Time for farmers to talk the talk

30 Mar, 2013 01:00 AM
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ABC WA Country Hour presenter Belinda Varischetti (left), Influential Women director Catherine Marriott and renowned journalist and author Julian Cribb, during a panel discussion.
ABC WA Country Hour presenter Belinda Varischetti (left), Influential Women director Catherine Marriott and renowned journalist and author Julian Cribb, during a panel discussion.

MAINSTREAM Australian farmers needed mainstream Australia to understand the importance of buying locally-grown food.

That's the opinion of 2012 Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation award winner Catherine Marriott.

Addressing last week's WAFarmers annual general meeting, Ms Marriott, who also is a Influential Women director, said it was time for open engagement with consumers.

"We need to ensure we are keeping up with the times and consumer expectations," she said.

"Whether we like it or not, today's consumers have a big say in how we run our business.

"It's up to us as farmers, to actually share with them not only how we do things on the farm but why we do them.

"If we are to maintain a social license we need to start engaging effectively and having transparency in our businesses because we need Australians to want to buy Australian produce."

Ms Marriott said a social license meant Australian agriculture could operate with minimal formalised restrictions, based on maintaining public trust.

"Public trust is the belief that activities on your farm are consistent with the consumers' morals, values and ethics," she said.

"In agriculture we don't often talk about values, we talk about economics and science, because that allows us to remain unemotionally involved.

"It's easier to hide behind figures and statistics than it is to show someone you care and that things are tough.

"Sciences say we can do something, ethics say we should and they are two very different things.

"The consumer is more concerned with the latter."

Ms Marriott has worked for the last 10 years as a consultant in the northern beef industry, involving Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

"I have reflected a lot on the live trade ban and I've been trying to discover what we, as farmers, can do to take back control of our own industry," she said.

"Really we are the only ones who are fully invested in it and if our industry crashes it's us who loses money.

"I have come to the conclusion that as farmers we need to step up and be a part of the conversation and we need to make those conversations effective.

"I can't and I won't blame consumers for jumping up in arms about that live trade footage - it was horrific."

She said the industry had done nothing to prevent the backlash from the 2011 live export cattle ban as those involved had not been a part of the conversation.

"We are all busy trying to hide everything we are doing in case somebody might see something," she said.

"So we have given consumers no other information to base reality on other than that horrible 40-minute footage.

"We can't blame consumers for stepping up and forming an opinion."

Ms Marriott said it was important for Australian farmers to become part of the conversation, because without engagement in that space it would be taken up by other people with a negative agricultural agenda.

"Agriculture is not on most people's radars, unless they have a negative agenda and are trying to close us down," she said.

"This may be uncomfortable for people at first but transparency is no longer a choice.

"It's only as much as a message or picture on an iPhone and it's all over social media.

"It doesn't matter if it's the beef industry, the chicken industry, if your growing canola or wheat or if you're using GM.

"We are all facing social pressure.

"By providing our side of the story we actually give people the choice to know and learn about what it is we are doing."

Ms Marriott said 30 per cent of the Australian population was not born in Australia which meant the industry was geographically and generationally removed from how food was produced.

She said while this provided Australia with challenges there were also huge opportunities.

"We are in a time where politics and consumer pressure are overriding our social license and it's up to us as farmers to take that social license back," she said.

Ms Marriot said the agricultural industry needed to understand that when speaking about agriculture, it was like speaking another language.

"We need to remember that every conversation we have counts," she said.

"It's actually about what the person you are talking to wants to hear.

"So often in agriculture we don't even hear the question, we just start with this defence that overrides everything.

"We have got to start listening to what it is the person is after, and more importantly what that value is and then talk to that value.

"Historically when we try communicating with mainstream Australia we used data and when that hasn't worked, instead of going back to the drawing board, we just get louder and more extreme with our data."

Ms Marriott said people had no emotional attachment to data and statistics, and that people just wanted to know that farmers cared about what they were doing.

She said the rural-urban divide was a concept that had come from rural Australia and that the term further promoted the divide.

"Why don't we start changing our language when we are building relationships between producers and consumers?" she asked.

"Then you are inviting people on a journey with you.

"We need to have a positive attitude in agriculture and need to start taking responsibility for our own industry."

According to Ms Marriott, taking responsibility for the industry, stepping up and making the changes required, is a key to ensure the future of a sustainable agricultural industry.

She reflected on her own childhood attributing her resilience, passion and determination to her upbringing in the rural Victoria.

After losing her father when he was aged 40, the farm faced much adversity including fire, drought, disease, flood, market challenges and restrictions, but the family had made conscious decisions to ensure the long-term future of the operation.

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READER COMMENTS

Meateater
31/03/2013 7:33:13 AM, on Farm Weekly

No need to worry, they are now launching drones to watch your every move comrades. The customer will have a birds eye view of everything you do on the farm.

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