When farmers are their own worst enemy

The Sydney Royal Easter Show has been running for the last 10 days. The show attracts close to one million people every year

It is a phenomenal opportunity for farmers to engage with “showgoers” aka general public aka consumers. Those all important people who buy what we produce.

Sydney Royal Easter Show - the audience

Our audience – Opportunity gained? Opportunity lost? Source  

I have been exhibiting at the show since I was eight years old and been involved in various community engagement activities at the Show for the past 10 years.

2008 Dairy activities in Cattle Pavilion

Farm to Fridge Painting Wall

Farm to Fridge Activities

As a farmer in reality I should see exhibiting as a community engagement activity – shouldn’t I?

For example if I was a dairy cattle exhibitor impacted by $1/litre milk sales

  • I would be signing up to be at the show on the most popular days at the show for the general public.
  • I would be doing everything in my power to have conversations with everyone who walked past to show them that I am one of those people that supply their families with nutritious, affordable and safe milk.
  • I would do everything I could to show them that I care for my animals.
  • I would be doing everything I could to show them that I am passionate about the scarce natural resources that my cows graze on.
  • I would do everything I could to ensure those people who walk past me and my cows at the show go home with an emotional bond that makes them think twice what milk they select when they walk into the supermarket.

Last night I had a call from some-one I know well in marketing. It was a very blunt phone call.

He said ‘Has your industry ever thought about the fact that your dairy farmer stud cattle exhibitors at the Sydney Royal Easter Show are doing it more harm than good?”

I said “What do you mean?”

He said “I wandered around the stud dairy cattle pavilion for 45 mins watching how the dairy farmers engaged with the general public. Whilst some do genuinely engage when they are spoken to, the rest give off this elite aura and some are just plain rude”

I did jump to their defence and said meekly “well they have put in a great deal time, money and effort to get their cows there and they are all pretty much focused on the blue ribbon and tend to find the general public a distraction”

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Sadly he is not the first person to say this. So what does our industry do to engage with the public?

Well our industry doesn’t do anything but the RAS of NSW certainly does and the face of both of these very impressive activities are young people very passionate about the dairy industry who aren’t farmers.

There is the Dairy Farmers Milking Barn promoted as

an interactive and fun experience for the whole family. With demonstrations throughout the day, showgoers can learn about how farmers care for cattle, what the animals eat to stay healthy, milking hygiene and how dairy technology has advanced over the past 200 years.

Showgoers will also have the opportunity to hand-milk some of the gentle, good-natured cows and interact with the farmers.

I have stood and watched as Luke and his team entertain and inform the crowd and it’s outstanding

Also on offer for showgoers and equally popular is the Dairy Farmers Working Dairy promoted as an opportunity to see the on farm technology that is second step in the process of getting milk, butter and cheese from the grassy meadow paddock to the breakfast table?

In an amazing display of modern agricultural technology in action, The Dairy Farmers Working Dairy offers a behind-the-barn-door look at the workings of a modern dairy.

Showgoers will see state-of-the-art machinery in operation, watch as cows are milked and see how today’s dairy farmers monitor their herd for maximum performance.

Visit The Dairy Farmers Working Dairy and the nearby The Dairy Farmers Milking Barn for a look at the incredible changes that modern technology has brought to the business of agriculture.

At the Dairy Farmers Working Dairy the showgoers get to see the exhibitors cows milked.

The face of the Dairy Farmers Milking Barn is a young veterinarian and multi-media megastar Cassie MacDonald

Cassie MacDonald working dairy

– again like Luke and his team she gives a world class stellar performance.

But do these exhibitions leave a long lasting emotional bond that translates into branded milk sales? After all they are pitched as the opportunity to see the technology?

Technology is a thing. Extensive social research tells us people relate to people

Are the dairy cattle stud exhibitors doing themselves more harm than good?

Well that’s a question for industry and ultimately those farmers themselves to decide and do something about.

Milk Bottles

Milk is milk no matter how it is branded or is it?

