Sunday, 16 December 2012

Really Important to have Social Scientists Working in Agriculture

Social scientists are very active in Agrifood. 

That’s great! I welcome these intelligent minds working in both the agriculture & food space. Agrifood is about people. Dairy Farming is primarily about people. 

How people think, make decisions, work with each other, how we collectively live & work together is really important stuff. Yet mainstream agricultural science, farmers & farming largely ignore the social scientists & their work. I’ve just attended the Australia-NZ Agri-food Research Network conference held at Massey University.

To my embarrassment I admit I was largely unaware of the research work being undertaken in the Agrifood space by social scientists. These people work in Geography, Politics, Rural Sociology, Psychology, Maori studies, Economics, Extension, History, Business Studies, Communication & the Environment. What’s more there are some very good postgraduate students…. lots of them! 

It is so encouraging to see Agrifood attracting bright young people & the Research Network supporting these young scientists.

There were 2 presentations that struck a particular chord with me. Firstly Dr Lesley Hunt’s paper, from the ARGOS Project (a number of papers), stating that not all farmers are driven by the profit/increase production motive. Not new information but really important to be said again when we are facing important public problems like sustainability, climate change & the environment. Farmers have many goals, motivations & value systems that encourage different systems & create a complex rural society & community. NZ research & extension is totally focussed on profit & increased output. Reference to “the top quartile farmers” might be feel good stuff but is rarely helpful in understanding farmer decision making.


Marie McEntee’s study (University of Auckland) into how effective NZ Agricultural Extension is, showed a dominance of “Top down” linear thinking and approaches being used. 

The mere term “Transfer of Technology” implies a transfer of information. Can scientists really develop “better” solutions? It’s all too easy to blame the end user for failure to adopt. Farmers are being seen as adopters not as originators of knowledge. Why? This was an excellent presentation for those who are listening.

In my experience farmers are fully in control of the on farm decision making process. They drive it. Farmers are actively creating new knowledge & information (research) all the time but are largely ignored by extension & research. 
Why would they respond to top down technology transfer? They are however very keen to participate in research & development.

The rural community has complex networks that work very effectively to enable change. So if science & society want change that involves farmers, we’d better all get to understand farmers, farming families & the rural networks. These networks include social media and are global. This is really exciting & chaotic.


 The “Future Agenda” forum was created by the Vodafone company.Much of the future agenda involves social change. Issues such as “Cocktail Identities”, Enjoying the Ordinary”, “Switching off” are already here & are likely to become even more important. 

Agrifood, including pasture based dairy farmers need to understand the social future. We need to better understand people. Social Scientists have much to offer.

The internet has enabled people all over the world to connect & become a community.

 The impact of increasingly global common interest groups with which people align their priorities should not be ignored by farmers or researchers. Priorities like sustainability, environmentally friendly, quality food & good diets will impact massively on the way we farm in the future.

Friday, 16 November 2012

We Must Look After Our Good Staff on Dairy Farms

We must look after our good staff on Dairy Farms. 

How do we prevent the increasing “churn” of employed staff?  Turnover (or tenure) of staff employed on NZ dairy farms is expensive. There is a general feeling that the “churn” of dairy farm staff is getting faster. 

The NZ dairy industry doesn’t compare well with other employment sectors. The greatest “Churn” appears to be amongst the young or in the first year that people are in the job.
“Annual churn out of the industry is estimated at 15% for 2010/11 with a cost of $64 million to the industry in lost investment.
 Tenure of staff within their job is approximately 1.6 years on average, leading to an estimated turnover in the order of 60% of staff annually within each farm business. This equates to 11,400 jobs being vacated and filled annually.” Geoff Taylor DairyNZ.
From an OneFarm survey (Tipples & Greenhalgh) of 480 AgITO trainees (2011):
Average time spent working in current position 1.6 years (median 1 year)
40% of respondents had been in their current position for less than 1 year
Average time respondents have spent working in the dairy industry 3.8 years (median 3 years) Range 1 month-25 years
The Californian dairy industry has data over time reported by Gregorio Billikopf from the University of California that indicates an improvement.

