What a week

Washington DC – and back in the business suits!

After 24 hrs on the trot, a car booked from the wrong airport, hotel booking non-existent, meeting up with the Brazil GFP group at 3.30am, we get some complimentary rooms at the Marriott Hotel (I’d like to think I had something to do with this but it really wasn’t the case!!).

A day off the next day was well received as we ventured into Washington to check out all the amazing historical and political buildings (I can’t believe I said that with so much excitement). But it was really fantastic to see where Obama lives and works, where the ministry buildings are, and where Forrest Gump gave his speech!

A follow up night out in DC with the 9 scholars from the Brazil trip was not hard to take. With way too much to catch up on and enough energy to supply a small town for a night, the hours just seemed to get away on us! I think if time could be paused, we would still be there.

The next two days saw us meet with embassy personnel, MLA reps, political staff, party members and other interesting contributors to the US political arena. I’m still getting my head around the Farm Bill and what impact it actually has on the US economy and farming. Other topics of discussion included the role of GM crops, the conversations we must have with the misinformed population, China’s hold on the worlds economy and US water management just to name a few.

A fantastic couple if days in Washington DC, from hear we headed back to the rural areas – this time, Nebraska! We said our ‘see you laters’ to the Brazil group, and we set on our way.

Who’d of thought corn field after corn field and thousands of pivot irrigators could be so interesting?? – I guess that’s the benefit of Nuffield and this Global Focus Program – we really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The scale, genuine nature of the people and consciousness of having profitable businesses to attract the next generation into farming, added to my already highly energised vision for a strong future in agriculture.

One of the more memorable visits was the Agricultural campus of Nebraska State University in Lincoln. At the time, they had 4000 school kids around 15-16 years old on a program called FFA. We got to talk to 5 of these kids who were from farming and non farming backgrounds but were all so excited about the opportunity agriculture offered and could see the longer term big picture of how important it was to be in an industry that would continue to feed the worlds population in a sustainable way. Four thousand kids!!! And that was just in the one state!

We talked to the head of the University and he said enrolments have increased 70% in the past 10 years with the last three years being stand outs. When asked ‘why?’, he said – positivity in the farming community and profitable farming businesses. Why would young people come into an industry that is negative, complaining and not profitable? – I think we need to take a couple of leaves out of this book!!

So it’s with sadness and a huge amount of satisfaction that this is the end of the GFP. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog and look forward to continuing the journey of looking, listening and learning! (Not to get too deep).

Below are the fabulous people that formed our GFP group. A mix of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and France nationalities helped make it the best trip I’ve ever done and the most memorable 6 weeks. I’ll miss you all!

From top left – Sarah, Jennifer, Wayne, me, Ben, Dan, Simon, Darryl, Tommy.


Eastern Europe in a nut shell.

We have just had the best week going through Russia, Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. Starting in Russia sent mixed feelings throughout the group. Apart from the lack of smiling and manners, it is still a place that intrigues me and the two days we had there definitely wasn’t enough. Being the end of snow melt and before any start of new spring life, it was probably the least picturesque it could be too which didn’t help. I think I’ll have to go back to Russia to get full benefit from it.

So a lettuce production facility, hydroponic flower operation and two dairy farms later, we moved onto Poland.

Now if you want picturesque – Poland and Czech Republic are a good start! Very productive country with cropping in particular. There was hardly any land that was not being used. The crops are all grown in long strips of rotation of mostly canola, wheat, maize and potatoes or sugar beet. Their yields are something to feel seriously Ill over – 8-10 T/Ha of wheat. No fences so no stock visible outside – mostly sheded apart from the high country which we didn’t get a chance to see.


32000Tonne of Potatoe for crisps and chips stored for up to 12 months monitored electronically in each shed to avoid spoilage.


Dairies are all indoors, predominantly Holstein cows, milk production is monitored by sensor collars and up around 9000L/head/yr.

The last two days involved going to the Horsch and John Deere manufacturing plants in Germany. Both extremely different and both extremely efficient and professional. The spare parts facility in both plants was the thing that blew me away. They had 10’s of thousands of boxes on shelves, each with parts in them. When needed, the computer would identify the specific parts and know exactly where they were stored.

Automatic forklifts would travel down rows that were 90meters long and 17 meters high and collect the box that had the right parts in it and put it on the conveyor. The most amazing thing though – no human in the whole business knew where a particular box was stored, only the computer knew!

The amount of technology used in the industries we have visited is an indication of what is available and an indication of how it can help improve efficiency in a business through time saving and maximising accuracy.

The diversity of Europe is an exciting thing to see!

An Ideas Man

I need a seeder, and there’s not one around that is appropriate for the job………. So I’ll make one myself!!

In 1981 a farmer in Germany started his business of making seeders which has now expanded to be a major world player of excellent quality machinery. Michael Horsch farms in Germany and Czech Republic and his success has been through identifying the thing most limiting his farming business, finds out what he needs to overcome this problem……and implements it.

This has been true with various pieces of machinery Michael is now manufacturing – he produces products for a purpose to fix a problem.

Michael would be up there with the best thinkers I’ve ever met. With such foresight, vision and practicality, his business is a true representation of character – quality and innovation!

During the discussion, Michael shared some of his thoughts with us.

Making the decomposition engine work:

Crop residue in wheat is much different to crop residue from legumes and will take a lot longer to breakdown in the ‘decomposition engine’ (soil and it’s contents). 10T/Ha wheat yields in European soils create a large bank of material that is very slow to decompose. This means it is near impossible to plant next years crop which can be planted from one day to one month after harvesting.

Discing this residue into the soil gives more horse power to the ‘decomposing engine’ to breakdown the high carbon content wheat stubble. He doesn’t believe there is one right cropping method as long as it’s the best way of making the decomposition engine work the hardest and therefore maximising soil health. Temperature and rainfall will help determine the best way for this to happen and is why best practice in one country may not be best practice in another.

Precision management through controlled traffic and no till in Australia is allowing our ‘decomposition engine’ together with rotation of legumes, brassica and cereal to operate at its maximum capacity.

– Europe is becoming nutrient rich while other countries are becoming nutrient poor:

Consider this – The chook manure from holland is spread on European soils that comes from chickens, fed grain imported from the US or Brazil!…………..

Being a major export country ourselves, do we need to start thinking about the cost associated with the amount of minerals we are also exporting from our country along with the grain and meat? Are we applying the true value of nutrients back onto our soils that is necessary for long term farming operations?

Some very thought provoking discussions were had this particular morning and I can’t thank Nuffield and Chris Graf Grote enough for lining up such a wonderful and worth while meeting.


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.


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!


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

How exciting is agriculture!!?

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.


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.



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.


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.

Apples that have been graded into separate lines.

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!