Act and Regulations requires of them. Victoria’s OHS laws apply to both employers and self-employed persons. A self-employed farmer with no employees, has a legal duty to ensure – so far as is reasonably practicable – that persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertakings of the self-employed person. Self-employed farmers also become an employer when they engage subcontractors, such as shearing
John hosting a Making Our Farms Safer session in Ararat.
contractors to work on their farms. Employers have the same duty towards subcontractors, and their employees, as they would have towards their own employees in relation to matters over which they have control. There are many safety issues that farmers do have a responsibility for when subcontractors come to work on their farms. Quad bikes are a common cause of accidents on farms and there are many rules and regulations associated with their usage.
Another part of the Act that applies to farmers is the section that provides for duties of persons that manage or control a workplace. This section explains that a person (whether as an owner or otherwise) who has, to any extent, the management or control of a workplace, must ensure – so far as is reasonably practicable – that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health. Farmers also have a duty to ensure – so far as is reasonably practicable – that persons other than employees of the employer are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer. This duty extends to the public at large, visitors to the farm, and also to immediate family members. Thus, almost every farmer in Victoria would be captured as a duty holder under Victoria’s OHS laws, and so it is crucial for all farmers to recognise how the law applies to them, even if they are self-employed. Contact the VFF on 1300 882 833 for further information.
VFF Safety Report
Safety above all Prioritising safety above all and ensuring things are done correctly, is how Don Bowers and those closest to him define the way he works. Words: Katie Kesternberg
he 80-year-old, passionate dairy farmer, father, and owner of DJ & LJ Bowers from Wondonga, has been a part of the farming industry for over 50 years. Don was milking cows from the age of nine to help out his mother while his father was away at war, and as a kid, he used to separate the milk and give the skim milk to the pigs and cream to calves. Back then, milk and cream was only stored in cans. Over the years, Don has witnessed vast changes surrounding farm safety – especially over the past decade, where an immense increase of farm safety information is readily available to all. Having been working in the same industry and doing similar things for his entire life, Don knows how easy it is to forget how dangerous things actually are. Don is now semi-retired and has moved across many parts of regional Victoria prior to settling down in Wodonga, where he’s been for over 27 years. He looks after 38
calves across 50 acres with the help of parttime and seasonal workers. Despite Don’s expert knowledge surrounding farm safety he proactively seeks to improve, holding the belief that if you run your business right, your calves with operate at their optimum. Recently Don was visited by John Darcy – the VFF’s Senior Farm Safety Advisor. While Don has never felt particularly worried about his safety or the safety of those around him, as he engages seasonal workers, he wanted to ensure that the employees working on the farm at different times were provided an optimal workspace to ensure their safety. John’s Making Our Farms Safer sessions only take an hour, and Don said that it was well worth the investment, considering the trouble you can get in if someone gets hurt on your farm. Don received seatbelt advice as well as advice surrounding chemical labelling which could prevent someone from getting
Despite Don’s expert knowledge surrounding farm safety he proactively seeks to improve, holding the belief that if you run your business right, your calves with operate at their optimum.
hurt or “from putting the wrong stuff in the wrong thing” he says. “John told us everything that should be done to help prevent getting fines, as you can receive big fines and even end up in jail if you don’t take a proactive outlook toward safety.” Thanks to our friends at Dairy Australia who encouraged Don to engage with VFF’s free program. The invaluable information he received from John has been incorporated to help improve the safety of those on the farm, without any large expenses. SPRING 2021
“Writing a children’s book was something I’d always thought about doing. When COVID hit and I had time on my hands, I decided I’d give it a shot.”
