Today’s post has been written by Angus Whyte profiled beautifully here by Fleur McDonald in January.
A Robert Brinkerhoff Illustration
The post has been prompted by two posts I wrote recently. Firstly on Art4agriculuture Chat about Young Farming Champion Stephanie Tarlinton’s recent speech at the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium which saw her voted the favourite speaker of the day. Scroll half way down the page past my background info to read Stephanie’s very powerful speech she titled the “Conversations of Change”. The other post referred to a presentation at the same event given by Dr Jude Capper that prompted this post on Clover Hill Dairies Diary “Little Golden Book Farming”
This is what Gus has to say ……..
Interesting that language can mean different things to different people; it can bring people together or divide them. When farmers talk about new technology they are talking about GPS technology that allows them to plant, fertilize or spray exactly where required, or telemetry systems that allow them to remotely control waters, maybe even individual animal ID systems that feed the animal its exact requirements. All technologies that have helped reduced food spend as percentage of income in Australia from 50% to 10% in the last 100 years
When consumers hear new technology in agriculture they hear “triffid like” GM plants or the latest spray that will kill everything, even hormone growth promotants that will turn stock into the incredible hulk, well green anyway.
The question might be; “how can the language show the reality?” The reality is that farmers and consumers both want the same thing – healthy, nutritious, ethically produced food and fibre that was grown with the best interests of the planet in mind”
Lets have a look further at how we may be using the same language; when consumers want food produced “like the way it has always been produced, the old fashioned way”, and the farmers want to be able to produce a good product “without working 8 days a week 30 hours a day, the old fashioned way”. When farmers talk about “efficiency gains” they are talking about being able to produce the same product with less of a carbon footprint and still make a margin aware that the “terms of trade” are constantly reducing. Remembering whilst the cost of food had gone up 40% in the last ten years (CPI has gone up about 50%), the farmer’s share has gone from 20 cents in the dollar to 17.
Total factor productivity (TFP) in Australian broadacre agriculture and farmers’ terms of trade: 1953–2004.Source ABARES
When consumers hear “efficiency gains” they seem to hear “factory farms” or that farmers have found a better way to make even more money than they already do. These thoughts conjure up images of cruelty and money hungry, both traits that are disliked (and rightly so) in our community.
To bring the language together if consumers think that farmers must invest in the environment regardless of the cost then consumers must show the environment the same respect and seek produce that is raised consistent to their values, then buy it, regardless of the cost. I put it to you that if farming was so easy and you can make so much money then why are less than 1% of our community involved and that is decreasing every year?
I must admit I know that we can produce food and fibre in a way that means consumers and farmers needs are met, even exceeded. You will notice that I will not mention money when I’m talking about needs. Consumers have no more right whatsoever to expect food at a reasonable price if they don’t believe farmers have no right to get paid a reasonable price for their produce. Everyone involved in the production of food through to eating it, should be aware of the social and ethical values of living in a community. The “carbon tax” is an attempt to place an economic value on something that we as a society should value, which is the living within our means and not having negative external impacts on the environment.
When we purchase an item we should ask ourselves: Has this been produced with respect to my personal values of welfare, health etc.? Has the item been produced without external impacts on environment, community etc.? These values can’t have an economic value placed on them and yet all talk about the long term health of the planet and the community.
When we buy food you can look to “make an investment in your health and future” or you can see it as “a cost that needs to be reduced as much as possible.” I believe that we as a society are so used to eating poor quality food that is “cheap”, if we based our decisions on food quality we would need much less and actually save money.
Just so that we are all taking the same language we as consumers need to build closer relationships with our producers so we understand how our wonderful food is produced, then we can make “value based” decisions when we purchase. As you are all aware large supermarkets are service based industries that don’t produce anything and they make it very difficult to build a relationship with your farmers. So you should find vendors that can tell you who, how and where the food is grown, tell you its story, then you can make a judgment on the values of that product before purchase. This way you can ensure that you aren’t just making a good investment in your own health, also that of the broader community and the planet.
Remember the statement “no man is an island”, our dollars dictate our values so if we truly want to see change then we need to understand that our choices impact on others, we are all part of the same community on planet Earth.
The Author: Angus Whyte lives with wife Kelly and 8 year old son Mitchell at “Wyndham”, a 12,500ha pastoral property on the Anabranch River 85km north of Wentworth NSW. “We consider ourselves “graziers”, in that we turn plants into money through livestock and we don’t mind what sort of livestock we run. Our attitude to farming is simply to work with nature rather than against, so we no longer have weeds, we have “plants with stories” that we can learn from and our aim is to make our business simple and our ecosystem extremely complex, the more complex the better.”
If you would like to join in the conversation on Twitter Gus tweets as @GusWhyte and farmers and their extensive and diverse networks discuss all things food and fibre under #agchatoz
Recently farmers have been concerned about how we are being stereotyped see I am not Happy Woolies and we are adding #proag to our tweets ( when there is room- I mean 140 characters is pretty tight at the best of times) to discuss this.
FYI #proag is short for professional and caring farmers