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.

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FarmOnline
Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
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READER COMMENTS

Lisa
2/12/2013 3:21:15 PM

In summing up. No one twisted my arm to farm we do it because we love the job, however we deserve a wage at the end of a long days work just like anyone else, and in order to do that we need a fair return. Cost of production + weekly wage, clean green and technology don't come free. No one in the city would do a job and then not expect to be paid for there work, they would have the unions on to them !
@realag_debra
26/11/2013 1:37:57 AM

Love this article! I wrote a few very similar pieces recently. Thank you for sharing your perspective.
qlander
25/11/2013 6:32:36 AM

The main issues facing rural Australia is community services. To get them you must keep up the political noise. Business - farming or otherwise, is a separate issue.
Chrissie
24/11/2013 11:45:56 PM

I find you a great disappointment as an agvocate Sam. You sound like you need to think clearly and get muddy for real yourself. I see an occasional post with the "thank a farmer theme" on Australian sites, but many many more Aussie sites reaching out to tell their farming story. Farmers are not perfect people but getting real tired of constantly being told we are rich, greedy, whinging and now according to you have a chip on our shoulders. I used to be proud of growing clean, green food but not anymore thanks to knockers like you Sam.
The Bush Gate
24/11/2013 3:54:47 PM

My thoughts. http://thebushgate.wordpress.com/ 2013/11/24/get-your-ag-titude-rig ht/
Peter
24/11/2013 2:37:20 PM

You raise many interesting points Sam. Yes, farming is a business, yes i do aim to make a profit, but i do actually feel a great deal of satisfaction, when i've grown a good crop of wheat or chickpeas, knowing i am feeding the world! You've over simplified it
E J
24/11/2013 2:24:31 PM

Europeans who suffered near starvation during the war have a different attitude to farmers to Australians who have never lacked. It is the the big multinationals who push the deregulation line (provided it is for their benefit). When farmers band together to market their produce they are called socialists, but if a trade unionist acts for a better deal it is good. All we want governments to do is provide the roads, railways and water and we will do the rest.
Foodproducer
24/11/2013 10:30:09 AM

I honestly believe you have missed the point. No farmer expects people to go over the top with expressing their thanks to us for the food we produce. I agree with the comment that most of the "thank a farmer" stuff was done by large corporations. However, what food producers would like to see is some simple respect for the work we do and stop the farmer bashing while munching our top quality, clean and healthy produce. Try living in a country that cannot feed its own people and experience the consequences of dependency on imports. Get real!
stockman
23/11/2013 4:41:34 PM

Farmers have to work to earn a living.Others get paid for writing articles for newspapers.Surely you can't call that work?
Anthony
22/11/2013 6:03:29 PM

Hi Sam, I am concerned with the view you have taken with this article. My personal belief is that farmers just want to be paid fairly for their healthy produce and have some profit so they can live a comfortable life. Currently there is an alarming number of farmers either being forced off the land or choosing to leave as they see no future for them. With low profit margins and high debt along with a high percentage of young farmers choosing to pursue other careers. The notion that farmers think that consumers owe them couldn't be further from the truth. Your article is far from helpful.
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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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