We’re all in this together

SilkyOak.jpg

“We’re all in this together” was the message on the invitation. How true.

So, on Saturday night, around 200 locals enjoyed a “Night on the Green” sponsored by the UDV. As the kids romped on jumping castles or chased each other with balloon swords, the grown-ups took the chance to unwind and regroup after a torrid 18 months. And it didn’t matter where you send your milk.

Among the farmers at the Night on the Green were Paul and Lisa Mumford, who just days earlier had opened their farm, their books and their hearts to visitors. The pair are well-respected and volunteering to make their business a Focus Farm brings a level of scrutiny most would find daunting: everything is on show, right down to their most revealing financials.

The husband and wife team were in equal parts honest, humble and inspiring as they answered questions about their aspirations and challenges. We’ll all learn a lot from Paul and Lisa because they’re so generous with their knowledge.

And, on Sunday, a group of about 10 local Landcarer friends spent a morning doing something for one of our own. Kaye is my Landcare heroine. For years now, she has been the backbone of our group, giving away thousands of trees and coordinating our mob of volunteers to great effect. A long bout of illness meant Kaye’s magnificent garden needed a tidy up. What an opportunity to show her we cared!

This is what community is all about. We’re all in this together! Merry Christmas!

What MG’s announcement means in plain English

This is a post written purely for my fellow dairy farmers in light of the MG announcement today. After speaking with the people at MG, this is what I have learnt:

Why the price must fall
MG opened at $5.60/kgMS. Its lower than expected sales, the rising Australian dollar and the fall in the value of its larger than normal (which are routinely high anyway) inventories mean it has a shortfall of between $170 and $200 million. This means the price paid to farmers must fall.

How far the price must fall
Depending on how the last two months of this financial year pan out in terms of sales and exchange rates, Murray Goulburn will finish the season between $4.75 and $5.00.

But the price can’t fall that far in two months…
To do that, it would need to pay farmers virtually nothing for milk supplied in May and June. Some rough numbers sent to me by an industry analyst puts those figures at about 4.75 cents per litre. Clearly, that would be disastrous for many suppliers. It would also cripple MG because farmers would have little choice but to leave MG and supply any other processor that would take their milk.

…so, here’s what will happen
MG will pay farmers for milk supplied in May and June as if the price was $5.47 all along. In other words, the price for May milk will be $3.38 for fat and $7.42 for protein. For June’s milk, it will be $3.45 for fat and $7.59 for protein.

If MG’s sales and the currency fall in line with the worst case scenario and MG really should have paid farmers just $4.75 for the year, it will mean there is a shortfall of 47 cents for every kilogram of fat and $1.03 for every kilogram of protein.

This money will be deducted from the price paid to farmers evenly over the next three years. It means the milk price will be lower for each of the next three years than it otherwise would have been by about 15 cents for fat and 34 cents for protein.

But it’s NOT a debt carried by individual farmers
The money to be deducted over the next three years will simply come out of the milk price. If a farmer leaves MG and moves to a different supplier during the next three years, no debt will follow that farmer. If a farmer joins MG in the next three years, that farmer will have a lower milk price than they would have received in a normal year.

MG will not apply a loan against an individual supplier and will not respectively apply terms and conditions to suppliers.

About this post and me:
I am a former MG supplier who still holds some MG shares and currently supply Fonterra Australia. This post is not designed to do anything other than clarify confusion surrounding the situation because I am fearful for the mental health of my fellow farmers. This post has been checked by MG for accuracy.

 

 

What does dry mean to you?

 

WarMem

Watching the sun rise behind the War Memorial yesterday, I had a sudden realisation: there is no drought on the St Kilda Road boulevard.

For one of the few times since our children were babies, I was on my own in the city, gazing dreamily at the traffic, trams and people below the hotel balcony.

It occurred to me that if you were one of the people whose lives pulse with the number 8 tram from the heart of the city to leafy Toorak and back every day, you’d never know it was dry. You might catch Landline and wonder what all the cockies were whinging about this time.

