What was the last conversation you had with someone about your farm? Was it full of passion for the future, your love of what you do, or an excitement about the progress you are making? I hope it was. But most often that is not what we hear from our farming community.
We don’t often hear excitement about the future, or about the never-ending search for the perfect farm system. What we do hear, is talk of how “it hasn’t rained”, how “tough it is on the land”, how the “city folk don’t understand”, how “everyone is ripping us off with costs increasing”, how “if the government/greenies/welfare mobs/or anyone else get their way they will send us all broke”.
And then in the next breath, we wonder why we can’t get enough young people into agriculture. I am not suggesting that some of the comments about how tough things can be aren’t valid, but unfortunately, that is all that ever gets heard. When does the “city” hear about farming? The first, is when things go wrong, like live export, or drought. Pictures of animals suffering or dead, farmers talking about how tough things are, or vehemently defending the way they do things.
The other, is when there is a “celebration of agriculture”. Now I am all for these events, which provide a massive opportunity to promote everything good and exciting about farming. Unfortunately they rarely actually do this effectively. They revert to stereotypes and vernacular which depict country people as somehow different to the general public. Using terms such as “telling a yarn”, “living a simpler life”, “salt of the earth”. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty confident that none of the farmers that I deal with tell yarns, or are living a simpler life.
The Wikipedia definition of “salt of the earth” refers to someone who is thoroughly decent, and yet I fear that it is used to describe “a group of people believed to be very nice, but just a bit simple”. We might as well dress all farmers up in overalls, give them a straw hat, a pitchfork and a piece of hay hanging out of their mouths. A simple folk who we can admire for being “salt of the earth”.
So, is it agriculture clinging to the past, the general public holding onto an ideology of what farmers used to be, or the media who continue to perpetuate this nonsense about what farmers are? It has to stop. We talk about the country city divide as if it is some unassailable void, and yet every opportunity we get to promote the excitement of agriculture is missed among stereotypes and country vernacular.
The best farmers that I see are not struggling. They are achieving better results every year. Improving animal welfare constantly, having significantly less impact on the environment, producing a better product that aligns very well with the values of consumers. They are using every possible tool available to them to do all of this. Technology, science, advice, all underpinned with sound business knowledge.
Not some country hick with a pitchfork, but a modern farmer with a laptop. That is what people need to see. So let’s show them. Next time you are talking to someone about your farm, do it with enthusiasm and excitement. Tell them about all of the progress you have made, how far you have come, and what you are now aiming for in the future. And if you happen to be one of the people organising an event to celebrate the farming community, then avoid the cliche. Don’t tell a “yarn” about the “country folk”, show them what a real farmer looks like. Excited, progressive, responsible, caring, passionate, and probably...actually.. just like you.