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 9:27:01 AM

Aus beef prices, 278 1/11/2000 277.5 23/09/2002 278.25 28/11/2006 278.5 14/12/2009 278.75 14/5/2013 How about we have city folks start paying for their food. Inflation alone says prices can't stay the same for 13 years.
19/11/2013 10:41:18 AM

While I agree with the notion that farmers shouldn't feel like they should be "owed" anything by the public, I don't agree with much else in your column this week, Sam. I have to disagree with your points about educating consumers. There is so much disconnect between consumers and how their food is produced, we need to do something so that people understand why milk at $1 a litre is a bad thing for farmers. We don't want to go out here telling city folk they need to be "educated" on food production, but we need programs in schools to show the next generation just how food gets to their table.
19/11/2013 10:44:35 AM

And in case you haven't noticed, people are constantly telling farmers they need to be educated - live exports and environmental management, for two examples. And when I'm on the farm, I'm always thinking about producing food for people and doing that in the best possible way. It's more than just a business - if you thought about farming purely in business terms, you wouldn't stay there long. I know amoungst my farming friends, most of us take a lot of pride in what we produce and the fact that our products help to sustain people.
Ivan Ivanoff
19/11/2013 11:11:05 AM

While what Sam says is true the majority of successful farmers who have diversified into other industries and done well while keeping the farm don't really care about what the masses think. They are too busy being prosperous and having a great lifestyle.
19/11/2013 11:23:53 AM

I do agree with what Sam is saying here however I also think that some 'thanks' is due. Majority of farmers aren't in it for the satisfaction of feeding the world however there are those who have struggled quite a lot in the past and now that times have gotten better they are remaining in agriculture because they believe that creating quality produce is important for our country. There is no need to worship farmers simply because they are making a living however I don't think it should be overlooked that what they are doing is in fact extremely important to humanity.
19/11/2013 11:28:10 AM

1.3m people in Australia, maybe more, are involved in agribusinesses that create massive wealth for Australia (which includes 157,000 farmers). Agribusiness has a +ve story to tell. "Agrarianism" may cause cringe with "No Farmers, No Food"-types of arguments, but the reality is actually "no profit no food". Only business can feed the world (Govts never can & never will). Agribusiness delivers to a global market "for profit" in response to what consumers want.Through the 'price signal', consumers say we want this...and that means they want farmers and every agribusiness involved along the way.
19/11/2013 1:40:43 PM

But Kate,so are the efforts of nurses, firemen, home builders, defence forces, university researchers, teachers etc without a doubt!. Then we start to get judgemental. Are the jobs of tour guides, pilots, shop assistants, truckies - or for that matter wool producers, sandelwood growers, tee tree oil producers, pheasant farmers and taxi drivers worthy of the title important to humanity?. Of course bankers, property developers, club owners, hobby farmers, computer gamers, and those little people who sell useless souvenirs at circular quay are not worthy by any stretch of the imagination! get it!
19/11/2013 2:18:26 PM

You get the laughable award for this month Sam. It is a total myth you are pedaling. Most farmers ask for nothing from the public. They seek no more and no less than other business's. What does pee them off though is being accused of seeking special treatment when all they seek is fair treatment in keeping with city communities. Urban folk do not like a raw deal and rural folk are the same. So stick with facts Sam and your cheer squad, and cut the crap stories and myths.
19/11/2013 3:03:18 PM

Farmers are always shooting themselves in the feet by asking politicians to interfere in the market usually by restricting farmers choices to the politically approved ones.In the end it fails 100% of the time.Its not the consumers who need educating,after all consumers who prefer milk at $1 a litter to milk at $2 a litre are displaying excellent judgement.It's the farmer who thinks that he should still control the fate of a product long after he has relinquished ownership who needs the eduction.The sole purpose of production is consumption.Farmers have no difficulty with this when they buy.
Brad Bellinger
19/11/2013 3:57:24 PM

What rubbish most of the farmers I speak to want the Governments to stay off our farms and out of our markets.
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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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