Unless you were a gardener, of course. Or the volunteer caretaker of the local sports ground. Or a bushwalker. Or, even, a concrete cowboy with a weekender on the Peninsula. Maybe you just had childhood holidays on an uncle’s farm that left you with a deep-rooted, almost subconscious, connection.

Actually, I realised, there are probably a lot of you speeding by down there who know and who care. I saw it in the comments following my plea for the CSIRO in The Guardian. There were so many who saw the same threats and shared the same hopes.

Others wondered aloud whether farmers were to blame for their own demise by voting for the National Party. I’m not sure but I suspect so many farmers do because we fear being forgotten in the city.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped emphasising the differences between city and country. I promise to work harder to weave my writing with threads common to us all.

 

 

 

Dairy advertising dilemmas

Meet Deb Poole, dairy farmer’s daughter and professional waterslide tester, and her husband/coach Gary. Incidentally, she fronts Dairy Australia’s latest appeal to “balanced mums”, like me.

“People look at me and they see an ordinary woman. But what they don’t know is that I’m a…ah…pretty intense waterslide tester and there’s nothing ordinary about it.” – Deb Poole

Deb and Gary’s appearances were slotted in around the top-rating Molly miniseries.

Unsurprisingly, not all of the 6,000 or so dairy farmers whose levies pay for DA’s marketing are delighted with the ad and took to social media this week to vent their spleen. A board member of peak body Australian Dairy Farmers, Tyran Jones, was just one of them.

WaterslideTwitter

In the face of such criticism, it’s important there’s transparency and accountability around what must be a significant investment of levy-payer’s funds. So, I asked Dairy Australia’s marketing team to answer some questions about the campaign and veteran ad creative, Rod Clausen of Red Creative for an independent expert’s take on the ad (his thoughts follow below). DA’s Isabel MacNeill was quick to respond.

MMM: What are the objectives of the campaign and who is the target audience?
IM:
The overall marketing objectives are to: 

  • Improve perceptions of dairy products and the industry
  • Decrease the percent of women who agree “I’m concerned dairy foods will increase my weight”
  • Increase the percent of women who agree “dairy foods are essential for good health and wellbeing”
  • Increase the percent of women who agree “I trust the dairy industry”
  • Increase proportion of women who make an effort to consume enough dairy.

Currently, 8 out of 10 Australian adults don’t consume their recommended serves of milk, cheese and yoghurt each day as advised by the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Research shows, while consumers generally believe it’s okay to enjoy dairy (as it is relatively natural and healthy), they see it as something they should have in moderation. With new dairy alternatives claiming to offer a healthy choice and a plethora of fad diets generating confusion, mums and women have become uncertain about dairy’s essentiality in the diet.

Dairy Australia, through its consumer marketing program, aims to positively influence attitudes and perceptions around dairy. If attitudes towards dairy’s essentiality in the diet track positively then it can be anticipated that this will hold up consumption behaviours and/or drive increased consumption.

The key target audience is “Balanced Women”, (with a specific focus on mums with children between 5-12 years), who take a practical approach to food, with “everything in moderation”.

With the unifying tagline: “It’s amazing what dairy can do“, the current campaign, which has been specifically created to appeal to women, will reinforce the benefits of having dairy every day to women, who are searching for the best health and wellbeing choices for themselves and their family.

MMM: We’ve seen the waterslide ad aired during Molly. Are there other elements to the campaign?
IM: The television commercial is part of a much broader marketing program. ‘It’s amazing what milk can do’ combines a range of awareness building advertising that will run nationally, combining television, print, radio, mobile and on-line executions.

To coincide with the campaign launch, February was renamed ‘Februdairy’ across a range of Australia’s most popular magazines, with titles including Australian Women’s Weekly,

An extensive range of promotions is also planned including a media partnership with the Logies and the announcement of new Legendairy Ambassador, Chef and TV personality, Karen Martini, who will join Michael Klim as public supporters of the Australian dairy industry.

