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

Fair Go
21/11/2013 6:46:18 AM

Hey Brad, Sam didn't mention Governments but now you mention it, they give us diesel rebates, loans & drought assistance, education assistance, (family) vehicle tax breaks, .... How much do you want them to stay off the land you have on lease from the Australian people? The producers' beef should be focussed on disorganised the disorganised market!
David Fleming
21/11/2013 11:22:08 AM

I think the chip is on your shoulders Sam!
Love the country
22/11/2013 6:29:28 AM

The main thing is Sam, don't talk with your mouthful .
Voiceofreason
22/11/2013 8:59:39 AM

Thank you Sam- finally a voice of reason. Farming is a commercial business (or should be) in which operators are out to make profits- end of story. Any environmental circumstnaces they face are a management issue as are interest rates and debt levels.
Brad Bellinger
22/11/2013 10:18:48 AM

Fair Go. Just two pieces of government legislation NLIS and the MLA levy will take $2b from farmers pockets over the next 10 years. Governments have stolen native vegetation and in the past they have sold up farmers property at below market value for solder settlement. Governments have taken far more from us than they have given. I do not lease my farm from the Australian people, I own it. The diesel tax is meant to be used to build and maintain public roads if I don't use the roads why should I pay the tax.
Rob Moore
22/11/2013 12:20:00 PM

Hey "Rusty"- you must have got that balanced view( chip on both shoulders) from brief periods in the late 1980's. The cruiser was the staple and the- would be if we could be (me) had to settle on a hilux. I have not seen a new one on a property for years and holidays - perhaps you can tell us what they are?? You are "rusty " go for a drive! Gotta million $ business and can't even make the taxpaying threshold- that should tell us all that the processors are robbing us blind. JBS- Brazil, Cubbie- China, ADM-Americans.....we will have a horse and buggy again soon if no changes.
Alice
22/11/2013 5:12:37 PM

Sam, your train's on the wrong track. Health, environment & climate change are big issues facing all of us. Education is key but no one has all the answers. First hand experience and sharing of ideas around food production & preparation is a good thing for awareness and choice. To ridicule people's efforts as chips on shoulders is nonsense.
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.
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?
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!
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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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