Q&A: Linnegar's focus

We still unashamedly and doggedly pursue the interests of farmers

WELCOME to the second Get Muddy Q&A. This month, I stalked around the sitting of a new parliament in Canberra and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) annual general meeting to pull up a seat with NFF chief executive officer Matt Linnegar.

Matt’s a chromatic character who grew up in the city, studied agriculture, and has worked in the sector ever since. He’s no doubt looking forward to leading the pointy end of our national agricultural body through calmer political waters after a tumultuous period this year that has seen three different federal agriculture ministers.

Matt makes some interesting points that come back to a couple of key messages. That is, agriculture has a bright and exciting future ahead, but as a voice we’re lacking in numbers and often singing a different tune.

Q: Matt, you were born and bred in Sydney but have studied and been working in ag for 20 years. What was it about agriculture that grabbed you?

A: My father, who was from Temora, always said I was a ‘fish out of water’ in Sydney and I would take every opportunity I could to get out and onto a farm. I spent a lot of time on my uncle’s beef property on the upper Macleay River near Kempsey, NSW. I loved getting involved and then developed a real appreciation for the diverse job that is farming.

Q: What has been your biggest personal challenge within the industry?

A: There have been many but helping steer NFF towards its full potential is definitely the biggest challenge to date.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about the role of the NFF?

A: Not too many about the primary role of the NFF, however one of the biggest hurdles is that we represent a number of farm organisations rather than individual farmer members.

Q: NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson recently said on ABC radio that “Whilst we continue to go to government with a fragmented voice, government can do whatever it damn well likes and we’ve only got ourselves to blame.” What are your thoughts on that?

A: Fiona was expressing her frustration that while we have a respected national voice in the form of NFF, others choose to go to government directly. While this is their right and may produce results for individual organisations, if there are multiple messages on a single issue of national significance, it can disempower farmers. There is no more true statement in politics than ‘disunity is death’.

Q: Some farmers I’ve spoken with question the effectiveness of corporate membership of the NFF, how do corporates add value to the NFF’s cause and consequently their fellow members, both large and small?

A: Corporate members add real strength to the NFF voice. They provide value in the development of sound policies and help us to identify issues of common interest through the agriculture supply chain and better inform others in the supply chain of farmers’ views.

Q: Barnaby Joyce said in his first address to the lower house as Minister for Agriculture that in some cases his own portfolio has become a "mere ambassador for agriculture". Talking to my father’s generation of farmers, they also believe the NFF is similar. They say that in comparison to 20 years ago the NFF has also lost aggressiveness and effectiveness. Why do you think that is, and what’s changed?

A: Well firstly many things today are different to what they were 20 years ago. For instance the rallies at parliament house 20 years ago have been replaced by social media campaigns – and just as farmers came to parliament house 20 years ago to protest so too did many farmers support NFF on campaigns such as Animals Australia bags in shopping centres. But some things don’t change. We still unashamedly and doggedly pursue the interests of farmers on everything from live exports to removing the lion’s share of costs associated with the carbon tax. We can be stronger still and will be stronger if our support grows. But we have less farmers each year and membership across some organisations is dropping in line with broader social trends. So the key to becoming stronger is to find new ways to get farmers involved and to do more with other across agriculture to strengthen our voice. We are working on this right now.

Q: Lastly, aside from Barnaby Joyce’s selection of ties, what do you think the most exciting thing is about the new government?

A: It may not sound that exciting but the prospect of putting in place the foundations to improve farmers’ lives over generations to come without major policy shocks!

Follow matt on Twitter: @mattlinnegar

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Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

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

Farmer Joe
26/11/2013 6:37:20 AM

NFF has sold farmers out and unashamedly and doggedly pursues agendas of undermining support to agriculture and especially farmers. In October NFF bragged that they had helped achieve the one of the lowest levels of support for farmers in the world. They boasted this was good for us. What a joke. NFF is the fracture in agriculture. Unfortunately NFF is run by it members who are not farmers. It is no longer a farmers's federation and it is time it was held to account for the fraud it commits by claiming to be the voice of farmers.
Jacky
26/11/2013 7:33:25 AM

NFFs biggest problem is that it can't ever bring itself to critique conservative government, no matter what it does to harm ag and rural communities. And the Lib/Nat machine knows it.
Philip Downie
26/11/2013 8:49:44 AM

Jacky that is because most of them are looking to get a seat in one parliament or another, as I said before you don't bite the hand that is going to feed you. Matt you have little respect for one of the major issues affecting farmers now and into the future that is climate change until you can do that you do not really represent farmers. Yes carbon tax is a cost but so are droughts and floods and while we will get the bozos saying we have always had these it not about that, it about severity and frequency.
Brad Bellinger
26/11/2013 10:52:52 AM

Poor policies or the lack of enthusiasm in tacking the real issues head on makes them redundant .The corporate sponsor class is a worry Woolworths handed them $100 000 last year. It annoys me that we fund Cattle Council then they hand them $200 000.Compulsary unionism. At the recent MLA AGM I witnessed AMIC backing the CAA in stating that lack of competition in the processing sector was not contributing to low cattle prices.
Interested observer
26/11/2013 1:46:24 PM

I would have thought the NFF needs to do two things: 1. Put a voting structure in place so corporate farming interests do no crowd out individual farmer interests (i.e. collective interest rather than singular interest) and drive strong governance across these disparate groups; AND 2. Long term weather pattern changes and how to reduce the impact is important but one piece that doesn't get much coverage in mainstream media is the declining farmer populations and average age in the industry at the farm level. This latter issue has got to be their greatest risk right now.
Rob Moore
26/11/2013 6:06:52 PM

Brad- that would explain why NFF and CCA dumped on my PRIMARY PRODUCTION PRICING Bill as having "no merit" NAB is another with the motto "more take -less give" hence the record profit -year on year ! Meanwhile the stupid old farmers and graziers earn less and less year on year. Tony Mahar -with some high brow portfolio@ nff had my bill for six weeks and when I asked a few trick Q's - I immediately knew he hadn't read it! They are gatekeepers for the big corporates and are a pox on our profitability. Why aren't they demanding that Graincorp stays in Aust hands- let Aussie super funds buy it
Jock Munro
26/11/2013 8:20:06 PM

NFF is a dead duck whilst it has corporate membership. Despite there being widespread opposition to the sale of Graincorp to ADM, we have heard nothing from the NFF because Graincorp is a paid up member.
Interested observer
27/11/2013 8:36:41 AM

I wonder if there would be an appetite for GrainCorp & Grainflow merging and keeping up-country storage in one entity and ports in another given the renewal discussions to be had around port access. ...with an external party (AU or NZ or even China Investment Company without a controlling interest) taking an equity chunk with a long term view and for GrainCorp to increase its debt level to improve infrastructure on a cost-benefit basis. Pressure Canberra for more trade capacity in its current trade agreement discussions with the various Asian nations it is in discussions with.
Bushie Bill
27/11/2013 3:03:52 PM

Aussie super funds don't want it, Rob, old son. Haven't you been able to work that out?
Rob Moore
27/11/2013 7:09:42 PM

B Bill- I don't give a damn whether they want it or not- they get their massive inputs by an act of parliament- they should be ONLY allowed to invest within Aust . All these union stooges are on the boards of many funds and are very good at channelling funds into their mate's companies and renewables etc - climate change fantasy schemes. Conroy the NBN genius just left to interfere with one, Shorten and dozens of others are into it as well. The Aust taxpayer could get a BILLION $ share if they shut down the ABC who are hell bent on destroying the Aust cattle Ind. Scott gets $733000pa.
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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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