Dairy Australia is partnering with this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Hub from 4-13 March, which will see the creation of an interactive ‘Urban Dairy’ presented by
Legendairy. The Urban Dairy provides the opportunity right in the middle of the city to bring the industry to life, from show casing producers to highlighting the quality of Australian dairy products.

The Legendairy media activity has been planned in consultation with dairy manufacturers and allows the overall category to benefit by linking in to media buying cycles of the major brands. The launch activity for Legendairy will focus on broadcast and high reaching media channels rather than more targeted health and wellbeing spaces.

MMM: What was the rationale for the creative approach?
IM: Recent quantitative research has told us women are likely to consume more milk, cheese and yoghurt when they understand it is:

  • Rich in nutrients, such a protein and calcium;
  • Good for maintaining and building bones and muscles; and
  • It provides natural nutrition

To cut through the increasing ‘nutrition noise’ and deliver these messages, we required a creative approach that was disruptive. Being noticed is key; and creating fun characters is extremely powerful when it comes to getting people talking, sharing messages, and eventually changing behaviours.

Formulative research told us that the creative concepts and corresponding characters developed as part of the ‘It’s amazing what dairy can do’ campaign were appealing to our primary audience, in the same way that the character of ‘Rhonda’ cut through for AAMI.

The concept centres on women who do real, but very unique occupations, and the unifying factor is that dairy makes this possible. Memorable characters have been developed, such as Deb Poole the waterslide tester, who relies on the unique combination of nutrients in milk to give her energy and strength to perform her job. By using humour in a documentary style approach, we hope to engage consumers emotionally through entertainment, while delivering rational messages about dairy through the story.

Because the reasons and barriers to consume milk, cheese and yoghurt differ between products, as do usage behaviours and consumption occasions, the creative executions will be targeted around milk, cheese and yoghurt, rather than dairy as a category.

MMM: The waterslide ad has been accused of portraying milk drinkers as stupid. Was this considered by Dairy Australia?
IM: People like to be entertained and like characters with personality. Humour helps us create a natural affinity with the audience – ordinary Australians. By using humour, we’re saying, ‘we’re one of you, Australia’.

Deb is an ordinary mum of three. She may have an unusual job, but she is just like one of us. She is relatable, in her very unpretentious way and because of her very simple values she is inspiring.

The tone is humorous and down to earth. Milk is a very basic down to earth product and the tone helps remind us about the good, simple, healthy values milk stands for. It’s the ordinary things in life that are sometimes the most special, they can even be Legendairy.

Our research on the concepts show the campaign style and messages resonated with mums and will motivate more consumption of dairy, while positioning it as a simple, natural, and nutritious food.

MMM: How are creative concepts assessed by Dairy Australia during the selection process?
IM:
The creative process was concept tested with the target audience. The research showed the campaign style and messages resonate with mums and will motivate more consumption of dairy, while positioning it as a simple, natural, and nutritious food. Key outtakes from the research were:

  • “Broad appeal of idea for most, with family focus or message and context appearing to drive connection and engagement.”
  • “Quirkiness and uniqueness felt to be distinctive for the category, and create talkability.”
  • “Implied ‘elite athlete’ status considered very funny.”

MMM: What is Dairy Australia’s budget for consumer advertising and media this year?
IM:
The consumer advertising and media budget is approximately $3.4M for this year. This is for all production and media placements across TV, radio, magazine and digital channels.

MMM: How does Dairy Australia gauge success?
IM:
We set clear KPIs for our marketing program each year which we track and report on. These include attitudes and perceptions of dairy foods and the industry that we aim to shift.

In addition to the annual tracking, we recently commissioned baseline research with our target audience to establish awareness of the key messages that will be delivered through the milk campaign. We will test them again in six months’ time to see if there has been cut through and uptake of our messages through the campaign.

MMM: Will evaluative metrics be available to levy payers?
IM:
Yes. Dairy Australia reports on its marketing metrics through the annual report each financial year.

