Ditch the ag-titude

Adopting the view that consumers owe farmers something for their efforts is counterproductive

AGRICULTURE is developing a chip on its shoulder that implies we “owe” farmers for producing our food and fibre.

Indeed it’s one that’s making itself very conspicuous on social media including Facebook and Twitter.

I’m sure we’ve all seen someone post a photo of their food on Facebook or Twitter, with the assumption that they think you or I care. It’s a bold move, and I have to admit I’m guilty of it when I’ve posted photos showcasing local produce.

Thankfully, this heedless display of indulgent divulgence is fading quickly. However, as I delve further into the global agricultural sphere I’m coming across other misguided messages of another sort.

Just last Sunday in my Facebook news feed, a nostalgic image of an Aussie stockman on horseback complete with Akubra and Drizabone leading a large mob of cattle appeared. Imprinted on the photo was this message: “In winters chill or summers heat FARMERS WORK so the world can eat.”

There’s no question that the produce farmers grow helps feed and clothe the human race. But there’s an altruistic overtone that this is why farmers do it, and an undertone that we should then be thankful or we “owe” the farmer. What a bunch of absolute clap-trap.

I can’t think of a farmer or contractor I’ve worked with in the UK or Australia that pulls on their boots in the morning and thinks about “feeding the world” or that the reason they do what they do is because of the benefit to the human race. Some spiritual people would say this is the problem. But like any culture, ours in the west runs very deep, and due to a plethora of reasons, farming is a business. Farmers try to minimise inputs, maximise outputs and manage risk to boost profit. Other reasons farmers are in the business of course include a love of the land and all its ups and downs. The list goes on.

Builders aren’t generally motivated by the idea that their job results in building shelter for humans, thus providing one of our basic necessities for survival. They do it for a whole other list of reasons.

Farming is a business, and like any business it’s operated to bring in an income for the owners or shareholders to add value and options to their life and that of their families. The more profit you make, generally the better for you and your family.

It’s perhaps why agriculture or farmers don’t top the list of results of some surveys that look at how much people trust various professions, such as the latest Roy Morgan “Image of Professions” survey and the Reader’s Digest survey of Australia’s most trusted professions.

Perhaps the community see us as having a vested interest, unlike their view of a celebrity, welfare or nutritional group that is seen to be engaging not because of a financial incentive, but like a charity and from the goodness of their hearts, thus making their message all the more digestible.

Entertaining the idea that consumers are unaware of the fact farmers produce their food is the same part of the brain that justifies the thinking that we need to “educate” consumers or people in the city. Adopting the view that consumers owe farmers something for their efforts is one of the most effective ways to blow up any chance of listening and working with consumers.

Can you imagine someone out in the media or public arena saying that YOU need to be educated? What would you think? Imagine if city people started saying that farmers needed to be “educated” - what an explosion there’d be.

If you care to add value to strengthening ties with consumers, then tell the truth.

Ask yourself, what’s your relationship like with people that tell the truth, as opposed to those that duck, weave, dodge, don’t say anything or even lie? Can you image how frustrating it is to be a consumer, who HAS to eat food produced from people and distributed by companies that they may not trust, for whatever reasons. It’s “rock and a hard place” kind of stuff.

As a result, we’re seeing a growing shift among many consumers towards growing their own food. Rooftop veggie plots in cities are taking off, backyard chickens, farmers’ markets and cooking shows like Gourmet Farmer on SBS or River Cottage Australia on the Lifestyle channel, that see chefs growing their own veggies, plucking hens and penning up their home-grown pigs for slaughter.

Ideally, the agricultural community want consumer trust, and consumers want to give it. It’s a rather primal thing, and it starts with respect, from both sides. Studies have shown consumers like farmers, they’re just not sure they like today’s farming. So let’s be honest and show consumers what it's all about, but without the side-serving of "you owe us" attitude.

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


19/11/2013 5:41:39 AM

Well said.
Milk Maid Marian
19/11/2013 5:59:14 AM

Yes, I agree, Sam. "Thank a farmer" makes me cringe every time I hear it. In my case at least, though, I don't farm purely for profit. There are other more lucrative professions, after all. I chose to be a farmer because I love animals and the land.
19/11/2013 7:04:02 AM

Hi Sam when you started writing these articles , I thought he will do a good job. But know it seems you do more knocking farmers, than anything positive or useful. Most of the "thank a farmer" messages come from bigger companies marketing. Westfarmers were one of the first, with there bumper sticker. There is motorbike company running a add on tv now with the same message. I think most of the feeds you get would come out of the States. With out proof of author, you have a poor argument. I'm sure your edititor would be happy for you to try same articles with purpose.
19/11/2013 7:07:03 AM

100% agree. Nobody owes a farmers anything. We live a pretty good life and are afforded many tax management options not available to other Australians eg FMDs, diesel rebate etc. When the inevitable food price boom arrives (rampant food inflation), urbanites will begin to question why we are afforded these deductions when they are paying through the nose for food. If it is tough, get out. There is life beyond the farm!
19/11/2013 7:10:17 AM

" I can’t think of a farmer or contractor I’ve worked with in the UK or Australia that pulls on their boots in the morning and thinks about “feeding the world” or that the reason they do what they do is because of the benefit to the human race". Could not have said it better myself Sam. Wake up ag industry.....listen to what the consumers want and be honest about your practices. They will make or break your survival.
Iain Nicholson
19/11/2013 7:10:19 AM

Spot on Sam. It's this attitude that leads to people thinking farmers receive special treatment . It's too easily forgotten how hard and tough many of our city friends are doing it too. Personally,I wouldn't live there if someone paid me!
19/11/2013 7:14:43 AM

Thanks Sam another clear eyed take on ag and its rightful place. Marketing 101 listen to your customer ....have never read where an example of lecturing ('educating') worked.
19/11/2013 7:22:31 AM

Excellent article. A shame not enough whinging twits will read it.
Michael B
19/11/2013 7:54:25 AM

Couldn't agree more, Sam. Some of those farmers are putting their animals through live export torture simply to make more money than they would selling to the local producers. That is all about their own pocket, and nothing about feeding the world.
the trade
19/11/2013 9:24:29 AM

Good observations Sam. They are particularly relevant when we consider that the Australian farmer is a Nett exporter of produce.
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Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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