Opinion | The Gauge
IT has already been a busy year for Australian farmers. From fires in various parts of the country, floods in the north, widespread drought, debate raging over the future of the Murray Darling basin to the rise of militant animal activists across the country, "agriculture" has had a fair bit on its plate. These issues have also garnered a phenomenal amount of urban media publicity and in most cases overwhelming public support.
With a Federal election due in May, the early posturing of both major parties has issues critical to agriculture already front and centre.
It is also clear that regional issues and regional electorates may determine who forms Australia's next Government.
While "agriculture" and the issues that effect it are getting much needed media airtime, I am not seeing a coordinated and consistent message being put forward by either the political parties that traditionally represent agriculture nor from various peak bodies.
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And if they are, I am not hearing about them.
I don't want to criticise our industry and political representatives, but it appears to me that although agriculture has a great message to sell, that message is not being heard by the right people.
Agriculture needs to learn from the resource industries and union movements and invest more time, energy and resources so that we can define the debate not continually having to rebut it.
National Farmers Federation released their 2030 Roadmap at the end of last year and have also developed a practical list of election priorities to allow agriculture to reach its "$100 billion potential".
It's clear we have the ideas and innovation to advance our industries, but can we sell that message to the people that really matter?
When disaster strikes, agriculture can make the front page.
However, when it comes time to sell our positive messages, we are stuck in the classifieds.
Agriculture invests millions of dollars annually in R&D, market expansion and technology adaptation.
But we spend only a relatively small amount on public relations and marketing of our actual industries.
We can sell an apple, a tomato, a rib fillet or a rack of lamb like the best of them but when it comes to explaining why we need water to irrigate, fertiliser to grow, production systems to process and animal welfare issues to manage - our message gets lost in the screams of the noisy minority.
When disaster strikes, agriculture can make the front page. However, when it comes time to sell our positive messages, we are stuck in the classifieds.
Agriculture can no longer sit back and let our elected representatives do our bidding.
Farmers can also no longer sit back and let their peak farm bodies do the heavy lifting for them, alone.
It's time for a targeted and consistent industry funded campaign to articulate what we do, why what we do is important and how we can get better into the future.
Farmers already pay significant industry levees and funds to help and support their industries.
However, we need a combined commitment to spend less money in the paddock and more on marketing "agriculture" as a brand not just a list of commodities.
A failure to do this will continue to see agriculture the whipping boy at each state and federal election and our only hope is for some scraps from the table of the larger political discourse in this country.
- Tom Marland is an agribusiness lawyer based in Bundaberg, Queensland. He is also the author of the blog, Food for Thought, Thought for Food.