I am a 6th generation dairy farmer who knows quite a bit about the dairy industry, a bit about the beef, sheep and wool industry and these days I am proud to say I know much more than the average person about the cotton industry.
I will also quite readily admit I probably know little more than the average Joe Blow about forestry, fisheries, rice growing, milking goats, growing avocados, oranges, olives or grapes and many, many of the other paddock to plate and field to fabric processes
Dairy farmer Rob McIntosh’s shares the cow to carton story with local school students
So when the Primary Industries Education Foundation released their now legendary survey results that showed some very interesting origins for yogurt I wasn’t overly surprised
But is not the lack of paddock to plate knowledge that is of most concern, its the lack of knowledge about the environmental and health impacts of society’s food choices that will have the most serious long term ramifications.
As a farmer I get this knowledge by understanding what it takes to sustainably produce milk and it doesn’t matter what food or fibre you produce the key principals are the same.
There is so much more to farming than producing food and fibre. Dairy farmer Rob McIntosh shows teachers and students how he is looking after his scarce natural resources at Woodside Park, Berry
In the broader non farming community the end result of this disconnect from the food system is that those of us lucky enough to live in first world countries where food is bountiful, belong to a society that surveys show is only interested in price and convenience. This focus on price is not only devaluating our farmers and all the people and industries who support our farmers, it is devaluing our health and our scarce natural resources
Neilson research presented by Courtney Sullivan at the Australian Dairy Conference a couple of years ago showed that most Australians have little knowledge of where their food comes from, that they are aware of their ignorance and that, to put it bluntly, ignorance is bliss. Price was the main driver. Quality was taken for granted. Source here
So way back before the Archibull Prize when I first coined the Picasso Cows concept the aim was to use fun and innovative ways to teach kids where their food comes from. However most importantly it was to motivate them to think seriously about the environmental impacts of their food choices and how their health is affected by the way food is produced
And of course the long term legacy of sending our Young Farming Champions into schools to share their farm stories and experiences is we are reconnecting students with the experts – the farmers
Now I mention Picasso Cows because way back in 2007 there was a local dairy farmer called Rob McIntosh who signed up to host the schools involved in the on-farm visits in his area and he had phenomenal impact.
In the following 6 years I have had a lot of media training and I don’t think Rob has had any!!! Yet after seeing him interviewed on both the ABC and in schools recently he reminds me there are a very small proportion of people out there who just innately “get it”.
Authenticity and honesty are highly valued in communications and who better to tell the real farmer story than the ones who live it daily and can share genuine stories from their farms.
Good communication is also about portraying consistent messages. More consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced. Food safety, quality, animal care and the environment are of paramount importance in the 21st century and so they should be.
What I do want to reinforce to farmers everywhere, it has never been more important to get out there and tell your story. I for one can assure you that it is something you can learn to do and its very rewarding to have the confidence to talk to and get feedback from the people who buy our food and fibre.
Lets not forget farmers do a lot more than produce Food and Fibre, they help underpin the health, wealth and happiness of our great country and that most definitely is the greatest story ever told
Interesting thoughts on the big picture here Global agriculture towards 2050