When R.M. Williams first opened his first store in Adelaide, Sir Sidney Kidman celebrated his birthday in the heart of the city with a rodeo and Pharlap won the Melbourne Cup, 14 percent of the Australian population was employed in Australian agricultural sector. Both rural and urban communities celebrated the industry and a career in agriculture was highly valued.
Today less than three percent of the Australian population is employed in agriculture. Our farmers’ commitment to producing high quality produce has never been stronger but a majority of urban consumers have little concept of what we do and appear relatively indifferent to the origin and quality of the food they select from supermarket shelves.
The bright light in what otherwise could be a depressing picture is the small but growing group of people in society who are interested in how their food and fibre is produced and who are willing to pay for quality.
It is these people who give us the best opportunity to create partnerships with our consumers and help ensure that the wonderful story of Australia’s agriculture gets spread further and wider into the future.
However, in order to have successful and lasting partnerships with consumers who really care about food quality and sustainable farm practice, we, as the Australian agricultural sector, need to come together as a connected, cohesive and collaborative industry. We need to start behind the farmgate, forming partnerships between farmers and the diverse subcategories we personally represent. Without well-founded industry collaboration, agriculture in Australia will not be able to provide a unified, coherent and respected voice that resonates with the community and government.
To emphasise the challenge we face in achieving unity, I want you to think of the first thing that comes to mind when I mention the words ‘agriculture’ or ''farming?
Are you thinking of a subsector such as beef, grain or dairy?
Or perhaps even a commodity like goat meat, cheese, seafood or apples?
Or what about something more specific like Braford Cattle or super fine Merino wool?
Or a farming region such Darling Downs or the Mallee?
Or state farming organisations like NSW Farmers and the Victorian Farmers Federation.
Perhaps you are thinking of one of the plethora of commercial and government bodies in the agricultural sector providing advice, policy and services.
Currently, there are thousands of voices speaking for agriculture with different opinions and agendas and this is limiting our ability to form better relationships with each other, let alone our consumers. Is it any wonder that urban Australia and our politicians are confused about what agriculture stands for and what agriculture wants?
Of course every subsector of agriculture has different specific production methods and policy issues. But we have far more in common than we have differences. In order for Australian agriculture to prosper we must agree on the main narrative - which in my view is about sustaining the quality and integrity of our farming operations and products - and deliver this narrative effectively with a unified voice. As part of this, we need to create better relationships within the industry, support our colleagues in their pursuits and actively show respect and encouragement for our fellow farmers.
One opportunity I am involved with that is achieving success is the Art4Agriculture program. The platform encourages Young Farming Champions from a variety of sectors to collaborate and discuss their ideas about the industry and how we can best move forward together. My involvement in this program has helped me to see other perspectives and has convinced me of the importance of achieving unity on the really important issues.
In order for our industry to receive the respect and admiration that we previously enjoyed, we must work together. We must formulate, collaborate and be innovative with our ideas as an entire industry rather than continuing to focus on what is happening within our respective boundary fences.