This is my recent blog for The Australian Farmer
What do I see when I think about agriculture? I see people who love what they do. I see vibrant young people who want to thrive in business and life. I see so much potential to work together across sectors, across industries and across communities; to pool resources, pool thinking, and pool skills for the benefit of all.
Yet a recent international exposé by a New York Times photojournalist depicts outback Australia in photos of wild dogs hung up in trees, dead animals, fires and alcohol, and in text that talks of suicide, drug addiction, desperation and loneliness. In our national press in times of drought I see photos of parched paddocks and skeletal animals. In floods, I see the bloated carcasses of drowned stock. I am constantly being bombarded by stories that perpetuate the aging farmer myth. What do we achieve by selling doom and gloom? Despair is so disempowering.
There is no denying that agriculture can be a complex and challenging industry but are these the only images we want the world to see?
There is so much more to Australian agriculture and Australian farmers. Yes, it can be a tough gig but when you get it right it’s so rewarding. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone. Agriculture is a career for people who love wide open spaces, the satisfaction of a day well-spent, a physical tiredness and an inner satisfaction. It’s a career for those who love the challenge, who love the complexity of science and technology, who want to work with animals and love watching things grow. It’s a career for people who love getting up every day to watch the fruits of their labour fulfilled; the milk in the vat, the wool bales on the truck, the grain in the silo. It’s a lifestyle for people who love the genuineness of the people, the beauty of the landscape, the comradery of rural communities.
If we want to attract the best and the brightest minds we must give them a reason to choose agriculture over everything else. It is these people who will be the changemakers that will deliver the vibrant, profitable and dynamic future of agriculture that it deserves to have.
And when we have attracted those people we need them to tell their stories.
We need to tell our stories in concrete, real-life terms – not in the abstract. And these stories need to be personal; there is no need for one person to be an advocate for whole of agriculture.
Who will listen to our stories? Our audience is everyone. It is the lawyer who pulls on a woollen jumper for a weekend walk. It is the doctor who recommends eating a healthier diet. It is the young Mum who wraps her newborn in soft cotton swaddling. Name me one person who does not eat or wear natural fibres. We need to engage with our audience in honest ways, to create trust and a platform for open discussion.
We need stories like Emma’s. Emma recently visited a primary school in Sydney to tell the students about her family’s sheep station in western NSW. She wanted the students to feel as emotionally connected to her farm and wool as she is and she knew the key to doing this was to share from the heart. She started by making sure every single child in the room knew her name, and invited other Emma’s to be her assistants.
Emma told the students that their school would fit 125,000 times into her farm and if each student had to look after her sheep they would all have close to 100 sheep in their backyard.
She told them about a typical year in her life from the mating of the rams and the ewes, to lambing, to ear tagging to health checks and how the sheep were painted yellow when they were jetted for lice. She told them about shearing and passed around samples of wool so every student got to feel and play with it and appreciate its qualities. She told them about the planning that went into looking after a large number of sheep. She told them it took two days to ride around the farm to check that all the sheep had water. She told them the most important rule on their farm was “never skip a water run day”.
Emma told the world on Instagram that her visit to the school was the best experience of her life.
Like Emma’s family agriculture has some big challenges and farmers are at the coal face. We can choose to focus on sharing our problems. But why take that road when it’s so much more empowering to show everyone farmers are part of the solution? And let’s show that the farmers can’t do it alone. Let’s create a roadmap for collaboration and co-creation for the bright future we all deserve. Let’s invest in all the bright young minds like Emma who see agriculture as their future. This is the image we want the world to see.