What is your vision for the industry?

December 10, 2018

Do you have a clear vision for our industry?  Are there things that frustrate you because you just can’t believe our industry isn’t doing something, or perhaps is doing something that you don’t like.  I sure do.  It has been a particularly big year for controversy for the Australian sheep industry, but the important thing is not the controversy itself, but the outcomes that can be achieved. 

 

I don’t ever want to be accused of not offering my view of where I think we should be heading as an industry, so here is my vision for our future, with particular focus on some of the hot topics of 2018.

 

Our industry needs to continually be more proactive and more transparent in everything it does.  It needs to be constantly looking for ways to improve, and demonstrate a genuine desire to find new ways to do things. Not just lip service, but actual progress. 

And while many of you will tell me that the industry is already doing that, it begs some clear questions.  Where?  Why can’t we see it?  The old saying that perception is reality comes through so strongly here.  If we can’t see the effort, then is it really happening?  Agriculture is an insular world, that tends to speak a different language to the general public.  We speak in acronyms, and technical jargon that means nothing to the average person in the street. 

 

The farming vernacular buzzes around inside our bubble, with an air of arrogance about how the general public “wouldn’t understand”.  Particularly because they are just “city slickers” and worst of all probably a “bloody school teacher”.  “What would they know”. 

Well actually they are all our consumers, and also the people that hold the keys to the social license cupboard.  They are the majority, and we within agriculture, are but a tiny minority.  So, who is the most important.  “Well obviously, without farmers, there would be no food”.  Right?   And that there, is the sort of arrogance that contributes the country/city divide.

 

I have written before about the “thank a farmer” type campaigns, and my opinion that it is utter horse shit.  That a farmer as a profession is no more important than a doctor, nurse, electrician or teacher. Perhaps just a profession that feels a little more entitled. 

But why would the general public or some politician get to make any decisions on our behalf?  They aren’t even farmers. But it is precisely for that reason.  Because they aren’t farmers.  Sitting inside our little agricultural bubble, it is my strong belief that we are constantly at great risk of losing perspective.  At great risk of complacency, and of losing touch with what is expected in a modern world. 

 

And if you are someone that says “I don’t like this modern world and I don’t want to be a part of it”, then here is my recommendation.  Please leave our industry.  Create your own sovereign state, drop out of modern society, and take your antiquated views with you. 

You don’t have to agree with everything that the wider public think or want, but you MUST be prepared to listen, and then change if you agree, or provide considered well-constructed explanations if you don’t. 

 

The days of yelling at our consumers have to be over.  The days of telling them they are wrong on everything are over.  The days of telling people they just wouldn’t understand are over.  If they really don’t understand, then walk a mile in their shoes and find an explanation that will help them understand. But be careful, as it could well be you that just doesn’t understand. 

 

The Live Export controversy remains as one of the biggest issues of 2019.  A shit fight that erupted seemingly overnight.  But how could we not see it coming?  Turns out plenty of people actually did.  Even people in high places did.  Reports did.  But instead it takes an extremist group and an excitable media organisation to bring about change.  Changes that most in the industry now agree were necessary.  Reduced stocking densities, and more recently the decision to self-impose a ban for the hot northern summer months.   It begs the question; “If it wasn’t for that 60 minutes report, how much change would have taken place by now”.  And lets be honest, we all know the answer. None.

 

Would a more progressive approach from the industry have reduced the likelihood of growing contempt for the practice as a whole, and desire for a permanent ban?  We will never really know the answers to that, but what is obvious is that it is now a political football.  An opportunity to score points with voters.  And that tells us two important things.  The first is that it is clearly something that the general public have feelings about, otherwise it couldn't possibly help win votes.  And that is a blight on us.  The general public care, and we as industry had done nothing to abate those concerns.  Secondly it looks as though we have missed the boat (pardon the pun) to have any chance of controlling our own destiny when it comes to live export, with it now clearly in the hands of politicians. 

 

We need to move away for the “no news is good news” approach that so much of the industry relies on as the backbone of its communications and action strategies.  I am absolutely sure that those strategies are not what is written down in the organisation’s charter, but they are well ingrained within the psyche.  Don’t mention the war.

 

We have seen corporate governance issues within Australian Wool Innovation that brought so many questions to a head.  The man in the mirror, length of board tenure, and conflicts of interest, among others.  All in an industry that desperately needs leadership to show the way forward.  An industry with issues such as mulesing and lamb survival that need strategic direction and continual improvement.   The need for greater uptake of objective genetic measurement and genomics to ensure rapid improvement.  An industry that needs progressive thinking from dynamic individuals, not an unrelenting grip on proud tradition.

 

The sheep industry as a whole relies on progressive research which is not only robust and proactive, but also well-articulated and embraced by industry.  It needs a communications strategy which ensures that the industry is well informed, and perhaps more importantly, that the wider public can see that we are taking on the hard issues, head-on.  That we don’t run from challenges, or sweep them under the carpet, but actually proactively identify them and immediately implement research and change to over come them.  And lastly, that it doesn’t take a media shit-storm to initiate either direct action, or communication of what is already underway.

 

The sheep industry is an extremely exciting place to be right now.  Both wool and lamb are luxury products, that consumers love, and are happy to pay for.  We can’t afford to give them any reason not to continue and grow their love of our product.  It is our responsibility to make it the best product it can be, and produced in a way that we, and the consumer can both be proud of. 

 

We have a great story to tell.  Not one of drought and dust and hard times, but of world’s

best welfare, environmental sustainability, and research.  Now is the time to add great progress, strong leadership, and exceptional communication

 

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That is my vision for the future.  What is yours?   

 

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