I hear patron numbers peaked at 115,000 at the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show (SRES) yesterday and there were still 100,000 people on the showground at 8pm. This year the show is not in school holidays and not surprisingly the public holidays has been busy, very busy indeed
For the next three days the crowds will reach their peak at SRES, the biggest event of its type in the southern hemisphere that attracts close to one million people over 14 days
On Thursday I had a request for names of two highly credible, articulate women in the beef and pork industries for a segment on the radio discussing what messages they would like the public to take home about farming from the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show (SRES).
I have been attending SRES for over fifty years and I know why I go and the take home messages I would like it to convey to city people have changed a great deal over that time. I look forward to hearing what women from the pig and cattle industry hope the show delivers for their livestock industries
There is no doubt the show is a great opportunity for city and country to connect – how you do that effectively is not always as easy as it might sound?
Cotton Industry advocate Laura Bennett shares her love of the cotton industry with primary school students in the Food Farm at the 2016 Sydney Royal Easter Show
Every single person who pays to walk through the gates has their own problems and in the main want an experience that brightens their day. Farmers hope that part of that experience reminds the community of the importance of farming and farmers
In the wider press and academic community, I watch with dismay as people pitch one agricultural system against the other whether that be organic vs conventional farming, vegetable farming versus livestock farming or going vegan as the panacea to saving the planet
Too often this research and resultant media articles muddy the waters and it is paramount that farmers lobby for robust research and development for farming as a whole as ultimately; these arguments go away if research delivers a win:win solution for people and the planet.
Somehow our farmers have to find ways to work together to go beyond once a year events like the show and become active participants in the food and fibre production debate 365 days. Only in this way can we ensure there is a balanced representation of all interested parties. A pivotal key to success is ensuring agriculture’s “bright, charismatic representatives” are equipped with sophisticated, considered, agreed and sound rebuttals to the more extreme lobby groups and unrealistic arguments.
When I saw this recent article in The Conversation Global food production threatens to coverwhelm efforts to combat climate change I put a call into Australia’s guru in this space. This is what Professor Richard Eckard had to say
I think the analysis is correct, but the simplistic conclusion is wrong “Opportunities for mitigation in this sector are plentiful, but they can only be realised with a concerted focus.” I agree there some opportunities for energy efficiency and sequestration (not much in soils however), but cost-effective net mitigation options are still a way off i.e. options that allow further growth in productivity with less total emissions.
The energy and transport sectors have viable alternatives emerging, they just need a price signal to make them fully cost-competitive. However, there are no ‘alternatives’ to food production. There is no alternative food industry that can produce the volume required. Organic agriculture certainly cannot and it typically comes with a higher carbon footprint anyway.
This does lead to a debate about livestock versus other crop sources of food, but there are some solid arguments that show:
- removing livestock from the world food equation just makes an impossible task that much harder;
- livestock are the only mechanism we have for generating food from the vast rangelands of the world that are unsuitable for other types of food production;
- livestock are not just for food in developing countries – they are the banking system (Africa), religious system (India and Africa), transport, power etc
- it is really only the privileged minority that have the luxury of choosing a vegetarian lifestyle. The rest of the world just eats what they can afford
- Rising vegetarianism will not affect the growth in the livestock industries, as there is clear evidence that the worlds rising middle class (predicted to be 4.9 B by 2030) demand more animal protein with their rising affluence. Supply and demand will mean livestock continues to grow, even if all the privileged urbanites become vegetarian.
- The real solution to livestock methane is continued research to develop low methane animals and livestock systems.
If we are going to communicate the real facts perhaps farmers need to have more conversations with each other first and ensure we have a cohesive, consistent, open and honest story to share
Perhaps some questions we could ask ourselves are:
- Is the farming sector ready to drive the conversations required?
- Are we ready to become part of the wider conversations that influence policy change and incentives?
- Are we ready to partner with government and the community to get the best outcomes for farmers and the communities we support?
Back to the SRES and where the conversations about farming are taking place today
If you are going to the show here are a few tips from me
Say G’day to the Archies at the front gate
If you have children under 12 the Food Farm is a must visit. You can meet a farmer at the NSWFA stand, climb a huge tractor, make tabbouleh, have some delicious Aussie Apples, learn how to wash your hands properly, make flour and pastry, meet the George the Farmer team and join in their show, which runs on the hour and heaps more
Want to learn the real facts about egg production visit the Chook Pavilion and take sit in on Greg Mill’s presentation on the hour
Visit the Natural Fibre Showcase Pavilion and watch the fashion parade
Visit the Wool and Sheep Pavilion – plenty to see and buy here. A crowd favourite is always the shearing competitions
and every-bodies favorite – the District Exhibits
Don’t miss the Schools’ District Exhibits – this competition was won by Hurlstone Agricultural High School with their very thought provoking take on the Wizard of OZ – Yellow Brick Road
If you want a permanent reminder of your visit to the show and the sheer beauty of outback Australia stop in and say G’day to renowned rural photographer Fiona Lake
and a big shout out to all the farmers at the show carrying the advocacy flag on behalf of us all