Meet a Farmer
Creative thinking, positive action COVID-19 has changed almost every aspect of life. Some of the changes will be short-term while others may linger, long after the virus has been contained. Among the lessons we have learned over the past two years is the importance of diversification and adaptability. Words: Kirsten Lloyd
Photography: Charlie Kinross
hen Stefano Botti’s role with the AFL was temporarily scaled back due to COVID-19, he redirected much of his energy into helping his parents and brother with the family farm and business (a shop front called Pantry Fresh) at Clayton Egg Farm. This alone could have kept Stefano occupied, but he saw an opportunity to take an idea that had been “floating around in his head” and turn it into something more. So, when he wasn’t in the store or on the farm, Stefano began writing a children’s book, Brooke the Chook – the tale of a little chicken who was a bit different to all the others. “Writing a children’s book was something I’d always thought about doing,” he says. “When COVID hit and I had time on my hands, I decided I’d give it a shot. In the climate we’re in any sort of positivity you can bring into the world isn’t a bad thing!” While Brooke wasn’t inspired by a specific chicken at Clayton Egg Farm, she is a representation of the world Stefano grew up in. “Chickens are definitely the animal I know best, so Brooke is kind of a mix of all our chickens,” Stefano says with a laugh. Take a glance through any newspaper these days and you can’t miss the deep sense of disunity that is threatening to undermine our country’s recovery from the pandemic and how we connect as communities. In Brooke the Chook, Stefano explores a different approach, and reminds his young readers that there’s power in kindness and compassion. “I wanted to share some good morals and positive messages with kids and teach them that we are all better when we show understanding for each other,” he says. “Through the chickens, and their different feather colours – brown and white – I tell the story
of diversity, and how our differences, when they are embraced, make us stronger.” Stefano’s book was a bit of a clandestine mission, with his family oblivious until the moment a copy of Brooke the Chook was in their hands. “I didn’t tell them what I was up to. I just worked on it by myself through the lockdowns, and when it was finished I ordered a couple of copies for myself. They came in the mail, and when Mum opened the package and saw my name on the book she was totally shocked,” Stefano says. “Both my parents are super-proud, which is awesome.” SPRING 2021
Left and above: Stefano drew from his life growing up on Clayton Egg Farm to create his story about Brooke, the chook who’s a little bit different. Brooke the Chook is the tale of a little chicken who was a bit different to all the others.
Meet a Farmer In the beginning
Clayton Egg Farm was established by Stefano’s grandfather, Angelo Botti, over 60 years ago. When he passed away Stefano’s parents, Claude and Mara, picked up the reins and expanded the business. Capitalising on Mara’s skills, the couple broadened the scope of the direct sales element of the farm to include a deli and small supermarket, complemented by a cafe. The cafe offers a breakfast and lunch menu showcasing their fresh eggs, and normally employs 10 people. Claude and Mara’s eldest son, Michael, works full-time alongside them on the farm, while Stefano, who lives on the farm, and their other son, Daniel, help as needed. For Stefano, COVID-19 saw him spending more time than normal working with his family. “Living and being able to work on the farm has been a blessing for me – it means I’ve been less isolated than some people I know,” he says. The farm has experienced setbacks, courtesy of COVID-19. However, with planning and a willingness to adapt, the Botti family continued their operations. Now Stefano believes that with supply chains under pressure, Australians have become reacquainted with the value of local produce and supporting small local businesses. It’s a trend he hopes continues. “We’ve had our struggles, but like all farmers we’re
producing essential food for everyday life. While the importance of some things may have waned in these times people always need food, and being able to source quality, fresh food locally has become critical. “We’ve continued to do as much as we can despite the difficulties; we had to cut staff hours which was tough, and it meant we had to work extra hours ourselves.” The lockdowns and travel limits posed challenges – but they were also the catalyst behind one of the family’s more significant adaptations. “The lockdowns meant we lost all our wholesale customers, which was a major blow because that equates to half our business, and the travel limit hit us massively too,” says Stefano. “Most of our retail clients live further than five kilometres away, meaning our walk-in customer base literally halved. To counter that, we implemented a delivery service, which we hadn’t offered before. We deliver fresh eggs and dry goods, trying to maintain our customer base as best we can. “With every new restriction that was announced, we’d only have a few hours to adapt, so we had to work with what we had.” While customers have embraced the delivery service, its future beyond COVID-19 is less certain. Stefano says for the most part their customers enjoy
the experience of shopping in Pantry Fresh and having a coffee in the cafe – and Stefano at least would be sad to see the ‘personal’ side of their enterprise lost. “I know we all miss the customer interaction; we miss people coming in and having a chat.”
