Follow by Email

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Oct 27th to 29th Homeward Bound

We flew out of Harrisburg Saturday afternoon on our long journey home. We had to catch four flights and a total of 24hrs flying time to get home. The longest leg from LA to Aukland was the best. We flew with Air NewZealand in a new Boeing 777-300, which I can now thoroughly recommend. Back home harvest has already started on the canola and Barley, so after a few days to recover and catch up on some paperwork it will be all systems go.

Inside a Boeing 777-300

Sunrise near New Zealand

The Global Focus Tour has been fantastic; it has given me a really good perspective of agriculture around the world. I now am looking forward to doing 8 weeks of my personal study next year.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Oct 28th Amish Farm

Our last farm visit in the USA was to an Amish farm. We were very privileged to visit here as these farmers normally keep to themselves. Sam was obviously a very good farmer and was a more liberal Amish. The Amish migrated from Germany in the 1700s following religious persecution. They have decided not to use technology to ensure there family values are retained.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Oct 26th The Next Age in Precision Ag

After an overnight stay in Philadelphia we battled though the early morning traffic to a place called Batrams Garden. Here we met with a number of members of the Eisenhower fellowship, which is a not for profit organization similar to Nuffield, but originating from the USA and offering Scholarships in many different facets of business and industry. The Batram Gardens, where we met, are run by an Eisenhower Scholar. They are a great example of reaching out to the lower class people living in urban shoeboxes  by providing them with an opportunity to access good healthy food, tools to teach them self reliance and a point of contact between people and the land. In these cities there are now whole generations of people who have never had the opportunity to grow a vege garden.

 Batrams garden is only a few blocks from the centre of Philadelphia. On the top right picture in the foreground you can see the vegetable plots that form part of the community garden.

Chillis growing in the area of the garden where vegetables are grown for the needy

Another two hour drive and we arrived in the Lancaster County office, following a short briefing on Lancaster County we had a webinar with Joe Russo from ZedX.  This is a company that is developing cutting edge systems and models for managing many different types of data including soil data, weather, crop image data, and soils sensor data. All these data streams are combined together to provide forecasts for crop, and crop disease development. They can be then used to develop application maps for fertilizer and fungicides throughout the season. Joe believes that as these models continue to develop it will become much easier to manage and write prescriptions for crop health and production, to the point of being robotic.

Oct 25th Magic Mushrooms

We met with the Chester County Economic Development board. This is a great example of a community taking control to drive development themselves. They have specifically worked to set themselves up so they do not have to depend on Government, and so are not dictated to by the government. They appeared to be doing a great job of building capacity within their community and attracting business investment. One point of interest was their trade board, which recruited local foreign Expatriates and used their networks to forge links with foreign companies to drive investment. 

Pietro Industries is a family owned mushroom growing business in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania state produces 60% of USA’s mushrooms. This was a really well run business, and also includes great aspects of collaborative farming. The composting business which provides the growing medium for the mushrooms is owned by a group of mushroom growing families in the area. Of particular interest in this business was the QA programme which they had developed with the PA university, which was then rolled out to the rest of the industry. This gave them the opportunity to in effect write the quality rules for the industry, in a way that suited them best .

Paradox Vineyards was the final stop for the day. Dave Hoffman, joint owner of Paradox showed fantastic innovation in the way he marketed his wines. He has developed a line of bulk wines which he sells in paint tins and a T infused wine which is very popular with the novice wine pallet, which makes up most of his market. 

Oct 24th ......And Some Fishy Business

After a couple of hours driving through the picturesque Pennsylvanian country side we arrived at our first stop of the day Denis & Monica Kline  “Suri Farm” Alpaca farm in Myerstown. The Alpaca industry is still developing in the US, It has not yet reached a critical production mass, and so is really based around the overpriced stud type industry. Though prices have come back a lot due to the GFC, they still have a long way to fall yet at some time in the future. Alpacas have a gestation period of 335 to 355 days, which means they only have one Cria (Infant Alpaca) per year, (twins are genetically undesirable). The fleece on a Suri Alpaca has no crimp, it is a long straight fibre, without a prickle factor like wool. A 21 micron Suri fleece will feel like a 14 to 15 micron Merino fleece. This currently sells for $13 to $20/kg raw depending on the quality. Monica and Denis have adopted skin measurement technology to help them in there stud selection.   Monica is very passionate about the industry and her zeal is quite infectious.

