WHAT progress or advances in human history have been achieved by everyone doing their own thing? None to my knowledge.
The Australian agricultural industry is as individualistic as many of its farmers are, scattered out on their “islands” across the country. And it needs to change.
The upcoming generation of young farmers and agribusiness professionals will have to stand up and be "joiners" if they care about participating in a strong and progressive industry.
There's been a consistent dribble of recent reports regarding the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) model being "broken" and the deterioration of our State Farming Organisations (SFOs). We get it: the system isn’t working. But how can we do away with all the sitting around and finger-pointing to actually fix the situation? Simple: join.
I’m yet to hear a convincing reason not to join - at least not from someone interested in the progression of our industry.
At the end of the day, the effectiveness and influence of these groups depends on numbers and money. If you’re not joining - and not paying your membership - their voice is weak. And at a ratio of 73 Australians for each Australian farmer, your voice isn’t just lost, it will never be heard.
I often hear people say some SFOs are ineffective, with poor lobbying power and average policies, or even unpopular leaders. Well: put up, or shut up, I say. Join to make change, muster fellow farmers and family to also join and start pushing for an effective system led by the right leaders with the right policy and value adding.
State and national farmer representational bodies have been eroded by the toxicity of Australian ag's "not my problem" culture for years. And as long as the NFF only represent 40 per cent of Australian farmers, we’ll never know what opportunities we’ll have missed.
Imagine if back in 2005, Peter Corish (then president of the NFF) had represented 95 per cent of farmers and had hassled the Treasurer, Peter Costello, day in, day out, for transport infrastructure. What if Jock Laurie in 2011 represented 100pc of Australian farmers when Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig called him about the live export debacle before a decision was made? We’ll never know what different outcomes we could have achieved - or can achieve - if we don't provide our representative bodies the strength to achieve it.
I’ve written before about the insecurity and waning culture in the farming industry - again I say we need to work on this and get it right, because it will open and close doors that cannot be moved by the traditional tools of the advocacy groups. You might think this is the fluffy part, the 'culture thing', but you don’t have to look far to see the power and effectiveness of a strong culture.
You can’t build consumer trust in food through policy - you can through culture. You can’t manage perceptions of agriculture through advertisements - but you can through culture. You can’t limit vulnerability to extremist groups through laws- yet you can through culture. And the more producers who join advocacy groups, the stronger our culture and our voice will be in society.
With concerns about genetically modified (GM) food increasing, along with issues surrounding climate change and animal welfare, consumers will start steering the boat to more “socially responsible” waters via a route that best suits them.
Wouldn’t it be a good if we beat them to the helm, steer that policy boat on a route that suits the industry and arrive when they wanted us to? After all, they buy what we grow - we need each other.
There also needs to be some serious State-based amalgamation, and a focus on joining together the groups that already exist that feed into the NFF. There is power in numbers, and splinter groups are muddying the waters when it comes to a united voice. The 50-plus advocacy groups representing our producers that are the "too many cooks" spoiling the broth.
We need to join, get in and have a go, be proactive, positive but realistic and not give up. Sounds a lot like farming to me.