RCS communications officer Melodie Johnson recently sat down with five RCS Graduates to talk about their involvement in the red meat industry’s Target 100 initiative.
Target 100 is a national program coordinated by Meat & Livestock Australia which aims to promote 100 initiatives that are designed to improve cattle and sheep industry sustainability by 2020.
Producers are encouraged to talk about the measures they are taking to improve sustainability in their own operations as part of the program.
Queensland producers and RCS graduates Carly Burnham, Bonnie Doon, Monto; Peter Whip, Royston, Longreach; Anna Bassett, Jenavale, Roma; Bronwyn Burnham, Boogalgopal, Eidsvold and Andrew O’Dea, Kelvin Falls, Warwick, are among the almost 100 producers Australia-wide to have shared their stories via the Target 100 initiative so far.
In this question and answer interview, they outline what they hope to achieve.
What motivated you to start Target 100?
Carly Burnham: Well, a lot of things really, advocating for agriculture really resonates with us. We are trying to take on a leadership role within agriculture with top quality and sustainable practices. I think it’s really important that we try to improve the image of agriculture and the Target 100 forum provides an avenue for us to do that.
Andrew O’Dea: Agricultural industries seem to be in the limelight now more than ever and the Target 100 initiative is a great way to get the good news message across (about how we care for the land) to the general community who have very few direct links to farming and farm families.
Bronwyn Burnham: Any initiative that puts agriculture in a favourable light is one that should be considered, I think. We need to sell our story about what we do and our life on the land because nobody else will.
There has been a lot of coverage recently surrounding sustainable agriculture and the environment. But really, many people have been participating in sustainable practices on their properties for years.
Why do you think it is so important to get the message across now?
Anna Basset: I think it is really important, now more than ever, to get our side of the story across about our practices as beef producers to the community. In recent years there has been such negativity placed on agriculture as an industry, with many organisations coming in and stipulating to us how we must run our operations. We are very lucky in Australia because beef producers really produce an economical, high quality product which is an important part of our daily food requirements. Because our family is committed to our industry and the sustainable use of our type of land, we are prepared to continue to produce this important product within the limitations of our environment, even in the face of severe and lengthy droughts, devastating floods and roller-coaster markets!
Andrew O’Dea: I guess now is a good a time as any to get on the front foot and start to build up our image as responsible environmental stewards. Generally speaking, the only time we make the headlines is when there is a bad news story to tell and it’s time some balance was put back into the conversations about farming. We’ve never done a song and dance about what we do. We get on with the job.
Carly Burnham: It’s always been important to share the message, but now I think we really need to push the message because we’re in a changing time. There is a lot of turmoil in a global setting. I find that social media has really provided an avenue for agriculture to get the message across. I think we really have to own our responsibility as agriculturalists and land owners, and really take on the challenge of communicating our side of the story of using sustainable and regenerative practices.
Do you think enough is being done to build awareness of sustainable agriculture?
Carly Burnham: I think ‘sustainable’ is a bit of a sexy word in agriculture at the moment. I think we need to be getting back to the grass roots level and the real foundation of agriculture. It is the producers and the consumers where the influence is required to start to change people’s thinking.
Peter Whip: There has been a big change in the last 10 to 15 years in looking at efficiency in the beef industry. Most people have changed their practices and have had the opportunity to obtain further education. Efficiency and production go hand-in-hand and lead in to sustainable practices; so many people are doing it without labelling it as such. Most people you talk to will tell you about efficiency on their property but not so much about sustainability.
Anna Basset: I think we as people and an industry are slowly changing with the times and with technology. There are still some oldies who haven’t embraced technology or changes, however, the newer, younger generations are really into it, and are able to access more information to better improve their properties. I think we are all changing because in order to stay profitable, we have to protect and develop our land and operations for future generations. We change because we want new things.
What sustainable practices do you use on your property and what sustainable practices do you suggest to people for their property?