I didnt see any frogs legs in France but we found some in a shop in the USA

Following the visit to Suri Farm, a short drive took us to Limestone Springs Trout farm. Owners Brent & Mark had brought the farm following experience in other areas of fish farming. They soon discovered that trout were an entirely different kettle of fish compared to the other species of fish they had been farming. They have been through some very difficult times due to weather and from learning lessons the hard way. This has taught them to look at new opportunities and reduce business risks. They have discovered the importance of good skilled staff, and critical control points. Good systems area really needed in a business like this where a very small mistake can prove very costly.

Brent & Mark have changed focus in their business, after discovering by accident that recreational in this picturesque creek flowing from their farm was a lucrative business  

The Final stop for the day was Way-Har farms. This is a family operated, vertically integrated dairy, milking 111 cows. The cows are shedded for 10 to 11 months of the year with 600ac of the farm supporting them. The business puts 90% of its milk through its small milk processing factory, where it is bottled and made into icecream. This is sold through their roadside shop and to other customers around the county. The commitment by the family to running the business was amazing. We witnessed there 16 yo daughter and a friend milking the heard, which she said was a regular occurrence, and that she loved doing it.  The business milks 3 times per day, making for a very hectic schedule. My overall impression was that the family was too busy working in the business and really needed to take a step back, and do some work on the business.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Penn State University

An early start again saw us leave the hotel at 6.30am for Millheim, a small town 300km west of New York. We met with Bryan Snyder Executive Director for Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. A very interesting briefing that challenged most of us. Bryan shared with us a concept that they are growing called “Community Supported Agriculture”. It provides a way for farmers, especially smaller farmers to pre-sell some of their seasons produce to people in their local community.   The community members then weekly collect baskets of produce from the farmer. The farmer wins because his crop is effectively financed and he gets a better price than selling wholesale. The consumer wins because they get cheaper food than they can get at the supermarket and they know the farmer who is producing their food. Although I see this as really only niche marketing, Bryan believes that it is a concept that could be expanded. He said that it is already growing rapidly throughout Pennsylvania at the rate of 15% per year.

 I see it as potentially a low risk way for new small farmers to enter agriculture

Our next stop was Penn State University (PSU) where we met with the PA Rural Urban Leadership (RULE) team.   PSU is one of the top universities in the USA, It started as a rural university but has grown way beyond that. It has 80,000 students, 40,000 at the main campus and 40,000 in its 22,000 branch campuses. The town surrounding the university is 80,000 people, half of which are the students. Executives from the Uni shared with us how students needs are changing, as is the way of educating them. We also learnt of the amazing support that the Alumni from the university give and the huge fundraising effort to raise $2 billion to go toward scholarships. We finished with a student guided tour of the Uni and a visit to the renowned Ice creamery.

Monday, 22 October 2012

22nd Oct 2012 Harrisburg Capitol

A busy day of briefings today on Pennsylvanian agriculture was broken up by a visit to the Harrisburg Capitol building over lunch. This is the parliament house for Pennsylvania. Having visited a lot of awesome buildings over the last few weeks, nothing could have prepared us for this. The amazing architecture and art of this place was simply stunning. If you are ever within 300km of Harrisburg it is well worth the detour to go and see. It is said that the value of the building is price less, and when you are looking through it you can see why. In our usual Nuffield style we had a guided tour at a hectic pace. I could easily have spent the whole afternoon soaking in the beauty of this place. Simply, awe-inspiring. I have included a few photos, but no picture can ever really do it justice.

Oct 21st The Gettysburg Address

 An early start took us back out to the Gettysburg visitors centre and a guided tour of  the Gettysburg battlefield. Colonel Tom Vossler, a retired military officer was our guide. The Colonel provided us with a fantastic tour, looking at the battlefield especially from a farmers perspective. This gave us an interesting insight as to the difficulties faced by  ordinary people caught up in something that wasn’t planned, and was way beyond their control. During the battle 7000 Soldiers died and casualties numbered 51,000, amazingly only one civilian died.  Gettysburg was the turning point of the American Civil war and led to the eventual victory of the Northern “Union” soldiers.

Following the tour of the battlefield we had lunch at the Colonel’s house and he showed us through his Simmintal cattle stud.

In the afternoon we visited Hollabaugh Brothers farm market. This was a fantastic example of a collaborative family business that was using the diverse talents in their business to grow and expand the in new and unique ways. These included adding a berry and asparagus enterprise to there fruit orchards, expanding their farmers market to include dining facilities and a bakery. Also running farm tours and school education classes.

