The stories we tell

We live and produce in a country where food is taken for granted.

AGRICULTURE has some amazing stories to tell, but the biggest challenge we face is making our audience - the consumer – care enough to listen and act.

Some of the best, true stories I’ve ever heard have been from farmers with weathered faces and broad-shouldered shearing contractors.

The stories and the people in them are what give agriculture a colour so vibrant, it has the capacity to cut through the bright city lights into the hearts of people unfamiliar with life on the land.

Andrew Stanton, the Oscar-winning filmmaker who came up with ground breaking stories like Toy Story and Finding Nemo knows the checklist of “essentials” in a good story. And I can tell you after reviewing them, most of the stories at the local pub, around barbecues or at home with family, tick the same boxes.

Without knowing, we pick a new angle and give a promise, this builds anticipation and tension at an emotional level which is where the message or “moral of the story” sits. The anticipation is then washed away with the funny punch-line or poignant end to the story, leaving us enlightened in some way, with an understanding and attachment to a message or moral. If inspired, we’ll want to share what we’ve just learnt and/or enjoyed.

We are so good at communicating through stories, but as an industry, our story is far from leaving the message we want in the hearts and minds of our audience. We need to think outside the square, with better methods of delivery. The biggest challenge we face in Australian agriculture is making our audience - the consumer - care.

Picture this - you’re telling a story at a dinner party full of friends, but it’s the same story you’ve been telling for years, so your audience is less enthused. You’re half way through when one guy gets up and walks away. The audience is now restless but hangs in there while you keep talking. Then, when you’re about deliver the punch line some loudmouth up the back yells out something that effectively questions your motives for telling the story and attempts to contradict the characters.

Your story went from being sharp and directional, to something that peters out into just a dribble of words. A few in the audience got your point, most don’t care and a few others are trying to find the reason why that guy left.

In this example, think of the narrator as the industry, the story is about agriculture, the guy that got up and walked away resembles the disinterest of some politicians and other leaders, and Mr Loudmouth up the back is the extremist environmentalist or animal activist who shoots down any messages not in-line with their opinions.

The aftermath of what’s left in the minds of the audience or consumer is what we have right now in agriculture.

Andrew Stanton said “Change is fundamental in a story. If things go static, stories die”, and therein lies our challenges. Our story hasn’t changed and we’re getting angry with our audience because they’re not listening, they don’t care.

We need to generate a story that inspires people to care. We live and produce in a country where food is taken for granted. The attitude of “it’s always there, whenever I need it, where’s the value for me in caring where it comes from?” is rife throughout our audience.

There are some groups, organisations and people that are out there telling the story of agriculture and doing a great job, through schools, social media and presentations to name a few.

There are also some farm businesses marketing their commodity-based product as a brand and giving it a unique story. They may also diversify, moving in to new or smaller markets where they can be heard. But not every producer can or wants to develop a compelling brand story to make consumers care.

I don’t believe there should be just one story, there needs to be thousands. But ideally they all need a fresh and similar message or moral to the story.

All of this is in the pursuit of the often mentioned “Holy Grail” - that is, shifting the attitudes and behaviours of consumers to the point where our story is not only compelling but makes them want to think and act on the message.

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


8/10/2013 3:17:34 AM

Not a bad article but I think it's the producer not listening to the consumer.The producer wants the consumer to understand and agree with them and see things from their perspective, anything outside of this and they bulk, complain and accuse the consumer of ignorance or extremism.How about the producer start listening to the consumer, yeah, their customer.Like it or not, the general public are questioning conditions for those animals caught up in production system.That's a fact and a message the producer will do well to start listening and adapting to.The consumer is developing a conscience.
8/10/2013 5:08:25 AM

Problem is the general public are not our customers - (mainly) large multinational processers are. We have no control over how our product gets to the consumer. Our 'customers' are ONLY interested in price regardless of what they might tell the consumers.
Jen from the bush
8/10/2013 6:50:03 AM

That is the problem rgovett the ones doing the yelling/consumer are often ignorant. You obviously don't know much about hens but you commented on that article highlights exactly what farmers are putting up with. That is why we are trying to get consumers to see why we do what we do. Consumers seem to think they are entitled to cheap food and farmers have been forced to provide that. Label products correctly. Then pay extra for what you want - there will be a market for people with money to spend and a market for people who have to seriously budget - eg aged pensioners.
8/10/2013 8:35:15 AM

great article Sam. Storytelling is the way the natural world has operated for centuries on the land and in the Royal Courts. Great leadership is always to paint a great vision. our newspapers and TV news are full of rhetoric given 5 mutlti global groups in the world own all of them. get out there Sam and get as muddy as u need too or as much mud that needs to be thrown at you by those that do not want 'new stories'. I applaud all your efforts and actions as i am sure many of your critics and opinion writers are not trying o make new stories for the here and now and future. Rock it!
Rural Jane
8/10/2013 9:39:35 AM

I totally agree Jen. Label products, allow people to make choices. Just don't shoot down the poor farmer. Consumers can say what they want. But without knowing how farming works you can't just ask for things and expect it to be delivered. Not all farms are capable of growing all types of crops and animals. We need to work with what we have. Our crop rotation requires us to breed animals to eat our pastures and keep our weeds down. There are so many things these city activists don't understand. Come and spend a week on my farm!
Mick Russell
10/10/2013 7:20:43 AM

Hey Sam, Why do you think I went about this project.... Farmers on Film 708 - for those exact reasons. This project still has a day or so before it closes so would love to get more farmers on board to tell their story! Mick
Holy Moly
10/10/2013 8:09:01 AM

If Aust farmers dont supply the consumer with what they want then some one else will,its all very simple realy.
Rural Jane
10/10/2013 10:36:08 AM

Perhaps the consumers should be educated on how there food arrives at their plate, buying seasonal food and supporting their local community? I know I would prefer this any day over eating tins out of China. But hey goodluck with that Holy Moly.
10/10/2013 12:31:12 PM

Holy Moly; We supply our 'customers' with what they want - which is bulk produce (of any sort) at the cheapest price. And yes if we don't do that they go some were else (like China) regardless of what ever BS they tell you.
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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