Individual Animal Management at work in Kenya.

Individual Animal Management (IAM) in Kenya! Who would of thought? It’s happening and they are measuring production from it. Fortunately (or unfortunately) they need herdsmen to stay with the stock every day to avoid predation from lions, hyena and stock theft. Stock are locked up in ‘Boma’s (portable yards) every night. Due to this reason, it is fairly routine for commercial farms to mark calves at birth and most document genetic relationship with mother and father.

Each calf will get a card where records will be kept for future joining and calving dates. Cows are culled on inter calving period making sure they are not taking too long to get back in calf. The potential for these farms to do some further measurements is a realistic one to improve profitability.

The thing that has been most interesting to me Over the past two weeks is that regardless of the industry, the best farms are measuring production. It comes back to the theory that if you don’t measure, it is hard to really know what the biggest factor is that is limiting improvement – apart from making a fairly educated guess.

Below is a group of pictures collected over the past two weeks in South Africa and Kenya and all have one thing in common – all measure to manage.

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What I’ve been asking myself as a result of this common observation between industries – how do we make our inputs work for us? My conclusion is – through accurate and relevant measuring we can select for efficiency.

A New Zealander showed me a picture of two mobs of sheep and asked me which one I thought earn’t him $20,000 more – visually I couldn’t tell and it emphasised how important this concept is. If we are going to have sustainable farming businesses into the future – inputs need to be turned into outputs as efficiently as possible.

To finish up, some of the animals of Kenya that have to exist together – and this is a only a snap shot!

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Heading to Russia – will be interesting to see if the trend continues……..

How exciting is agriculture!!?

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Some more above cloud pondering.

Off in the jet plane again, heading to Nairobi having just had the most fantastic week in South Africa. A country where first world and third world communities co-exist. It was different to what I had originally thought in some aspects, and similar in others. The places we visited ranged from community vege gardens in subsistence areas, cropping farms, government and industry bodies, horticulture, game farming and premium food production and marketing.

I found the farming very interesting as everyone was different, all had very successful businesses and were great thinkers. The last day consisted of meeting an incredibly wonderful lady called Christina who has started community gardens throughout a subsistence area of cape town growing vegetables. They produce enough to fill 400 boxes each week to the town people. The people run it and grow the food – for the people.

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The land they are given to lease (which took over 10 years of negotiation) is often under power lines or on pure sand. Land that we wouldn’t consider doing anything with is the life of these people and particularly the ladies that look after it all. I’m honoured to be shown this side of the country as well as the farming and hope I can contribute some time in the future.

Cape Town country side – holy smokes! Words can’t describe it and photos definitely can’t – although I’ll put some up for an indication. I think I could be convinced to live down in the Cape Town area – even with no sheep!! – BIG call.

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Flying over Mozambique or Zimbabwe, (my internal GPS system is not that good!) at the moment and the country is absolutely beautiful. Houses everywhere with what looks to be small farm lots between them and a few bigger farms also. The roads look to be dirt and there are a lot of areas of mountains and undeveloped land. Looks fairly green but hard to tell what the country would actually be like on the ground. The staff at DAFF in Pretoria said Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe had some of the most fertile land in Africa.

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Taking a leaf from the apple tree

Who would of thought an apple farmer could teach me a thing or two about sheep farming – I didn’t!! Until today…

Today we went to a farm where they manage their production through measuring the right things. The amount it related to sheep production truly amazed me and this really excites me how much we can learn from other industries.

If I let the tree represent a sheep, it may help put it into context (for me at least!). They knew exactly what genetics they had in the trees (Merino, first cross, composite). They knew what they were bred for (wool, meat), what their market was (domestic, export, main stream, premium), how to manage pre-production (lambs through to first lambers), and what the key profit drivers were (lambing %, weaning weight, wool cut??).

He has just introduced a root stock which he considers a real industry revolution. The genetics of this root stock allow the plant to:

– Mature early – quicker return
– have less leaf to fruit ratio – important as they are not paid on wood and leaf
– higher yield per Ha

They said when they have the right tree, they can manage it accordingly to allow it to reach its genetic potential.

Yield per Ha is the key profit driver – everything they measure relates directly to how they can influence this. Collecting data that does not affect this is a waste of time and resources.

They process 700million apples a year and every one is managed individually through modern technology. The apples are graded into 120 different lines to meet market specifications. Because they know the quantity down to the last box of apples, they can make changes back at the farm level. This absolutely blew me away. ‘Making sure we don’t lose attention to detail’ was something they kept on top of. Some pictures below show some of the apples in the production line.

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Apples that have been graded into separate lines.

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Taking the apple bob to a whole new level!

How does the global farmer communicate

Do you ever think the consumer is dis-engaged with agriculture, agricultural practices and generally has a disconnect and lack of trust with the Rural sector? How much do you think this also effects the succession of young people into the industry?

I have just completed the most interesting week with 60 other Nuffield scholars from around the world. This topic was one of the recurring themes of the week and as a result, we were asked to tackle it and try and find a solution. It was a very interesting topic to tackle as the perception of agriculture by our consumers is in our hands. We summarised that it could be done one of two ways, both with starkly different consequences.

1. Natural/current method

WHAT —————-> WHEN

As farmers, we are generally very interested in what we do and we think the consumer should understand what we do and why we do it.

–> so we tell them what we think they need to hear, when we want to.

The answer is mainly based around science and statistics and is the same message for everyone.

Think of the consumer and how different they are in their needs. The same story will never work. Here’s an example;

We run 4500 ewes at a current stocking rate of 13DSE per Ha on a perennial basest pasture (just lost the high income earner buying on sustainability – not interested in stats), in a fully sustainable and traceable way providing a niche product to the high end consumer (just lost the mother of four buying on price), we sell direct to the public to cut out the middle man (just lost the retailer), we farm ecological which is way better than the conventional farming way (just lost the conventional farmer and given a negative message about global agriculture), the 10 year old kid lost interest long ago and all you have left is the activist to fight against.

I think it is because we are trying to educate the consumer rather than connect with them on a level they want to be connected on.

It got me thinking, when I am asked a question by my non-farming friends or new people, what sort of answer do I give. I am always disappointed and a little frustrated that the conversation doesn’t go very far and they are not interested in what I have to say. I realised this is my fault though as I tell them what I think they need to hear rather than what actually matters to them.

I have not engaged with them and as a result, they are not likely to ask again —> disconnect.

New Approach

WHO ——–> WHY ——–> HOW

To have a constructive conversation and start to promote agriculture in a positive light – to benefit succession of young people into the industry and consumer trust – we need to have common ground. We need to find out who we are talking to and what matters to them, why this matter to them, then we can work out how we best deliver it to them – social media, newspaper, flyer, website, personal communication etc.

Each conversation needs to be tailored to who we are talking to, to have any sort of engagement and gain/maintain trust by the consumer – one conversation at a time!!

My thoughts from 30,000 feet above the Indian Ocean. If it doesn’t make sense – you know why!

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