A childhood with chickens
Growing up on the farm, located in Clayton South, Melbourne, offered Stefano and his siblings a unique childhood – and it’s not something that is lost on them, particularly considering what has happened over the last two years due to the pandemic. “We had our own space to run around and enjoy the farm and the outdoors. It was different, fun, and we learned a whole lot of skills along the way. There weren’t many other farming kids at our local school!” The open space of Clayton Egg Farm continues to serve Stefano well, offering respite from lockdowns and providing ample inspiration for his book. Brooke the Chook is Stefano’s offering to a world that is universally struggling. While attention has largely been focused on the pandemic, Stefano’s story about Brooke – who, with the help of Farmer Mike (named in honour of Stefano’s brother), overcomes judgement to find her place on the farm – is a simple life lesson for us all. We are all different and we all face challenges. But beyond the things that test us lies an opportunity for connection and growth. COVID-19 has exposed our weaknesses, but it’s also shown us how we can innovate, create and unite. If you would like to purchase a copy of Brooke the Chook, simply scan the QR code to the right.
Previous page and above: Stefano comes from a long line of people willing to try new ideas. When COVID-19 hit his third-generation farming family recognised the need to adapt, and introduced a delivery service. Right: Stefano lives on the farm with his brother Michael and parents Mara and Claude.
The Last Word
Farming land and residential streets merge in in Wandin East.
The wrong tax at the wrong time VFF quickly established that the Windfall Gains Tax will have a disproportionate impact on regional Victoria and that we needed to take action. Words: Emma Germano, President Victorian Farmers Federation
he Windfall Gains Tax was announced by the Victorian Government in the 2021-22 Budget, and it is designed to capture the value uplift resulting from the rezoning of land. The Government were trying to target developers making big profits from planning decisions, but unfortunately, farmers are caught up in the proposal. We quickly established that the tax will have a disproportionate impact on regional Victoria and that we needed to take action. We set about speaking with many other stakeholders such as the Property Council and Urban Development Institute of Australia about how the tax could be changed to reduce the impact on regional Victoria. The VFF put our case to the Treasurer, Tim Pallas, and treasury officials, ultimately resulting in securing safeguards that go some way to protect farmers and regional Victoria from the unintended consequences of this tax. The Government didn’t agree to exempt regional Victoria – and we knew that ask was one we had to make, but was unlikely to be accepted.
The Government did recognise that there may be cases where agricultural land is rezoned between Rural Zones but will continue to be used for agricultural purposes and, on the advice of the VFF, introduced an exemption for land rezoned to a Rural Zone, except Rural Living Zone. While that particular exemption is a positive result, we still have major concerns about the impact of the tax on regional Victoria and peri-urban farmers and will continue to advocate against this tax grab. At the time of writing we do not know how the tax may affect any Commonwealth capital gains liabilities and we are concerned that the tax will drive investment away from developing housing stocks in regional Victoria. We are also concerned about tax liabilities sitting on the balance sheet of farming businesses and how that can undermine our industry’s resilience. At a time when many regional Victorian towns are facing a housing shortage, now is not the time to be discouraging investment. Now is the time to be facilitating it. Emma Germano President Victorian Farmers Federation
Out & About
Here we showcase some of the best shots from our members all over the state. If you have a great photo of your farm that you would like published, send it to: email@example.com and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
7 1. Soaking up the spring sun at Fiona’s Musson's Macarthur farm (photo courtesy of Fiona Musson) 2. Orange tree in full bloom in Irymple (photo courtesy of 1890onthevine) 3. Bird’s eye view of big rigs in Willah (photo courtesy of Farm2Freedom) 4. This one’s ready for his close-up (photo courtesy of Jane Lovell) 5. Truckloads of eggs going to those most in need (photo courtesy of Danyel Cucinotta) 6. Talk about good timing: VFF member Matt snapped this shot from his paddock (photo courtesy of Matt) 7. Last light at Tarrawingee (photo courtesy of Neleheyahs) SPRING 2021
The R U OK? Mateship Manuals are free to download and can help you to have a conversation with someone you know who might be doing it tough.
Order or download a copy at ruok.org.au