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Nuffield Australia 2012 Autumn Tour report

All video presentations in this report can be found together on our 2012 Autumn Tour channel at vimeo.com  Links to individual video presentations are also listed below. As the videos focus closely on individual presentations there are no separate downloadable files as has been the practice for previous conference reports.

Thursday

The 2012 Nuffield Autumn Tour commenced on Thursday, 15 March with a trip back in time for many of us to university days in a lecture theatre environment at University of New England (UNE). Mingan Choct, CEO of the Poultry Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) gave a presentation on the latest activities and research. It was an entertaining and enlightening talk that left no one in doubt about the advances in the poultry industry and the potential advances yet to come.

During the day, Australian participants were introduced to the group of New Zealanders from Otago that had joined us. The group was led by NZ Nuffield Scholar, Allan Richardson and consisted of sheep and beef farmers on a week farm tour of NSW. It was great having them join us for the day and as always, there was good cross Tasman interaction!

At our second visit at Guyra, we were privileged to get a full tour of the Top of the Range Tomato Farm. There is 300 full-time staff with 20 hectares of greenhouse tomatoes, producing five B-Doubles of tomatoes each day. Tours are not normally taken through the greenhouses due to bio security risks so we were fortunate for the opportunity. The facility was built from scratch by the Costa Group after the site was selected based on daylight intensity and average temperatures. The business has developed from nothing to 20 hectares in just five years and produces the “blush premium truss tomato” brand.

From Guyra the tour moved on to Mt William, Rob and Fiona Kelly’s (2006 Sch) property for a cracking woolshed lunch. Rob had released himself from his hospital sick bed to join us and demonstrate his techno graze system that has resulted in a dramatic increase in stocking rates and production from his sheep and cattle. We also had presentations from the Sheep CRC and MLA and Fiona gave a passionate and enthusiastic presentation on the operations at Mt William.

On Thursday night, a dinner was held at the trendy New England Regional Art Gallery. We had an excellent line up of speakers discussing Coal Seam Gas and the potential implications on rural Australia from the Eurozone crisis. Jock Laurie, president of the National Farmers Federation; James Baulderstone, Vice President of Santos; and Peter Rasmussen, past Australian Trade Commissioner for Western Europe all spoke well. The Q&A session was vigorous and time past quickly. At the evenings’ conclusion, those present, who hadn’t previously been exposed to the coal seam gas issue, were left in no doubt as to the passion that is in this debate.  >>> Watch on video

Friday

The Education Theatre at University of New England (UNE) was the excellent venue for the Autumn Tour presentations day. The opening address by The Hon. Richard Torbay, Chancellor of UNE and also Independent Member for Northern Tablelands was well received. He is also a former Mayor of Armidale. His passion for education and agriculture was paramount in his address  >>> Watch on video

The seven presenting scholars responded exceptionally well to their training and gave excellent reports on the day which were well received by everyone:

Ben Tyley from Kangaroo Island, SA, received the 2010 Lady Southey Scholarship for natural resource management, supported through the Sidney Myer Fund. He focused on fishery management and stock rebuilding and travelled to Nova Scotia and Maine, in addition to the east coast of Canada.  >>> Watch on video

Rob Cook from Suplejack Station, via Alice Springs, NT received the 2011 Nuffield Scholarship supported by the Northern Territory Department of Resources and ANZ. He studied innovation and technology in the beef industry, especially for ranchers such as himself who are injured or disabled.  >>> Watch on video

Paul Lambert from Merseylea in Tasmania received the 2011 Nuffield Scholarship supported by Dairy Australia and the Australian Dairy Conference. He focused on dairy technologies, including robotic dairies which he fully plans to implement at home to improve efficiencies. He also studied dairy waste conversion to produce energy.  >>> Watch on video

Andrew Dewar, from Clifton in Queensland received the 2011 Nuffield Scholarship supported by Woolworths. His study evolved as he travelled, originally focusing on the production of vegetables, but later supply chain management in order to compete in a highly competitive, Australian market. Vertical integration of family farms to increase profit and contract negotiations was the key elements to his study.  >>> Watch on video

Aaron Sanderson, from Ayr, Queensland received the 2011 Nuffield Scholarship supported by GRDC. He studied food production in the wet tropical areas of the world and how they could relate to northern Australia. He travelled to tropical regions including Brazil, Thailand, Mexico and India to study on-farm practices and systems.  >>> Watch on video

