Sue Middleton nurturing people who feed people

I recently was lucky enough to catch up with the remarkable Sue Middleton twice in a period of four weeks.  Sue was the “RIRDC Australian Rural Woman of the Year 2010” and farms with her husband Michael in the Wongan Hills In WA.

Sue and I share a similar passion and commitment to drive change in agriculture. Sue is particularly committed to building capacity in rural women and me in our young people.

Sue is heavily into making a difference, where it counts, at policy level. According to Sue ‘Policy is a dark beast, untraceable. to influence policy and make a difference you have to learn the skills – it takes patience and tenacity.’ Mentored by Cathy McGowan who Sue’s says ‘taught me the value of pinpointing what makes a difference to the people you want to convince to help you solve your particular issue. If you want results, discover what engages your audience, find where that intersects with what you’re after and speak to that.’

Sue’s commitment runs in the family and her daughter Lizzie Brennan together with Catherine Marriott has recently set up Influential Women to ‘recognise the inherent power women have as natural communicators and seek to nourish their infinite potential’ Lizzie and Catherine custom design training to draw upon the strengths of women and build their skills and confidence in communicating their unique story.     

Sue Middleton Jenni Hawkins Lynne Strong and Lucinda Corrigan

Sue Middleton, Jenni Hawkins, me and Lucinda Corrigan at CCRSPI conference in November 2012

We first featured Sue as part of our Art4Agriculture case studies in 2010. See here. Today I want to share with you what she had to say when asked the question ‘What do I wish non-farmers and the Australian Government understood about farming?” as part Fleur McDonald’s 52 Farmers in 52 Weeks series for Australian Year of the Farmer. Read it in full here  

What do I wish non-farmers and the Australian Government understood about farming?” 

Sue answered …….

Firstly that what we do is really risky and we are at the mercy of weather.  That means that not every product we produce will look the same. Oranges with a blemish on their skin are just as good as fruit without a blemish on it.  Blemish is caused by wind – it’s a very natural part of fruit.  Learn to eat fruit and food that doesn’t look perfect but is identical in every characteristic that impacts your health!   This one shopping habit alone will save you dollars in your pocket.

We are wasting 50% of the food we produce in Australia. We don’t need cheaper food – we need to stop taking good productive energy and turning it into waste!  If people focused a little bit more on reducing the food waste from their homes, they would find their food bills dropping dramatically.

Buy as direct as you can- each week take one product that you consume and find a way of purchasing it as directly from a farmer as possible.  Start reading labels  – be ferocious in your food stores – demand locally produced food where you know the food production standards are high.  You have all the power – exercise it – start reading food labels and start checking where food comes from.  We do supermarket checks regularly and supermarkets frequently label fresh food incorrectly and say it comes from WA when it really comes from interstate – check the labeling and challenge the stores to be more accurate.

The government needs to understand the huge impact of policy changes.  The banning of live trade to Indonesia has rippled through WA agriculture and caused huge impact not just on northern Australian cattle farmers.  We now have $500k of straw in our paddocks we can’t sell because the bottom fell out of the pellet market.  The knock on effect of decisions like the cessation of the trade has been gigantic.  The government doesn’t pick up that tab, and they need to be VERY cognizant of the impact of their decision making.   We do not need them to add to our market risks.

Finally I would like people to know we are in a very technical game. It is very science driven and we utilize all knowledge we can to improve our sustainability constantly.  Looking after the land and our animals is a priority for us.  But we are in a marginal game and we are unprotected in the world markets competing against countries that are highly subsidized.  It is not a level playing field in this globe!  To keep our noses ahead we need more investment in research, development and most importantly extension so we can keep learning and driving our businesses productivity and profitability further.

And what does Sue love about being a farmer?

It is great to drive around the crops doing a crop-run when they are growing well.  There is no greater pleasure than growing a great crop.  Conversely in the dry years it can be tough when the rain doesn’t come and the crops get compromised.  It is also very satisfying to see our animals grow well and we love to see them in good condition. 

Growing things is what we love.