I want to challenge the thoughts on how we communicate as an agricultural industry. It starts with a few facts, and how a shift in these completely changes how we are viewed and operate as an industry to mainstream society.
- In the next 30 years, 50% of the world’s farming land will change hands.
- We are faced with the oldest average age of workers, running in at around 56.
- There are 135,000 farm businesses across Australia which means we have 135,000 farmers who are CEO’s.
- One Australian farmer on average feeds an impressive 600 people on less land, compared to one farmer feeding 20 people 70 years ago.
- The world's population will increase by 2.3 billion people by 2050, meaning we will have to feed an extra 2.3 billion more mouths every meal time.
- Our great nation is said to have been ounded on the sheep’s back.
To me these statistics can only mean one thing- there is and will continue to be opportunity for youth in agriculture. But just like our machinery improvements and technology gains and the different styles of farming we see today, we too need to move with the times and change the way we communicate and market Australian agriculture, both here at home and of course overseas.
As an industry, we must work together and continually discuss these changes. We must meet consumers where they stand and not dictate to them that they must purchase the items we produce. Rather, we must respectfully listen to them and work with them to produce the food that meets their ethical requirements, while being cheap, affordable and nutritious.
I often about our marketing strategy for agriculture and how we bombard ourselves and our consumers with statements such as ‘every day, three times a day, you need a farmer’, "No Farmers. No Food. No Future." or that we should ‘thank our farmers because we ate today’. And while, as an industry, we may understand the rationale behind this, I think we’re sending the wrong message out to people who don’t necessarily share our enthusiasm or the knowledge about our industry.
So this poses the question- why is it that we as an industry continue to use this language?
Is it because we feel we are the forgotten ones?
Is it out of fear of losing something that means a lot?
Is it because we feel undervalued?
Is it out of insecurity that we have our “right to farm” and at times our farming practices being questioned?
Whether we like it or not there will always be consumers who don’t care where their food comes from, as long as its affordable and nutritious. And in reality this is a good thing and our role as farmers is to maintain or enhance the underlying faith those consumers have in the food and fibre we produce.
There is however up to 10% of the population who care very much about how their food and fibre is produced and are questioning modern farming methods. It is imperative we acknowledge that part of our role as a farmers and members of the agriculture sector is to actively engage and build honest and transparent relationships with these consumers. It is imperative that agriculture offers them access to real farmers and the opportunity to ask questions, even the difficult ones. Its is imperative that our farmers not get defensive and have the skills sets and knowledge to engage with non farmers audiences in a language that resonates with them.
It is essential that each of us be prepared to tell our stories, that we put a face to and share our values of why we farm the way we do to help ensure the community has the confidence that our farmers are committed to producing affordable, nutritious, safe food and quality fibre. This is the greatest opportunity and most effective way we have to connect with our consumers.
Trust, respect, pride and faith in farmers and farming practices are developed through positive messages and transparency, through messages that build a connection and pride. Playing the sympathy or the you “need me” card on the other hand only polarises the very people it is so important we build these connections with. The truth is farmers and consumers need each other. We must rise above this ‘them and us’ mindset and focus on sharing with the community that Australian farmers are committed to being leaders on the world’s stage in safe, affordable nutritious food and quality fibre production.
If we are to create this change- we need to start working on it now.
Lastly, we need to keep the conversation going. Think about why you’re involved in agriculture, the impact that you play and what you want the future to look like. Then plan and share- because together we can achieve greatness.
Together, we can show that Australian agriculture has deserves the respect, pride and idolisation that we received decades before and still does.