There are some excellent online resources that could help dairy farm employers do a better job of keeping good staff.
         I was most impressed with a webinar called “Getting to We” presented by Dr Bob Erven from Ohio State University. Bob is part of an AgHR network which includes Ag professionals from USA, Canada, Australia, NZ & Chile. This is an interesting concept that farm employers should adopt. It means changing the culture of the farm business.
 “How do employees make the transition from thinking of it as ‘your’ business to thinking of it as ‘our’ business?” Dr Bob Erven.
There are 7 changes needed to change the farm work culture to “We”
1.  Commitment from Top Management
2. A supporting organizational culture
3. Employees compatible with the “We” culture
4.  A change process of Unfreeze>Change> Refreeze
5.   Delegation & Empowerment
6.  Communication
7.  Rewards
(be patient it takes a little time to get started)
  OneFarm (The Centre of Excellence in Farm Business Management in New Zealand) has produced a very good webinar presented by Justine Kidd. Justine spoke about keeping the right staff. This webinar (with downloadable presentation notes) looks at improving staff retention. 

 How can Farmers Retain the Right Staff    A must see webinar!
It is estimated that losing & replacing a farm staff member costs you approximately 1.5X the annual salary of the person you lose. These costs include advertising, interviewing, lost productivity & training the new staff member. “Churn” is very expensive and is a threat to animal welfare & environmental compliance.
Spot the Cumbrian Farmers from the UK visiting NZ
The Questions get harder
I was really pleased to attend a Dairyman Field day at Gary and Val Wright of Longbeach Dairies in Canterbury and see an attempt by the Headlands Consultancy group to include HR Metrics and environmental measures in their competition as well as profitability.  

I’m left feeling very uncomfortable about what’s happening within the NZ dairy industry regarding staff turnover or “Churn”. 

Young people are our most valuable resources on a dairy farm. What are we doing to them? Is it the systems on the farms or the lack of skilled HR management of people? 
What are your thoughts?

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Movember Needs Farmer Support worldwide. Donate Now!


 Movember is for Farmers to Support

Movember worldwide is to raise funds for Men’s Health. Every farmer should support Movember. Movember is fun. Movember means growing a Mo for one month to raise money. Your Moustache will raise awareness of Men’s Health. October is women’s health month. November is Movember and Men’s Health month. 

Join Movember it’s easy! Donate to Movember it’s even easier & tax effective. C’Mon be a little crazy for one month. Be part of Movember.

Pasture based dairy farmers in the Pasture to Profit Discussion Group Network in the UK have over the past few years raised considerable funds to support Movember. Every farmer should donate to Movember as this affects you directly. If you are female we want your support too please. Everyone has a father, son, brother, boyfriend or male friends whose health & wellbeing is important to you. Farmers should be proudly part of crazy month of Movember growing a moustache!

Breast Cancer October and the pink ribbons are well known. The monies raised are seriously important to the women in our lives.  Movember, growing moustaches during November and raising funds for Men’s Health research are not so well known or supported. Why? Support Movember! Support the Men in your life!

Movember is in just about every country. Google Movember in your country.

  Movember New Zealand. Join & Donate here   

 Movember Australia 

 Movember UK. 

 Movember USA.

Movember Ireland.  

I’d like you to donate to support me to raise funds for Men’s Health Research during Movember. Select Donate & support me Tom Phillips. Thank you. 

Support tomphillipsOneFarm. Nominate me when you donate

Donate to Movember New Zealand.

Movember is important for Men’s Health research. Let’s show that farmers really care! Support the Men in your life.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

How Would You Design a "Future" Dairy Farm?

Imagine what a “Future Dairy Farm” might look like.

 How would you set up a “Future Dairy Farm”? What dairy farm system will be best? Dairy farms in the future must be profitable. Farm businesses must be resilient to increasing risk. Farmers will need to operate within stricter environmental rules. There will be environmental guidelines for farms to meet. Do we understand economic comparative advantage?
A Farm for the Future. A really interesting video. 

How would you design a future dairy farm?

It must be highly profitable & resilient to increasing financial & climatic risk. Your future dairy farm will face tougher environmental rules especially regarding nutrients and river systems. Sustainable farming systems are much more than just nutrient management.

