Gus's Musings

June 8, 2014

What hinders change in Agriculture?

We know about climate change and a change in the weather, what is different to a change of farming systems?


I want to talk about “change”, to some this word is scary to say the least, while to others it is exciting.  There is lots of talk about how farming needs to change to become more sustainable, or to produce more for 9 billion people or even to cater for the change in peoples diets. Some may say that there has been significant change in agriculture over the last 50 years and there has been in components of our industry, a lot of changes are really about making what we do easier.  Take for instance the grazing industry, there has been more mechanisation, using planes/helicopters, better watering systems, shedding sheep, live export; these changes have all meant we can reduce labour/costs so we can continue grazing stock.  Now this isn’t saying that agriculture is bad, it is more about where is agriculture going?

I see the main reason that Agriculture (Ag) hasn’t seen much change isn’t because farmers are out of touch or uncaring, the main reason is that nothing is driving change and there isn’t a clear direction of where farming/land management is going.  We depend on economic signals to direct Ag as we have done for a long time, so with the declining terms of trade (and fixed wages) the directive has been to increase scale, seeing a reduction in the number of farmers, that is still occurring.

Humans are the same as all animals to have change on a large scale (herd) there needs to be a clear direction that leaders can head towards, given support, guidance and encouragement.  There also needs to be pressure from behind as most animals move away from pressure, this can be economic, environmental, peer pressure or legislation.  Without a clear direction, leaders go off in a multitude of directions giving very confused signals to the rest of the group.  After a while peer group pressure means everyone gets brought back to the average and it takes enormous energy and courage to shift away from the norm.

With the continued reduction in farmers that has been occurring over the last 30 years, effectively the Ag community has been culled down to the most resilient/stoic few.  The farmers that we have now are very independent and they don’t look for leadership, they continue doing what they do best in order to make sure they aren’t the next to exit the industry.  So we don’t have so much as a group of farmers, more a group of individuals that are extremely resourceful and staunchly independent.

We have had mobs of livestock turn up in exactly this frame of mind and we have done a lot of work with them to make sure they work as a mob of interdependent animals, this only can come about through the use of kindness.

So if we would like to see Ag change to become more sustainable, or to change for dietary habits then we need to set clear directions, put in place some clear drivers and legislative support and importantly show kindness and compassion, as we should to all.



  1. Brett McLachlan

    Gus, great observations here. Most humans fear change, even if it means something better. The ones who learn to master that fear are very successful. After all FEAR is only an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Your place is (from the pictures and story on your website) a great example of change and what can be achieved. Keep strong to your beliefs and direction, don’t let the nay sayers drag you back to their level. Hope to meet you out there one day

    Cheers to you and your family

    • admin

      Dear Brett,
      Well said we let FEAR hold us back! We look forward to seeing you soon and thanks for your sound support.
      Cheers Gus

  2. Graham Strong

    The populist interpretation of ‘change’ is incremental production efficiency gains & operating cost reduction per unit of labour. This orthodox definition sits very comfortably with agrarian conservatism. It rocks no boats, asks no questions and allows even the most conformist to pose as staunchly ‘individualistic’. Hmmm…..why am i thinking of the National Party on this point?

    The elephant in the room is that real change means political change. The staunchly independent, highly resourceful individuals are molded by the system we operate under, a system relies on the next door neighbor going broke before you do. This is what farmers hate to admit but they know in heart of hearts that its true. In the modern economy, we are no more morally superior or important in the machine than the Illinois factory worker on minimum wage who screw on the tractors wheel nuts.

    Its a ruthless, valueless, heartless, and as you rightly point out directionless economic landscape. That’s all it is. Any pretending otherwise is delusional.

    Good blog Gus, but next time can we just cut to the chase? Lets just call a spade a spade. We can go there if you want?

    • admin

      Dear Graham,
      You call it very well, I don’t “go there” because I don’t think making it someone else’s problem will fix it. I want to be part of the solution, so yes we need a change in thinking right up to the top to make sure that we don’t lose too many more farmers. Like your thinking.
      Cheers Gus

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