ENGAGING with the public and telling the story of farm production is more important now than ever, according to industry leaders at the WAFarmers Trending Ag 2019 conference in Perth last week.
During the social licence panel discussion Cattle Council of Australia chief executive officer Margo Andrae said the organisation had a change of tact after she took over the role, saying its membership realised it was "part of the bigger picture and we need to make sure we are well informed on these issues".
She said the issues included consumer expectations, transparency, social licence and animal or vegan activists.
"We often, in the industry over the past 20 years - and even in agriculture in general, have focussed on the standards and guidelines making sure people knew the right thing," Ms Andrae said.
"Now it's much more about hearts and minds and a focus on what we see for ourselves in terms of an industry - how these industries impact on our communities and the next generations that come through.
"It is really about changing attitudes towards how we tell our story.
"How we talk about livestock - I often say we have almost gone away from telling people that livestock is a food source - it is protein - and we look after those animals incredibly well.
"They have a great life.
"We go around the world and globally our livestock industries are world-leading.
"We need to remind ourselves of that and throw the book at those who aren't doing the right thing.
"So from a national perspective we are really starting to see that stakeholder engagement is so important - telling our story and being apart of that big picture on the global scale."
Ms Andrae said there was also a great need to "call out the activists" who were trespassing on property and stealing livestock or filming and photographing producers and their businesses.
"It is getting out of control," she said.
"We are starting to call them out and trying to have the right facts at the right time" to counter attempts to disrupt the industry.
Ms Andrae said the industry needed to make sure it was governed by "good policy" but also understood it's part of the "big picture, by being a part of the big picture".
"We hear all the terms of mitigating outrage," she said.
"If we see people doing something that's bad practice, call them out.
"We all know that it's one photo that shuts down an industry.
"We need to call out our own if they are doing the wrong thing."
Ms Andrae said activists who breached biosecurity and animal welfare laws needed to be held to the same account as livestock producers.
Her comments came after the recent decision by a Victorian judge concerning the Gippy Goat Café.
Vegan activists were filmed and caught with some livestock they stole from the business and were found guilty and fined $1 for housing the livestock without a Property Identification Code.
Ms Andrae said if that was a producer who breached the law they would have been fined up to $9000.
"All we ask is that the courts hold people to the same account that they would a producer," she said.
Ms Andrae said producers should prepare for the worst by having a communication crisis management response plan in place if an incident did occur.
This was particularly timely, given the Aussie Farms online map was still available for activists to identify properties.
Despite the challenges, producers were also encouraged to be transparent and to embrace the National Farmers Federation vision of having a $100 billion farmgate industry by 2030.
It was said that "the percentage of people who understand where our food comes from is a very low number" and so engagement was essential to educate those who may not have any understanding or connection to agriculture.