The gate is open, Michelle

Today’s post comes from the heart and is a reprint of this article in The Land

Tom Tourle is one of a group of young farmers extending an invitation to Michelle Bridges:

Tom Tourle is one of a group of young farmers extending an invitation to Michelle Bridges: “Come and see my farm“.

A FURORE erupted in farming circles last week when fitness trainer Michelle Bridges reignited the inflammatory debate on ‘ag-gag’ laws with a column in the Sun Herald.

Now a group of young Aussie farmers wants to “open the gate”, inviting Ms Bridges on a journey to see how they farm.

Ms Bridges’ opinion piece called for Australian consumers to resist the introduction of US-style ag-gag legislation which would restrict filming of animal production by activists. In response, the Australian Farm Institute (AFI) published an open letter asking Ms Bridges if she would mind having cameras set up in her own home.

Ms Bridges defended her column, posting this on Facebook days later:

“Aussie farmers – I have huge respect for what you do and realise the majority of the industry do the right thing. But I do believe that those who don’t should be held accountable.

“My article takes a stance against proposed new laws that I believe are unjust. It does not condone, encourage or endorse illegal activity.”

Regardless, the AFI open letter went viral, spawning countless tweets and Facebook posts and generating unprecedented online traffic. Amongst the understandable outrage, a clear trend emerged: farmers were keen not to defend the industry but to educate people disconnected from the reality of agricultural production.

Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion Hannah Barber is one of many producers who’ve extended an invitation to Ms Bridges to share their stories.

 

An open invitation

 

Dear Ms Bridges,

My name is Hannah Barber and I am lucky enough to have been brought up on the family farm. We have now been proudly producing sheep, beef cattle and crops to feed and clothe Australian families for over 100 years.

After being thrown into the melting pot of people from different backgrounds at school and in the wider community I realised that I had taken for granted people’s connection to agriculture. I realised that not all people had the opportunities to have a connection to the land and farming and my childhood was unique and special.

I have now been lucky enough to be selected to represent the cattle and sheep industry with 40 other young people from the grains, wool, cotton and dairy industries in the Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion’s program. These 40 young people are either proud to farm or have careers in the exciting, innovative and dynamic sector that is Australian agriculture.

Part of the reason I applied for the program was that it gave me multiple opportunities to provide others with the connection I have with farms and farmers, families and communities who grow the clothes they wear and food they eat.

When I read your article in the Sydney Morning Herald Lifestyle Section – “It’s time to take a stand over proposed “ag-gag” laws” – (by the way, I am confident you didn’t mean to infer that you supported the rights of people to break into farms) I saw a wonderful opportunity to literally take you on a journey to share my farming experiences.

I would like to extend an invitation for you to join me on a road trip to visit my family farm and those of some of my fellow Young Farming Champions to see how our animals are raised and how we get them ethically from paddock to plate (and everywhere else in between). After all, the fresh, healthy food you promote for fitness, health and weight management is grown by Australian farming families, like ours.

From my cattle in Parkes, you could maybe then visit Tom Tourle’s sheep farm in Dubbo, Georgia Clark’s chooks at Lake Macquarie and Prue Capp’s horses in the Hunter Valley.

The farmers who help put the cheese on your crackers Tom Pearce and Andrew D’Arcy could show us around their dairies in the home of cheese itself, Bega, and we’d better also drop in on Richie Quigley and Ben Egan growing the cotton for our socks out in the beautiful Macquarie Valley.

After who wouldn’t want to meet pin up boy Ben Egan

As young farming champions we are also scientists studying in various fields for our PhDs, we are agronomists, nutritionists, vets and rural entrepreneurs to name but a few. We are nurturers and environmentalists. In fact there is a career and a role for you in agriculture from A to Z.

My Mum also makes some mean scones too, so I suggest you plan to stay for smoko.

On behalf of the Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions I look forward to hearing from you.

Hannah Barber

– Cattle and Sheep Industry Young Farming Champion

Its time agriculture stepped up and defined the “pull”

On Friday I am participating in the Blueprint for Australian Agriculture Forum. The Blueprint will map out where we as an industry want to go and how we are going to get there.

The big ticket question participants are being asked to answer on Friday is   

What do you see as the most pressing issues and therefore the most important goals for us to focus on right now?

I have given this a lot of thought and I believe the elephant in the room is the most important issue  – its people. Agriculture is yet to acknowledge before we do anything else we must build the capacity of agriculture to nurture our people and we must start with our young people.

As a farmer, as someone who engages with industry, trains young farmers and runs awareness programs in schools, I work within the fragmented structure that is agricultural capacity building, every day.

Like our individual food and fibre industries, we need a better “supply chain” for young people to develop skills that enable them to engage, grow and take charge of their industries.

We have to start with our young people. But long term capacity is not going to result from engaging with them through government and industry programs in the usual way.

 

Currently, we see a number of programs aimed at developing individuals at various stages in life, but many lack the mechanisms to support and mentor and galvanize these people into roles that have meaning within our industries, in the medium to longer term.

At Art4Agriculture, an important part of our mission is to link our Young Farming Champions alumni with further opportunities within their industry to continue the journey of growth and leadership.  There is no point training young people if we then abandon them; believing our job is done after holding workshops and camps for them. If we don’t continue to develop our young people, we lose a generation of leaders, innovators and workers as they seek opportunities elsewhere. There will be no-one to take over the farm, or work in our agribusinesses.

Because of the skills sets our Cotton Young Farming Champions have gained through the program we have been able to include them in a number of events to engage the community well beyond the school students participating in the Archibull Prize.

They are young, smart, articulate, passionate, from a variety of backgrounds, living in a range of locations, involved in interesting, rapidly changing fields of agriculture, taking advantage of the plethora of exciting opportunities available to young people – they don’t just tell the message we want current students and teachers and the community to be taking on….they are the message. Sophie Davidson Cotton Australia

A range of factors make it difficult for farmers to employ staff on farm. This lack of opportunities for farmers and young people will only be exacerbated by climate change, exchange rate issues and farmer returns and agriculture’s reputation for not being an employer of choice .

Therefore, we have to ensure the skills and capacity we are providing our young people align with industry identified needs. I’ve met too many young people who found themselves trained or developed for roles that just don’t exist in our industries.

We need to position agriculture/agrifood as the career of choice for Australia’s best and brightest.  But this cannot simply be a “push” situation by industry and government, it needs agriculture to step up and define the “pull”

Further, it’s not enough to simply develop our young people, but we must create opportunities for them to engage with consumers and supply chain participants.
They must understand and feel confident to engage along all the full breadth of the supply chain, if we are going to build creative and sustainable agricultural industries.

Mike Logan says it all in this comment below

The Blueprint is a work plan.

We need a vision.

The Blueprint tells us what we are going to do.

Not why.

The ‘why’ question is integral to our own understanding of our role in society, but also in society’s understanding of us.

Why have agriculture?

To feed and clothe a portion of the world?

With healthy food. Full of nutrition.

From healthy environments?

By people who care?

If we can develop messages like that, then we earn a social licence to operate for agriculture.