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Is farming ready to be put to the test?

By October 10, 2012 Issues/Crisis 2 Comments

During the past couple of months. I’ve spent my life engrossed in agriculture. As a former editor of a farmers’ newspaper this period has brought with it a feeling of ‘back to the future’.

What has interested me is this constant call from all corners of agricultural industry for agriculture to have a “sexier” image, for rural Australia to connect with urban Australia.

It got me to thinking…
1. Why don’t the cities connect more with the country?
2. Why does this request come so often from farmers?

As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true.”

In re-awakening an interest about how food is produced, Australian agriculture invites more scrutiny from consumers. So, we need to ask ourselves. ‘Are we ready for a closer level of examination?”

Often, I join #agchatoz on a Tuesday night, and I know the reaction I’d get to this question if I posted it. There would be the handful of usual suspects who would argue ‘yes’. But I’d argue ‘no’!

Most farmers are not ready for this level of scrutiny. There are practices which occur daily on almost every farm across the country that we do not want examined closely by people in cities. Yes, many of these are a tried and true ways of doing things and often there are few alternatives.

Yet, if we are going to invite scrutiny, then we need to recognise the days of such practices are numbered, that industry needs to step-up and execute a plan for a future without them.

That’s not to say we can’t or shouldn’t invite scrutiny. Maybe that closer examination will force stragglers to move more quickly to adopt what are considered ethical and sustainable practices.

Once started, there will be no stopping consumers’ desire to know more about what they are eating, and in a community where food is plentiful, many will be quick to take the moral high- ground.

Many consumers will not hesitate to question how well we treat our animals and the planet (although you’d have to question the double-standards employed by those in cities who drive 4wds to work).

In protecting a reputation, in promoting a reputation, you need to be prepared to stand by what you do, you need to have a plan to improve what you do and you need to know your story stacks up.

Unless agriculture can tick each of these three boxes, it’s not ready for the scrutiny.

About Susan McNair

A former managing editor, Susan knows how to organise. No matter how tight the deadline or challenging the brief, she draws on her significant experience and problem solving ability to get the best result. A popular public speaker, particularly on rural issues, Susan has strong opinions on where punctuation marks belong. Read more posts by Susan.


  • Danica Leys says:

    Hi Susan,

    Thanks for taking the time to get your thoughts down…it was good to read. Really, I come from a different place to you on this question, perhaps one of thiose “usual suspects” from #agchatoz that you are referring to (and one who also drives a 4WD in the city)…

    I think I need a bit more time to consider my comment here because you do raise some valid points, but there is something about what you are saying that doesn’t sit quite right with me. It almost comes across as you think farmers are not able to articulate what they do and why they do it in a way that suits city consumers, so they should hide what they do in the meantime…Im sure I am probably wrong on this interpretation, but please, set me straight.

    In my opinion the time is now to be communicating at this level, it’s no good saying “wait”.

    Anyway…more to come on this I think, looking forward to others comments 🙂

  • Having spent over 45 years working with producers, I find it hard to figure out why they are so slow to change their systems and technologies to ones that would make their enterprises far more sustainable, profitable and satisfying. I like farmers. I dislike the way they make self inflicted suffering for themselves and their families a virtue.
    I sometimes think that it is this characteristic that leads to the lack of understanding between them and others.
    It is very unfortunate for everyone that many well meaning welfare groups and government encourage this suffering by the use of phrases such as “admire your tenacity etc”
    Lets face it, a farm is a production enterprise. Consider it a factory where it has key inputs like water, nutrition for plants/animals, production units of animals/plants, products of meat and grain, and a market. No different than a baked bean factory really.
    Profitable, sustainable existence for the enterprise (the farm and the bean factory) depends on the ability of management to utilize the inputs to achieve maximum output of marketable product. If water, or any other key input is short, then it is a nonsense to try to keep all the production units running – it would be like half filling each can of beans. Yet, in order to keep all the production units on the farm (even the ones that will produce nothing at all!!), many farm managers will encumber the enterprise with a debt that will ensure the farmer and his family live in penury for the next several (if they do not grow broke). And they are encouraged to do so by others!!
    I am afraid I just do not understand this mindset!!

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