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
Date: Newest first | Oldest first

READER COMMENTS

robinj
19/11/2013 5:19:08 PM

i agree most cockys are whiners, they wing about the rain, they whinge about the heat, and almost anything that there is to whinge about... very few studies have been done about the employment it creates, the opportunities it creates, the stress and health problems it creates.. most farmers just do their job and produce a product that without we would find life difficult.. if people who are not in agriculture stopped whinging about farmers and other related industries , what would the writer have to make comment about, leave the cocky alone to do his job, stop the sale of producing entit
Rob Moore
19/11/2013 5:41:36 PM

Sound article Sam. Stuff feeding the world- unless I can get a fair price above the cost of production - I will barely be able to feed myself till this drought breaks.(After that I'll be fine though). All that drizzabone crap is just a romantic notion from suburban dreamers. It is more like a third world war zone around here at the moment and I WAS one of the stronger businesses around the area. Honesty and a reality check is urgent and big company "spin merchants" need to bugger off and stop patronising us all!Pay us a fair price for our primary produce would be a start.
dicta
20/11/2013 6:15:25 AM

When you have come across children who believe spaghetti grows in fields, it is clear that we need more articles like yours, Sam.
Hilda Hereford
20/11/2013 6:52:00 AM

The Government has regulated the top end of the meat industry, and farmers operate in a regulated "free trade zone" at the bottom, getting paid the same real terms prices as the $50's. I just wish the government would mind their own business, its either full regulation with fixed livestock prices or complete deregulation , not the halfway house destroying farms and farmers.
Bosco
20/11/2013 6:56:37 AM

The plight of the Australian farmer - one of Australia's oldest fables.
Jacky
20/11/2013 9:37:58 AM

My dad said "No one is forced to be a farmer."
Rahh
20/11/2013 10:01:55 AM

I don't know any farmers who farm with the notion of feeding the world. Australian consumers can purchase food produced in other countries and governments can choose not to support our farmers . The result will be in time Australia will be importing most of it's food, choose wisely.
Bushie Bill
20/11/2013 8:07:54 PM

robinj, and your point is...???
Rusty
21/11/2013 1:06:50 AM

Right on Sam - I don't give a stuff about the consumers of the beef I produce - just so long as they pay me enough so I can afford 4WD Landcruisers and my annual holiday to Europe and the US.
John Niven
21/11/2013 5:50:17 AM

Spot on Brad. The miserable percentage represented by peak bodies and Authorities such as MLA are responsible for the misconceptions the majority of farmers detest. We simply want a level playing field and let get on with it.
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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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