You can download Dairy Australia’s 2015 annual report here. The only reference I could find to the effectiveness of DA’s mass media advertising was this one on page 54:

“Mass media advertising delivered through television, digital and outdoor channels maintained awareness, but was limited to one major burst due to significantly smaller budgets. Digital advertising ran from February – April 2015, achieving 20.7 million views. Last year’s popular multivitamin television commercial was updated to include the Start and End Your Day With Dairy call to action airing on prime time television, reaching 1.4 million mums at an average frequency of 7.6 times. Outdoor advertising saw 641 billboards featured in bus shelters across metro areas nationally, strategically located around schools, shops and retail centres.”

Unfortunately, the number of people who watched an ad is no gauge of its effectiveness, so this is very disappointing. The good news is that there were much more encouraging measures of other DA marketing activities.

So what did independent expert, Rod Clausen of Red Creative think of the waterslide ad?

RC: “Interesting ad. Creatively I like the ‘Chris Lilley’ style documentary approach and the professional waterslide tester story. It’s definitely entertaining and it’s got reasonable cut through. I ran it past a few of the target audience and it makes people smile.

“I have to admit if I was a Dairy Australia levy payer, the long version of the ad (the back story) would make me cringe. Especially with Deb being portrayed as the ‘slightly thick’ daughter of a dairy farmer. I’m sure this is meant to make her character appear down to earth and resonate with the average mum. But I can see how this would be seen as a negative stereotype, particularly if you were part of the industry. Do I think viewers will take this away from the ad? Not really, I don’t think people analyse ads that deeply. In any case, her husband is from the city and he’s also a bit of a ‘plonka’. 

“Do I remember the benefits of milk or that it’s essential for health and wellbeing? I get that protein and calcium gives me strong bones and that’s definitely the take out people get, even if it is buried amongst the entertainment. The 30sec version of the ad does push the product benefits – Phosphorous, Riboflavin, Vitamin A and four more. And the 15sec promotes nutrients, simple and natural. Presumably these ads are meant to build on and reinforce the original story and push more the rational benefits. They are a good reminder, but they’re not telling me anything I didn’t already know. So I don’t think it will change perceptions or increase the proportion of women who make an effort to consume more dairy.

“I can’t help comparing this ad with the ‘Anchor Dairy – the journey to beautiful milk’ film I saw when I was researching this piece. If I was looking to improve perceptions of dairy products and portray the industry as innovative – this film really hits the spot – even if is answering a different brief. To be fair it also doesn’t have the entertainment value of Legendairy Deb. It’s a catch-22. Be more entertaining and you get slammed for not talking about product benefits. Focus on the rational benefits and no-one takes it in.

“In a nutshell, Legendairy Deb is more entertaining than informative. It says milk is good for active people and will make me strong – which is true, but nothing new. It’s not improving my perception of the dairy industry or milk. But it’s not detracting from it either. Do I think mums will take the message seriously and consume more milk? – I’m not sure. But with $3.4 million worth of media spend behind it they are bound to get the key messages. Time will tell. We won’t know its true effectiveness until the usual tracking reports are done after the campaign.”

But how many farmers will consider the tracking reports, if they are indeed available? With this in mind, I asked Isabel one final last-minute question yesterday afternoon.

MMM: When you were testing the consumer facing ads – were they also tested on farmers?

IM: Our advertising campaign is directed at balanced mums, and last year we conducted qualitative and quantitative research to understand the key barriers and opportunities to promote consumption of dairy products.

These insights have been used to develop the campaign approach. The creative concepts were also tested with the balanced mums by a specialist agency prior to production.

While famers are our most important stakeholders we didn’t  test creative with them as the campaign has a very defined audience.

We did of course present the creative concepts to the DA board (where there are a number of farmers) and also the marketing teams of the major dairy processors.

To me, this answer gets to the very heart of the problem. As every advertising suit knows only too well, no concept – however brilliant – flies without client approval. And in this case, there are 6,128 clients sprinkled across Australia. In this respect, it seems DA has not learned from Devondale’s infamous “Dev ‘n Dale” campaign. Farmers may not be advertising experts but DA can ill afford to put them offside.

