AS THE agriculture industry enters discussion about restructuring its national representation, a couple of key points immediately come to the fore.
Any changes will need to include plans to grow its membership and income streams. If we are to return agriculture to a position where it has serious political clout and regains the respect it deserves in policy making, we need serious numbers.
With membership numbers will come the funds and with funds the ability to compete in the job market for the best staff, plus greater potential for marketing ag’s cause.
The catch is that farmers won’t reach for their hip pocket until they can see how any new model is going to seriously capture the ear of Canberra and be taken seriously – and farmers alone won’t generate the numbers a new ag model needs.
This is why aspects of the US model, which reaches beyond the farmgate for backing, need serious consideration.
The present model (State and federal) is at a deadlock financially and farmers are not in a position to break that deadlock alone. If members of the broader community who also have some level of interest in the agriculture and the food sector can see value in being involved, it could provide the impetus to break that deadlock.
However, non-farmer members will only sign up if they feel their involvement is being taken seriously, hence commercial partnerships that are formed (ie, to set up membership discounts on products and services) need to include attractive brands with good deals for all members on useful products.
If such partnerships can be demonstrated, then we will have a platform around which we can grow a new structure.
It will of course need safeguards in place to make sure the focus remains on driving policy change in farmers’ interest, but spreading the base across the broader community will also provide in-roads into helping bridge the disconnect with suburbia.
The strategy will also only be successful if it has plain-English goals with clear steps for their execution.
If this can be established, farmers might well reach for their wallet, plus we could see the return to the fray of some of our more entrepreneurial-type farmers who would bring valuable skill-sets and innovation to a singular, clear voice for agriculture.