People sustainability is also a very important aspect for your future farm concept.
A need to coach farmers into new ways of thinking

Social responsibility will be as important as milk. Future farms will better care for people working on farms. All farmers will need to acquire a “Social License to operate”. Building better trust with local communities will be essential. Consumers need to trust the food they eat. More urban people want to meet & understand the farmers who produce their food.
Building Trust and Confidence in Todays Food System 

New technology will excite future young dairy farmers. Technology will create smarter communication opportunities. Dairy farms could produce energy and milk. Smart technology is the key to sustainable people management. Smart technology & smart management thinking could reduce the weekly hours on a NZ dairy farm down to 40hrs per week. Why not?
 Farmer Burnout is a serious problem 

Trying to defend farmers & farming practices by arguing with science or attacking the attackers is clearly failing. We need to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability. Farming that is sustainable, ethically grounded, scientifically verified & economically viable.

To breakdown the urban disconnect with farmers will take a massive effort. Newspaper headlines of environmental damage are incredibly destructive to farming PR. Genuine good news from farmers is rarely newsworthy.
 Environmental bad news stories win every time. 
It’s hard to disagree with Dr Mike Joy’s argument though I strongly believe that few farmers deliberately damage the environment. The silent majority are furious to be tarred with the same brush as the offenders who hit the newspaper headlines. Further through the NZ Landcare Trust and Farm Environment Awards we have fine examples of farmers doing an excellent job of improving environmental farm practices.

Future Farm Thinking..let’s be creative and think outside the box!

 So here are some of my Future Farm thoughts/targets:-

OAD milking with cows producing as much as TAD Milking. A real challenge that is different.
 A target of a standard 40 hour week for farmers.
 Low input pasture based system.
 No nitrogen but herbal/clover pastures.
 A dairyfarm self-sufficient in energy.
 Intranet staff management systems like AgRecord.
 Smart Precision Agriculture technology including Apps and cloud based computer systems.
 Low Nitrogen and Phosphate losses off the farm.
 Effluent solids separation.
Profit target of 40% of Gross Farm Revenue.
 Low capital expenditure reduce debt risks.
 Predictive agricultural climate management.
 Regular community access and debate.
Close links with local schools.
Focus on profit not production.
Use Bees & honey production as benchmark for biodiversity on farms.
 More than 6% of farm area in trees, scrubs or flowers.
Young people cueing for exciting dairy careers and farm jobs.
Allow farmers "a real life" with plenty of Quality Family Time.
Lots of Cow Free Days!

How would you design a “Future Farm”?

What farm system would you have on your Future Farm? How would you get a 40 hour week for farmers? How would you engage our urban friends in farming and the food you produce? I’m keen that you comment on this blog!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

New Zealand Dairy Farms Have So Few Trees. Why?

I want to encourage more trees on dairy farms, including perhaps Cider Apple trees.

 Mixed Tree Species on farms can add to the environmental biodiversity. Imaginative shelter belts create a better work place. Trees add to the aesthetics of the farm. Effective tree shelter belts are good for animal welfare and may increase pasture growth. Could Cider Apple Trees also create another income for dairy farmers?

So why do New Zealand dairy farms have so few trees?

NZ dairy farms dominate the NZ landscape. Too few farmers regularly plant trees on their farms. Too few farmers appreciate how diverse tree planting might add to the sustainable output of the farm. Too many dairy farms have cut out the existing trees. The NZ rural landscape has too few trees.
This wasn't always the case. The black & white photo at the top of this blog is of my grandfather J A Cooksley harvesting home grown pears off his dairy farm at Opiki in the 1930's.

 One of my French farmer friends Yvon (who is himself a very keen farm tree grower) suggests that "Our generation (of dairy farmers) have forgotten how to grow trees"

Do dairy farmers today understand how to grow trees? Every time I visit Europe I’m intrigued by what pasture based dairy farmers are doing to improve their environment & sustainability of their farm business. Farm trees are an essential part of a rural landscape. Trees make a rural farming landscape beautiful. Trees help link the city people to the country and to farmers. More trees on farms would in my view help unite city/farmer thinking about the environment.

