Do we value those who defend us?

Do we value those who defend us?

Opinion
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The Gauge: South Australian beef producer Gillian Fennell shares her experiences advocating for agriculture.

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Gillian Fennell

Gillian Fennell

Opinion | The Gauge 

ADVOCACY - or agvocacy if you prefer - is a hot topic at the moment.

Red meat producers are grappling with the Red Meat Advisory Council White Paper and the possible changes that have been proposed as part of this review.

Likewise, the dairy industry is also undergoing a period of reflection and review with a consultation process led by former Victorian Premier John Brumby.

This review found "transformational change to reform industry structures and strengthen advocacy to be more effective, united and efficient" is one of the key themes highlighted by those consulted.

Producers clearly want a voice, they want to be heard, they want their levies to work for them, for someone to speak for them and they want their money to make a difference. Regardless of the new structure of the Australian red meat industry, producers need to consider how and who they want to be doing their advocacy for them and this is the perfect opportunity to make that decision.

At the moment, anyone with something to say can call themselves an 'agvocate' or, heaven forbid, an 'influencer' and share their opinion with the world.

There are forums, conferences and courses on how to effectively spread a message and communicate with the public.

But who do the producers endorse? And what value do producers put on this service?

I can tell you from experience, engaging with the broader public on social media on the topic of agriculture is quite often exhausting and frustrating, time consuming and can come with real danger attached.

My husband laments the time I 'waste' on social media and I must confess, what started as a way to connect with other people across the world and share a bit of banter has become something of an obsession, and I feel like I can't stop now.

I have built relationships with other producers both here and overseas and when I gently correct someone's misconceptions about meat production or enter into a spirited debate regarding agriculture's impact on the environment, I feel like I am standing up for everyone, for my friends, for my industry. But am I even helping? Or am I simply prolonging a debate that isn't even happening outside of the Twitter bubble?

Is there a way to better equip the individuals who are out there fighting the good fight?

After all, it takes time and money to provide any service. What value do producers put on having authentic, skilled and media-savvy voices speaking up for them? Do they value it at all? Is it something that they want to see their hard-earned levy dollars invested in, or do we trust in our peak industry bodies to do the job for us? And there's the real issue - it feels like no one is doing the job the producer wants done.

When things go badly, we want someone - anyone - to 'have our back' in the cruel and vicious online world.

As disingenuous as it might sound, there is a method to communicating online, and we need people who can do it well, while maintaining their authenticity and sanity.

Well-meaning newcomers to social media often do themselves or their industry few favours and it takes a few humiliating and painful experiences before you wise up.

There are those who choose to go online and spread the good word, and they do it really well, but they can't do it alone and they can't do it forever.

So, producers - think long and hard about who you want telling your story, and decide how you want it done. After all, it's your life.

- Gillian Fennell lives with her family on a remote beef property in outback South Australia. She is also a Cattle Council Australia board member. You can follow Gillian on Twitter @stationmum101

The story Do we value those who defend us? first appeared on Farm Online.

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