Michael Inwood, Bathurst, NSW received the 2011 Nuffield Scholarship supported by the Sidney Myer Fund. Michael studied regenerative agricultural management with a focus on soil inputs. He believes agricultural inputs dictate sustainability, public perception and he investigated inputs that are in harmony with natural systems.  >>> Watch on video

Robert Nichols from Sassafras in Tasmania received the 2011 Nuffield Scholarship supported by the RIRDC Chicken Meat Program. He focused on renewable energy as an alternative farm income. Robert’s investigation of bio-digestion as a means of manure disposal saw a swing in thinking as he realised the technical risks associated with this technology. >>> Watch on video

In addition to the scholar presentations, Annette Cowie, Director at Rural Climate Solutions at UNE presented to the group prior to lunch. Annette has a background in soil science and plant nutrition with particular interest in sustainable resource management. Rural Climate Solutions is an alliance between NSW Department of Primary Industries and UNE. In 2011, Annette was one of the six members of the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee, established to offset methodologies proposed under the Carbon Farming Initiative. Her address focused in this area.  >>> Watch on video

Finally, we heard a thought-provoking and passionate address from 1981 Tasmanian Nuffield Scholar Ian McMichael, from Ouse. As well as being a founding principal and director of McMichael & Associates, an agricultural consulting and management company, he is also the president of Rural Alive & Well Inc (RAW). RAW is a not-for-profit organsiation delivering suicide prevention and community wellbeing services in Tasmania. He focused on the MATE acronym:

Monitor your mate’s behavior: Watch for the warning signs.

Alert: stay watchful. We all have bad days.

Talk to your mate. Ask the question: ‘Are you alright?’

Engage with your mate. Encourage them to seek help, visit a doctor or speak to a counselor.

>>> Watch on video

Overall, the media coverage was excellent, with a number of interviews. Social media also raised its head in spectacular fashion at this conference, with our first real foray into the use of Twitter to convey presenters’ messages

Following the presentation day, the group enjoyed the Autumn Tour Dinner at the Booloominbah Collection, a grand country gentleman’s house at UNE.

The guest speaker for the evening was the local Federal Member for New England Tony Windsor MP. Mr Windsor, with several other cross bench members, holds the balance of power in the federal parliament, having supported the ALP form a minority government after the election in 2010. He believed ALP leader was better suited to leading a minority government than the coalition, a bold move given that the majority of people in his electorate are conservative.

His major take-home message was that we are all in control of our own destiny and if we strike a hurdle, we need to negotiate our way around it in a calm manner and approach it in a rational manner rather than coming out with all guns ablaze and staging a huge protest. He cited Bob Brown and the green party as a great example of this which struck a nerve with some Tasmanian’s who have seen wood chip production decimated and many people lose their jobs due to the green party.

Mr Windsor also stated that northern cattle producers knew about how animals were being treated in Indonesia and that the industry would be closed down – a very bold statement given that Rob Cook (who presented) and his family from NT were at the dinner. The comment was rebuked by Rob who most thought won the debate unanimously! A good night was enjoyed by all.

Saturday

Saturday brought a full itinerary, commencing with a tour of UNE. They certainly demonstrated how they are bucking the supposed trend of a dearth of entries into agriculture. The scientists’ passion for agriculture was demonstrable in their presentations at the large animal facility, the plant laboratory/glasshouse and the soil laboratory.

The group also gained valuable insights into precision agriculture including remote control technology in a visit to a UNE paddock. It was a pity that the rain started to fall as we were being shown this technology, but this deterred few in the group who were impressed by what they heard.

A grand lunch was held at Eastview Estate Winery, Kentucky, which is owned by former Hollywood cameraman Stephen Dobson and his wife Lyn. There was some great entertainment on arrival as the bus tried to negotiate its way up the narrow tree-line drive and failed. To overcome the issue, Stephen arrived in a chef’s outfit and proceeded to complete a chainsaw massacre of branches! Wine and beer tasting was high value and entertaining, followed by a great lunch with canapés.

Our final visit of the afternoon was to Walcha Dairy, a 476-hectare sheep and beef farm which was converted into a highly-productive dairy farm in 2008 with the arrival of 700 cows from Victoria. It is owned by Peter and Elaine Notman (1997 Sch) who were unable to attend as Peter got the dates wrong in his diary! Peter’s farm manager showed us the dairy, which included a 100-cow rotary in action whilst we were there and a large afternoon tea was presented to the group, which few consumed after such a large lunch.

The 2012 Autumn Tour concluded on Saturday evening with many in the group heading into Armidale to have a casual dinner and discuss and debate the quality of speakers and tours.

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