In France I saw pasture based dairy farmers planting apple trees on their farms. The apple trees were often Cider tree varieties. Sometimes these Cider trees were planted in small blocks and the apples/pears harvested either for sale to a local Cider maker or bottled into Cider for home consumption. These farms often had bee hives and the apple blossom helped to feed the bees when few other flowers were out. A healthy bee population is of critical importance to agriculture.

French farmers in Brittany (a pasture based dairying area) included apple trees in the tree belts partly for the bees and partly for the sheer joy of being able to eat fresh home grown apples. Every tenth tree in a tree row or talus (French raised soil mound for tree planting on farms) could be a fruit tree. The planted talus--a steep earth berm (an earthen mound often between a road/track & a drain), planted with beeches, oaks, or hornbeam--was traditionally created to delimit the boundaries of farms in both Brittany & Normandy.

Learn about Bretton farmers tree planting

Most New Zealand farmers probably think we live in a country with a lot of trees. Is that really correct? In Europe there are a lot more trees on farms. In Australia most farmers belong to Landcare Australia.

Aussie farmers have planted thousands of trees to help protect and improve the farm environment.
Sadly most NZ dairy farms are stark & bare without many trees. NZ farm tree belts tend to be monoculture species. Have we lost the tree planting skills & the understanding of how trees might contribute positively to a healthy farm environment?
 NZ Landcare Trust can help you learn about trees on farms

Farms can be great places to bring up children. Farmers often forget that they are so lucky to live and work in the country.
I challenge all farmers… there a “Magic Spot” on your farm which makes you feel great just sitting, reflecting and thinking? Is it the trees near your favourite place on the farm that makes it really special for you & your family?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you urgently need to start a tree planting program for your farm.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Please ask Dairy Farmers to contribute to your Research by using Social Media

 Please ask Dairy Farmers to contribute to your Research by using Social Media.

 Low input pasture based dairy farmers are generous with their practical information. In my experience they want to contribute to research that they help fund. However agricultural researchers rarely include farmers to the detriment of the research results & the practical usefulness of the project.

Farmers can easily respond through Facebook & Twitter networks greatly enriching research outcomes. Farmers are often the leading researchers in their field of expertise. Come on we all want good quality research outcomes so include farmers in your research team.

Social Media is either feared or ignored by Agricultural Researchers. Yet it is a brilliant way to communicate with farmers during a research project. Farmers want to contribute & have the ability to do so. Social Media has immense power to connect people. It is the academics who are missing out. The farmers and funding bodies (often farmers) don’t get the best outcome if farmers are not included throughout the projects.

 In the past 6 months I’ve been able to several assist university based agricultural research teams (in different countries) to connect with farmer Facebook networks to enrich the research project outcomes. I guess I’m what Malcolm Gladwell calls a connector. 
Dairy farmer belong to international networks of farmers & rural professionals working together on the internet. Progressive innovative farmers network with other farmers with similar professional interests regardless of where they live & farm. Twitter users effectively form their own professional interest networks. The twitter networks are international.  

The Pasture to Profit Facebook group has 560+ members. The group is now 6 years old. There are low input pasture based dairy farmers and rural professionals from 10 different countries talking together.  The discussion is of the highest quality as they share, compare and support each other to progress their farm businesses.

 Pasture to Profit online groups have provided researchers with their farm data, management experience & advice. The networks helped to locate users of new technology. They tested & reported on the use & practicality of Smartphone Apps. Members sent very useful web links to add research data.

They are experts, who greatly increased the capability of the research teams. The farmers have reduced the research costs. Their input makes limited funding go further. More farmers adopt the research more quickly. The participating farmers become Technology Transfer advocates for the new information. 

Why do funding bodies NOT insist on farmers being part of ALL research projects? So why do researchers NOT invite farmers to be part of projects? Is it ignorance or arroganace or just not understanding how the two parties might work together? Researchers need to embrace Social Media or get left behind.

Once invited to contribute farm data or farm business management advice, farmers have been quick to respond. Progressive farmers want to be part of innovative research projects that might impact positively on their farm business & sustainable profitability. Let’s change the way we do research for pasture based dairy farmers. 

Please include farmers!