Perhaps, just perhaps, DA could add one more element to its ad agency brief: your creative pitch must remember the dignity of the farmer and test its appeal to this other vital audience because dairy farmers are the ultimate client and they have TV’s too.

The new golden child in Australian dairy: corporate farming

TrafficJamLoRes

Australian dairy farmers have long been compared to our Kiwi big sisters.

You might imagine the comparisons would highlight the resilience of Aussie farmers who cope with much tougher climates (three weeks with scant rainfall is considered a drought in NZ) and less bountiful soils. But, sadly, no, it’s generally been along the lines of a disappointed parent.

“If only Australian dairy farmers were more like the Kiwis”.

But, as the cost of producing a litre of milk in the naturally blessed New Zealand has risen close to that of Australia, big sister has lost some of her charm. The new golden child is Big Brother: the corporate farmer.

The corporate farm is very attractive to everyone who describes themselves as “in agribusiness”. It borrows big, spends big, supplies big and is built on the promise of rivers of white gold that can be tapped by anyone with a spare dollar (whether or not they have an aversion to muddy boots). Freed from the constraints of traditional farming, they push the system hard for maximum shareholder return.

And, if it crashes, well, what the heck? It was worth a crack. The carcass is licked clean, everyone dusts themselves off and goes back to what they were doing before, digging up iron ore or whatever it takes to fund a spin on the roulette wheel.

Should we be concerned? Honestly, I’m not sure. If large dairy farms are held by patient investors, they can tick all the right boxes, since cow care, environmental responsibility and the welfare of workers all make business sense in the long term.

I just hope those lured by all the hype remember that dairy farming is a complex, volatile business and the returns may be neither instant or constant for, if it’s all about turning a quick buck, things can turn ugly very quickly indeed.

How Gallipoli put Grandpa on the land

Grandpa is the little boy in the gateway

Grandpa is the little boy in the gateway

My grandfather, Harry, first saw Melbourne on his way to Gallipoli. I imagine it felt like a ticket to a new life after a childhood framed by tragedy.

When his mother died giving birth to his brother, little Harry was left in the care of his Irish grandmother. He worked her hillside farm hard and, at one stage, never left the property for the good part of a year. The stories my own father passed down to me spoke of a Harry abandoned by his father and shown little pity.

When war came, Harry became an ANZAC light horseman and carried water to the front line. My aunt Heather says dysentery “saved him” from the Western front and nearly a year later, he was home and regarded as a man.

In 1917, Harry applied to secure a parcel of land under the soldier settlement scheme. The inspector recommended against it and his report forewarns of a battle too great for a returned soldier.

GrandpaSoldierSettler4cropLoRes

Mr Dermody’s advice made sense. I’ve been there many times and tried to imagine how it must have been 100 years ago. The valley is sweet but the property, known as Yosemite, does indeed reach up “precipitous” faces lined with cattle track terraces. Impossible country to farm with a tractor, nigh-on impossible with a fern hook and crosscut saw.

Although still recovering from dysentery and the psychological damage of war that he called “neurasthenia“, Harry’s ambition is palpable in his own submission.

GrandpaSoldierSettler6crop

Against the odds, Harry made it. And after his first two children were born around 15 years later, he built a new house with his bride, Pearlie, in the foothills down the valley.That is the place I remember when I think of Grandpa. Heather recalls her father wanting to sign up again in 1939 only to be told farmers were to remain on the land. So, she says, he resolved to buy the land we farm now in order to “do his duty and grow more food”. A notion almost incomprehensible in this era of plenty.

It’s to that lonely boy’s courage in the face of battle – both on the shores of Gallipoli and later in the hills of Gippsland – that I owe this farm. I will not forget.

The politics of Easter eggs

kids_spring06_egg_cow.jpg

Easter eggs are now a political football with Animals Australia is using them as an opportunity to spread the word – and the guilt – about eating food laced with dairy cruelty.

At the same time, the Australian Raw Milk Movement is preaching the gospel of Vicki Jones, the woman behind the recalled milk associated with the death of a toddler. Apparently cows being treated with antibiotics when they fall ill are “paying the price” for the milk we conventional farmers provide. Better to assume no animal on an organic farm ever falls ill (or can simply “disappear” if she doesn’t respond to a massage with magic cream).

