Lamb or Lamb for dinner?

What do we need to do to ensure we can still sell lamb to our grand children’s friends?? How will people in 50+ years time be buying lamb? To me, we have two options:
1. be a price competitive protein source, or
2. be a specialty, high end product that has guaranteed quality and sold with the equivalent price tag attached.

Upon speaking to many people in Australia and overseas, maybe there is room for both. Different farming regions, intensities, and management styles emphasises that farming is not a recipe. Many people can’t afford lamb at the very high prices – but should these people be excluded from eating it??

A very good ‘fishermen’ friend and fellow Nuffield Wayne Dredge explained it really well to me one day. He said he was constantly asked if he was annoyed at the people who bought imported fish rather than Australian fish. He replies… “anyone who eats fish as opposed to another protein source is good for the industry. If the lower price of imported fish allows them to eat fish, then it plays a vital role. When that person gets a pay rise, they are going to want to buy the Australian fish”.

I believe, in reality, there is room for both lamb markets to exist. The only concern is that eating quality does not drop as a result of on farm production gains. We have seen this happen in other industries, we have to be smart enough to prevent it happening in ours. Current stats show that only 7 in 10 consumers have a good eating experience with Lamb. That leaves a fair few people who probably won’t rush back to get another chop for a while!

During my latest trip, I had the privilege of spending a day with Henrick Anderson, CEO at Carometec in Denmark. Carometec are working with Murdoch University, Sheep CRC and MLA to develop an inline eating quality measurement for all carcasses. To me, this is where the future lies in the lamb industry and is a really exciting space to be involved in.

I believe individual animal management would come into its own if we had some good product feedback. There are benefits of individual on farm measuring, however, if the information stops at the farm gate, it is very limiting. If we could get product feedback, we could fine tune our decision making on farm to produce a product that was consistently hitting the desired market. Getting paid on quality rather than weight and fat score is something that could be the way of further developing the Australian top end lamb market!

It is becoming very evident as I near the end of my Nuffield travel year that the more I learn, the more I want to learn. The sheep industry has so much to offer and some top people leading the way. This won’t be the last of my posts but thought it a fitting time to thank all those that have helped me this year, it has been the best yet – I can’t wait for the sequel!! I’d also like to thank my employer Burgess Rural for giving me the opportunity to take part in the Nuffield experience, as well as Nuffield Australia and my sponsor the William Buckland foundation. A truly rewarding year.

Until next time… Enjoy your lamb!!

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Why ask ‘Why’?

Over the past few months (well years probably), I have been asking ‘why’, quite a lot! I love asking ‘why’ because I get the insight into so many peoples points of view. If I don’t ask ‘why’, how do I know all the possible answers? and can I expect to progress?

Without the question, how can we expect to get answers? Is this not when things start to stagnate, and progress is haltered? It is very comfortable to keep doing ‘what we have always done’ because there is an element of risk doing something different. What if it doesn’t work? Will I just end up broke?

Neophobia, or fear of the new, will deter most species from trying something unknown. Think of introducing lambs to grain having never seen it – they don’t go flying up and guts themselves – they don’t even know what it is! So what do we do, we slowly introduce it to them so they get used to it and get to recognise it as food. And when they do, they benefit from it.

Through out my travels so far this year, I have met people who have very strong beliefs in something. So strong in fact that I ask myself whether it is actually realistic or practical. Content aside, the thing I love about people with an opinion, is it makes me think about what my opinion is and why.

If everyone sitting around a board table had the same opinion – do you think we would get any progression? It only takes one person to disagree to start a discussion. And when we have discussion – we have people asking ‘why’ and progress will start.

While studying my topic this year – looking at how individual animal management can maximise efficiency gains on commercial sheep properties through measuring and objective decisions – it is quite interesting observing the differences in responses. From people who can’t possibly see how it can be any better than what we currently do, to people who will go out of their way to help, offer ideas and experiences and encourage some great conversation.

‘We just have to keep doing what we are doing to increase efficiency – we’ll get there’ was one persons response to my study topic. Can we really solve a problem by doing the same thing that got us here in the first place?? It doesn’t make much sense to me but I am always up for discussion! With the current production rate of some of the key performance indicators such as number of lambs weaned not increasing all that much in the past 30 years, I’m not convinced we can solve the problem by doing the same thing.

How often do you hear people in the chicken, pork or dairy industries talking about how good their production was 50 years ago – yet it is what the sheep industry prides itself on. The sheep industry has a wonderful history and tradition, and should be respected, but do we need to go broke over it?

I had a marvellous week last week driving through NSW into QLD catching up with some of the great minds – who are pushing the traditional thinking – and doing a fantastic job at it. I thank each of them for their time and support and ‘having the conversation’. My trip in NZ for the next two weeks will add to this and I can’t wait to start talking to some of the great minds in this part of the world!!

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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