Lastly we met with Russell Redding and his family for a fantastic afternoon lunch. Russell was a former Secretary of Agriculture and is currently Dean of Ag & Environment at the Delaware Valley college. It was great to chat with the Redding family, and to gain Russells perspective on Agriculture and Politics in Pennsylvania.

Oct 20 On the Road Again

Today we traveled to Gettysburg, a 1¾ hr drive from Washington DC. Driving through the US country side on a fantastic fall (autumn) day was superb. The colours in the trees as we were driving along, contrasting with the bright green fields was simply stunning.

 After arriving and checking in we traveled through the insanely busy streets of the town to visit the Gettysburg visitors centre. Over one million people visit Gettysburg every year to see and learn about this important part of American history. After a briefing from our host we viewed a short film about the history of Gettysburg, then visited an amazing 360 degree canvas painting of the battle. Painted not long after the civil war had ended it provides a pretty accurate depiction of the battle. The painting itself weighs some nine tonnes, and after nearly being destroyed, has been recently painstakingly restored to it’s former glory.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

19th October. Smithsonian Museum

We had a free day today, of which I spent half catching up on my blog, trip surveys and domestic jobs. In the afternoon I went sightseeing to the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. It was pretty awesome and I probably could have spent more than a day there and still not seen everything. Some highlights were the wright brothers actual Plane. The WWII plane display and the full sized rockets.

Friday, 19 October 2012

18th Oct DC Lights - very powerfull

Today's briefings were in the American Farm Bureau Federation offices.  We were briefed by Farm Bureau associates, trade officials, and a representative from Wal-Mart, all in all a very interesting day.   

The Farm Bureau is the the American equivalent of our Australian Farmers Federation.  It is a very successful farm advocacy and lobby group, and is always ranked among the top ten in America. It seems like they have very strong grass roots support will all policies originating from the grass roots membership.  Its 6.5 million strong membership also consists of many associate members, which in fact make up the majority. Between 80 to 90% of American farmers are members.

The highlight of the day was meeting with James (Tres) Bailey, from Wal-Mart. Starting as a small supermarket in rural America, Wal-Mart has grown to become a huge multinational company, with stores now also in th UK, China, Japan, India, Central America, & Sub Saharan Africa.  Tres spoke of the companies commitment to Sustainability, by using 100% renewable energy, Zero Waste, and selling products that sustain the people and environment.  All of this is not just feel good stuff that costs the company, it is being done because it can actually improve the companies bottom line.

The problems that Australian farmers have with supplying to supermarkets are well known in the agricultural community. It would be interesting to speak to Wal-marts farmer suppliers, to see if their policies to support farmers and their communities and improve farmer incomes are just hollow words.

We finished the day with a night tour of Washington DC sights and monuments.

The Capital Building (Parliament House)

Dropped in to see President Obama

The Abraham Lincoln Memorial

The world War two memorial, a beautiful, peaceful tribute to the fallen

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Oct 17th DC Brief

A 6.30am breakfast, and another early start to the day, which was good as we were nearly all still on Paris time and awoke at 5am anyway.

Hope Pjesky, an Eisenhower fellowship holder, was our guide for Washington DC. Through her contacts on Capital Hill she organised four excellent briefings for us today.

The first, over breakfast Hope gave us some good background information to Agriculture and politics in the USA, bringing everyone up to speed and increasing the opportunity to gain more from our other briefings.

Next we went to the Australian embassy and were briefed by Australian and Newzealand officials on the current state of Agriculture and trade between the USA & Australia. We learnt about the opportunities that exist with the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), a trade deal between many countries in the Pacific region.

We visited the senate office building, where we were briefed on the new US farm bill and the multi peril crop insurance programme that forms a strategic part of this.

After walking past the Capital Building which is the United States parliament house we headed to the last meeting for the day in the House of Reps committee room. We heard another perspective on the Farm Bill and why it has not yet been adopted, also on Ag Research in the US, foreign ownership and  biotechnology safeguards in the US.

Oct 16th Bon Voyage France

Ready for a big day, we were up at 5.30 am French time to catch the high speed train to Paris. We new our time line was reasonably tight to get from the train station to the airport. Everything went pretty well till we went to check in and we realised we had forgotten to sort out our entry passes to the US. Fortunately the staff at United took pity on us and helped us to get them done on line (Something they don't usually do) so we could still board our flight. By the time we got through security we only had minutes to spare till they closed the gates.