Peter Whip: We use a lot of RCS management principles on our properties, such as reduced paddock size, reduced water usage, and trying to maintain ground cover is a key focus although we don’t focus on that in isolation. We also focus on efficiency in breeding to maximise production. We also use wet season spelling and rotational grazing on our properties. It is also very important to understand different land types and manage them differently as needed. We are also turning cattle off younger, by selling weaners and not bullocks any more.
Andrew O’Dea: We have been developing our property by reducing paddock size, fencing off creeks and watercourses, and installing off stream water points with the objective of controlling grazing pressure and creating adequate rest for our pasture. These changes have significantly increased our ground cover, improved water infiltration and vastly reduced creek bank erosion and creek sediment levels. This year we have also invested in a 90KW solar (grid-connected) system which creates not only renewable energy but also is a great source of renewable income.
Carly Burnham: We have implemented a time control grazing system which focuses on resting the pasture. We have seen improvements in pasture diversity, increased carrying capacity and have better infiltration of rainfall. We now have an absence of parasites in our cattle which means there are no chemicals used so we are offering a healthier product to consumers. Where we haven’t yet developed, we are simply rotating and resting, using the timed system. We have a Land Management Certification with Australian Land Management Group. This ensures we are improving environmental outcomes every year.
What other initiatives would you like to see in agriculture?
Anna Bassett: Encouraging people to move and live in rural communities would be another great way for people to be in touch with their primary food producers. I see this as being a key area for Government to encourage industry and jobs into rural areas and for families to live and work in regional communities and bring people back to their country roots. That way people actually form an understanding of how things work within agriculture. People have truly forgotten where their food comes from and I think we really need to do something to remind them.
Andrew O’Dea: Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’d like to see the Government, MLA and other industry groups build partnerships with the likes of established groups like Landcare and FarmDay who have great programs but are sadly not well supported by many producers.
Carly Burnham: We have a really unique community of agriculturalists in Monto, called the Friday Club, held by our local Landcare group. All of the agriculturalists come to the meeting to have a chat and share their knowledge. It has been really interesting because it’s all different producers, across diverse agricultural enterprises, not just graziers coming together. This provides an outside point of view to our operations, so we can come up with some simple new ways of doing things and running our places more efficiently and environmentally. There is genius in naivety and it would be great as a wider initiative.
Do you think there is a radical change needed for the industry to be successful and sustainable? Are you worried about the industry’s future?
Carly Burnham: Hmm, perhaps radical is a bit of a scary word. I think a better way to describe it would be innovation, ingenuity, creativity, and thinking differently about how else we can do things. There are a few in the industry who have done the same things for the last thirty years, but many are on the lookout for better practices and techniques. I’m not worried about the industry because I think that people are already aware and realise that attitudes and outlooks need to change in order to stay profitable, which is half the battle won. It will take some people some time. But there is already a movement and a shift and I think this will be a lasting change in agriculture.
Bronwyn Burnham: I’m not worried about the future of the industry as such, but we should be concerned about the influence exerted by external groups who are following their own narrow agendas to place agriculture in a poor light. Government legislation and resulting impositions are also a hampering factor to management at times of course.
The media has a lot to answer for with a constant stream of articles all designed to show that certain foods are either good or bad for us. Each week we see a new spin on certain food groups that grab the public’s attention – meat is bad, meat is good, dairy is no good. then yes we should all drink wine every night!!! It is to be hoped that people will think for themselves and eat moderately from all food groups. The world population is growing constantly so agriculture must stay on top of its game to feed the growing numbers.
Is Target 100 more of an external communication activity aimed people outside agriculture?
Bronwyn Burnham: I think Target 100 is definitely aimed at the city people although the simple, short layout is also appealing to the rural person. It highlights the diversity of agricultural operations and hopefully reinforces what an important role the primary producer plays in the community. The individual story format replaces the single stereotyped image of ‘The Primary Producer’ and presents the many and varied faces of the rural sector as real people with real families and real solutions.
It really shows us as normal people doing what we love with the resources we have and showing that we are working with nature and using the technology available when it suits.
Peter Whip: I think Target 100 is more to do with projecting the message externally to consumers. We are getting the message out that farmers aren’t economic vandals like some people think. Although, you’d like to think that they have already “got the message”.