Lynne Strong. Climate change and farming.

Sep 20, 2015

Farming in partnership with nature.

I live in a very special part of the world. The view from my front verandah has rolling green hills to the left, the ocean to the right and in front of me – the ocean. You can understand why I call it paradise. Our family has been farming in this region for over 180 years.  Our family dairy farm is located in steep rainforest country at Jamberoo in NSW.

Every three weeks for 6 hours of the day – the view gets even more special when these magnificent cows graze in the front paddock. These cows are part of our family – and perhaps they are part of yours – they supply up to 50,000 Australians with milk for their breakfast every day.

I see my role as a food and fibre producer and custodian of the land is to ensure the people I employ, the people I feed and Mother Nature and the cows have a voice.

Australia is the hottest and driest continent. No-one can deny our farmers have done phenomenal things over the last 60 years. Even I am amazed that in 1950 one Australian farmer fed 20 people and today one Australian farmer feeds 700 people. This is becoming more challenging everyday with increasing extreme weather events.

Our family business and our cows are in the frontline of climate change. Equally there is no denying that all food production has an environmental impact.

I am very proud that our cows and our business are both part of the solution with our commitment being to produce nature’s perfect nutrient cocktail whilst lowering our carbon footprint on this beautiful planet.

We are adapting to our highly variable climate and the challenging farming landscape we are finding ourselves in by using the latest research and development and tools as well as accessing the scientists and bright minds who can mentor us and support our journey.

Our farm is in a very high rainfall pocket and our average rainfall is 2000mm or 80 inches.  Over the past thirty years we have noticed a significant increase in extreme weather events.  These days it is not unusual to get an extreme rainfall event that brings 10 inches of rain in 10 hours.

Each drought is hotter and drier than the last. In December 2012 – the hottest year on record in Australia – we had five days where the temperature was over 40 degrees. Dairy cows are like me. They like a temperate climate with averages around 25 degree. Cows hate the heat and humidity and they hate mud.

On our farm it’s all about the cows and reducing our impact on the landscape to allow us to continue to deliver the high quality product we are so proud of to Australian families.

A number of ways we are doing this include managing heat stress effect both on our cows and our pastures.

Often during extreme heat events cows start absorbing more heat from the environment than they can emit and they start to pant.

When it gets really out of balance they effectively start to melt and we have to ensure they have access to plenty of shade and water.

They love the sprinklers in the dairy. We also watch them as they exit the dairy. If they are still panting we will take them aside and hose them down until they stop panting.

In the paddocks it’s about balancing the needs of the productive landscape and the native landscape. We do this by making wise choices like growing water and fertiliser efficient grasses.

As I mentioned earlier we lay claim to living in paradise and our farm is 50% pristine rainforest.

Part of our team is a cohort of professional bush regenerators.  We have planted thousands of trees, created native vegetation buffer zones between the pasture and the rainforest.

We have built what we call cow super highways to ensure the cows go backwards and forwards to the dairy as efficiently as they can.  This means the manure is deposited on the paddock where is can do good and not on the laneways where it can wash into Mother Nature’s streams.

All of this comes at a cost – thousands of dollars in fact. We do this because we know our actions will determine the future. Humanity can walk hand in hand with Mother Nature. We have to support her and she will support us.

The farm is now in the excellent hands of the next generation and I am focusing my energy on taking the conversation beyond the farm gate. Conversations that I hope it will create an impetus for the community and farmers to work together to map out a brighter future.

Because I believe, right now, there’s not enough recognition of the challenges modern farmers face. Farmers have traditionally been quiet achievers. More than ever we need to share our journey with the community.

We need to get out there and grow our support networks and forge powerful partnerships.

I am involved in a number of exciting watershed initiatives that are providing opportunities for the broader community to meet some of our wonderful Australian farmers, share their stories and start thinking about food and how they value it in a different way.

Programs like the Climate Champions program which is both a former Eureka Prize and Banksia Award finalists.

The Climate Champion program aims to help farmers manage climate risk by giving farmers

  • the best climate tools and an understanding of how we might use these in our farm business
  • and climate researchers access to each other so we can ensure the research they are doing is relevant and help them get the research out of the lab and onto the farm.

Along with 48 other Australian farmers I teamed up with Earth Hour Australia as an ambassador and shared my story as part of the Planet to Plate Earth Hour Cook book.

This beautiful compilation of recipes from 50 of the nation’s top celebrity chefs using the best of Aussie produce, showcased alongside the real climate stories of Aussie farmers.

I am also one 4 farmers in the Earth Hour Documentary that screened on Channel Ten and Google live-stream on March 28, broadcasting stories of the farmers on the front-line of climate change straight into the homes of all Australians.

I also founded Picture You in Agriculture. This is the initiative that really lights my fire. We roll out the Art4Agrciutlure suite of programs including The Archibull Prize and the Young Farming Champions.This program sees primary and secondary school students transforming the life-size fibreglass cows into agriculture themed artworks.

The students are paired with our exciting young champions who have careers in the food and fibre sector and complete a variety of activities that give them fun hands-on experiences exploring food and fibre and farming.

This year’s Archibull Prize theme ‘Agriculture – an endangered species’.

Students and teachers will have the courageous conversations we all need to have and investigate the greatest challenges to Australian agriculture: Climate change, declining natural resources (our land, our water, and our non-renewable energy resources), food waste and biosecurity.

We want students to be part of the solution, sharing their ideas on how to tackle these challenges as individuals, as a community, and as the future mums and dads of the next generation,”

If we are going to ensure a healthy and vibrant future for Australian families and Mother Nature – agriculture must be a partnership between government, farmers and the whole community.

I look forward to you all helping me start the courageous conversations we all need to have about food and natural fibres and how we value them.

I look forward to hearing your ideas and solutions on how we can work together to create a healthy and a vibrant and a happy future.


Lynne Strong Founder Picture You in Agriculture

Lynne Strong, National Program Director, Art4Agriculture


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