After arriving in Washington DC, were travelling to our hotel and could see the capital building and monument, it was one of those surreal moments when you realise you have been from to Paris to Washington in the same day. After tea we all headed to bed pretty early, about 9,00pm DC time as our bodies were still in Paris time which was 2.30am, all in all a pretty big day.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Oct 15th Turkey in France???

Christine Drouilhet hosted us today on her pig farm. Christine (French Nuffield Scholar) together with her husband Beneou have a 450 sow piggery and farm 280ha consisting of 200ha of Maze, 60ha of Wheat and 20ha set aside. They use all the grain they produce in the piggery and also buy in extra. Each year they produce 10,000 pigs for domestic markets. Most of their pork meat is used to produce a local sausage that is protected by appellation, providing them with a bonus to the base priced Brittany pork in France. Christine believes that the future of the pork industry in France is bleak, with increasing legislation, declining terms of trade and a declining market. However she believes that if there business maintains good infrastructure, continues to introduce new technology, maintains volume and works hard at there marketing, they will continue to be profitable.

Christine uses a contract feed mixing business to mix the feed ration using most of her own grain for her farm. 

We also visited a free range poultry farm. Antony the owner was a switched on operator, who had taken a run down business he had purchased five years earlier and turned it into a pretty smart operation. Although there is plenty of opportunity for him to introduce labour saving technology Anthony has done a remarkable job in this short time. Situated in the appellation district of Bresse they are able to market their free range chickens, Turkey and Guinnie fowl for a significant premium.

In between visits we enjoyed some Bresse chicken for lunch (Which the district is famous for) The drum sticks were pretty big, but after eating one I wasn't expecting to see a chicken this size! 

Oct 14th Robots, Rubbish, & Rugby

Michel Pivard our Nuffield guide and host while in this part of France opened up his farm enterprises to us. Michel and his brother manage a diversified dairy business. As well as 60 dairy cows they have also developed a composting business to manage the surrounding towns green waste. The composting business is also complimented with a energy business, to provide a guaranteed income from the composting sheds even if they happen to lose the compost contracts at some time in the future. The energy business consists of a huge array of solar panels on the southern facing slope of the compost shed roves. Installed at a time when there were large subsidies for green energy, the system will pay for itself in 10 years, with well priced, 20 year contracts ensuring excellent profitability well into the future.

A machine recently bought by the business, & used to turn the compost piles. We all thought it looked like it would be great fun to drive

The 60 dairy cows are milked by a robotic milking machine. The cows can make their own way into the machine to be milked 24hrs of the day. It was pretty amazing to see it in operation, and takes the problems and costs associated with the labour required to normally milk cows.

After a wonderfull lunch organised by Michel & Domonique we had some free time in the afternoon, and took up Michels offer to join him at a local Division 2 Rugby game. It was a lot of fun, despite not really knowing much about rugby. The background view of the French Alps as we sat in the stands was fantastic.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Oct 13th A-maize-ing

Joined by the French Alumni of Nuffield Scholars we began our day with a visit to Daniel & Jerome Martins Farm. Daniel is also Chairman of the French Irrigated Maize growers association. The Martins businesses consist of Maize growing, grain strorage and handling and Infrastructure investment. The farm in the shadow of one of 19 french Nuclear power plants, producing some amazing yields of irrigated maize on some pretty ordinary soils. Maize yields can be up to14t/ha and is by far their most proffitable crop. To some it may be disconcerting farming so close to a nuclear power plant, but the farmers here seem to be comfortable that the appropriate safety measures are all in place. Power prices of just 7c/kwh off peak & 12c/kwh peak, speak volumes for the efficiency of nuclear power when you compare Australian prices of 25 to 35c/kwh Check out this crop of maize, you could easily get lost in that. 

They irrigate out of the river Rhone 80% & from bores 20%. Though this river does not look that big it packs a punch. By the bank it is about 3m deep, it drops away to 18m deep in the channel, it is flowing here at 2meg/sec and further downstream at 3meg/sec.

We had lunch at a Medieval village and enjoyed a stroll around the cobblestone streets afterward

We finished the days farm visits off with a visit to a "beer farm", Patrice Pobel owner of  "De Brasseur" brewery provided us with some of his exceptional beers as he guided us around his boutique brewery. Patrice is very passionate about his business, he has developed his own styles of beer from scratch and in the last few years has experienced exceptional growth as he aims to produce a very high quality product. He amused us with his explanation of beer production, that like a dairy farmers farms cows to produce milk, he farms yeast to produce beer.