BTW Other industries are doing some amazing “showgoer’ engagement activities at the show. I will blog about those shortly


This post has had 50 Facebook shares in 15 minutes of it being posted. Many of these comments are very concerning. Are showgoers idiots? I don’t think so. How many stupid questions would farmers ask if they went to their workplaces. Why cant we see that the difference between farmers and everyone else it we were lucky enough to grow up surrounded by agriculture . Its time to show some respect and thank the people who buy what we produce and stop wasting massive opportunities like this one Facebook Commentsand this Facebook posting from Robin says it all don’t you think?- if you are going to turn up make the most of it

Robin on Facebook

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

8 thoughts on “When farmers are their own worst enemy”

  1. Comments above sum up the problem. Yes engaging with the general public is difficult, often frustrating, supremely patience-testing and very tiring. But – it MUST be done. If you produce anything, and sell it, and you want to keep eating…then it’s fundamental. We all have different strengths, so yes it would be smart for industry to site people whose forte is talking to the public, at a prominent site within each show pavilion, to shoulder much of the burden.
    It’s my personal belief that agriculture as a whole needs to shake the spiders out and properly fund people who take the time to promote the industry. Many shouldering most of the burden, don’t even own land or livestock.

  2. I think it’s really important that farmers in public spaces remember that those people who ask the silly/stupid questions could either turn out to be a great asset to agriculture or a great enemy.
    People asking questions is a great thing and should be encouraged more! If you don’t have the time to answer properly then be polite and direct the person to somewhere else (and I assume there are a lot of other options at places like Sydney Royal!) where they could find out the answer.
    I’ve asked plenty of stupid questions about sheep over the years but because I was given proper answers and not made fun of, I’ve now become a great advocate for agriculture and spend my life interpreting rural speak for city audiences… the outcome could have been a lot different if I’d been given silly answers or turned into a joke.

  3. We showed at the Sydney Royal Show (before they made it impossible for Victorians with stupid rules regarding Johne’s) and we were placed right at the end of the line because show organisers said they knew our string would be tidy. We proactively engaged that year in dialogue with the visitors and were amazed at their interest and genuine lack of understanding (through no fault of their own) of the dairy industry and how milk pricing works. Most had no idea how poorly farmers were paid and how that impacted on animal welfare (on farms where farmers didn’t love their animals) and/or community energy. What I think SHOULD happen is that Dairy Australia – the white elephant paid to help us all – should run advertising campaigns explaining this and putting pressure on the market forces that are starving farmers while others in the food chain get rich. Knowledge is power – WHY are we not USING the opportunity. This is what we did at Sydney Show that year and we were amazing and humbled at the response…I know it would work…wake up dairy officials charged with helping strengthen our case. Once Dairy Australia officials did visit us on farm and I explained our position carefully. It took hours. They listened. They were interested. They wanted to help. What happened? Nothing!

    1. Hi Di
      Thanks for taking the time to comment You have hit the nail on the head. We need to make the most of the animal paws walk and put the farmers there who love to have conversations with the public and are good at it and reward them for their time. The answers are ridiculously easy No one has every actually asked the question. Dairy Australia on the other hand have a role but it is ADF’s role to do what you are suggesting in this instance
      Great to hear from you Xox

  4. i thought the entire point of exhibiting is for marketing! I show my sheep as it is a great community engagement tool to talk with people about sheep and wool – potential customers of mine who will buy some of my stud stock or fleeces in the future. Competition and ribbons are all part of marketing a quality product too. Show-goers will also be my advocates as they form a connection from seeing livestock at the show and go home with a greater understanding of how livestock are cared for. Many find my stud page on Facebook and follow the farm story. Very sad that this blog needed to be written – exhibitors need to take the opportunity to engage with their customers and advocates. Well said Lynne!

  5. I did Sydney and Melbourne shows when I was a PhD student on a specialist industry display for the pig industry. The display was designed for maximum engagement with the public and we worked so hard to talk to as many people as we could. I think the exhibitors felt that dealing with the public was our job, but after hours and through the course of the show it was good to get to know them and engage them in what we were doing for their industry. I think specialist educational exhibits play such a huge role and have continued to be involved here in Adelaide in grains. Still, everyone ‘represents’ ag at the show, whether they like it or not, and ag doesn’t get many opportunities to speak directly to that audience. Not sensible to waste it. Or worse.

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