It disheartens me tremendously that treating a sick animal with the best medicine available can be dressed up as some form of cruelty but I think I’d better get used to it fast. Why? Because there are two movements gathering pace in Australia: “food fear farming” and “orthorexia nervosa”.

Food fear farming for product differentiation
You can make money from frightening mums and dads in the supermarket.

Milk that contains added permeate (which is an ugly name for milk’s natural sugars and vitamins), is pasteurised, comes from cows fed some grain or is not organic can be made scary. And non-scary milk gets a lift!

This is a basic marketing principle called “product differentiation” and is used by marketers in every consumer goods category from toilet paper to life insurance to gain market share or justify a higher price.

“When we were conventional dairy farmers I felt so frustrated at being powerless in the industry but now we are price setters and have security. It actually feels like we are running a business.”
– Vicki Jones, raw milk farmer, The Weekly Times, 17 September 2014

The reality is that as the margins around milk become tighter and tighter, we can expect to see increasingly desperate attempts to differentiate milk brands from the mainstream.

Orthorexia nervosa
Nutrition lecturer at UNSW Australia, Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds, wrote in The Conversation recently, that:

Orthorexia nervosa, the “health food eating disorder”, gets its name from the Greek word ortho, meaning straight, proper or correct. This exaggerated focus on food can be seen today in some people who follow lifestyle movements such as “raw”, “clean” and “paleo”.

Of course, food-centric righteousness comes in many forms and I’m watching as animal activists and food activists come together.

That quest for purity teamed with the need to differentiate what is otherwise a commodity product is perfect for farmers and food marketers desperate to make a dollar. Sadly, it’s often at the expense of everyday farmers and shoppers like you and me. And, if they could have their way preventing the use of basic medicines like antibiotics, the wellbeing of innocent cows.

Time to turn out the lights, together

Farmers and environmentalists have finally come out of the closet, holding hands. As Landcarers, farmers have been practising “greenies” for decades, we’ve just never embraced the label.

Greenies are often seen as the enemy and, sometimes, some of them have been. We’ve been blamed for global warming, the blanching of the Great Barrier Reef and the land clearing sins of our forefathers; the rapists of the land.

But tonight, it’s the greenies themselves, WWF’s Earth Hour, who are showcasing Australian farming. Tune in to the Appetite for Change documentary on Channel 10 tonight or watch it online anytime.

The Earth Hour cookbook tells my family’s story and the stories of farmers around the country to inspire action. And it’s all constructive because Earth Hour understands that farmers, foodies and greenies belong on the same page.

We all need to eat, drink and breathe.

Nobody understands what the impact of a changing climate means better than farmers do. So embrace your inner greenie and turn off the lights tonight from 8.30 for Earth Hour.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

How much listening to farmers is okay?

"Fonterra on Twitter" by Digital Jungle

Excerpt from “Fonterra on Twitter” by Digital Jungle

I don’t need to tell you how much of a stir a report tracing Twitter conversations surrounding Fonterra made when it was tweeted by farmer Shelby Anderson (@cupslinga) yesterday. The extensive 54-page document monitored just one week of Twitter conversations and looked to be a sample of what the social monitoring service could provide rather than a commissioned routine report. Still, as Shelby tweeted, it was a veeeerrry interesting report all the same. Continue reading

Skeletons in the dairy case

CowsDairyTrack

We know we are not perfect, we realise we must do better and we are proud of how far we have come.

Our cows live better lives than they did when I was a girl. Careful breeding has reduced the incidence of mastitis and lameness, while a new understanding of bovine nutrition has reduced the risk of calving trouble and helped us insulate the cows from the impact of both drought and flood. Our first generation of naturally polled (hornless) calves has just been born.

Even so, dairy farmers will one day earn a prime-time feature for all the wrong reasons. It could be someone doing the right thing that looks like the wrong thing: Continue reading