PEOPLE working in the agricultural sector should focus on what they have in common with consumers, rather than view them in an adversarial manner when dealing with some of the industry’s hot issues, according to social attitudes researcher Heather Bray.
“We are all consumers too and we probably have more in common with consumers than we think,” she said.
Speaking at the Adelaide University Agricultural Students’ Association’s Growing the Future event last week, University of Adelaide researcher Dr Bray was part of a panel discussing the pressures on the industry in the age of social media.
Genetically-modified crops, live exports, caged eggs and access to chemicals, such as glyphosate, were just some of the topics identified as debates facing the industry.
National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson agreed the conversations about consumers and with consumers had to change.
“We do tend to say ‘city people do this or that’, which is building a wall,” she said.
“I don’t think we should be defending stuff – “fighting back” sounds like we’ve got our backs to the walls and that is the wrong conversation to be having.”
Instead, Ms Simson said there needed to be more focus on connecting the people who grow food and fibre with the people who use food and fibre, in particular about the benefits of Australian produce.
“(We need) conversations about what great food and fibre it is and how we are world leaders for animal welfare,” she said.
Ms Simson said there already was a shift towards thinking about consumer demands.
“In the olden days we grew what we grew – we grew wheat because we were a wheat farmer,” she said.
“Now we look at gross margins and value add, containerise; we’re already thinking about consumers and we have to do that more.”
She said it was important to keep engaging with consumers because they had influence on policy decisions.
Ms Simson said there also needed to be a more cohesive industry approach to tackling some of these issues.
“People are looking at the live export sheep industry and saying ‘phew’, but we need to wait and see what’s coming,” she said.
Grain Producers SA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes said the grains industry might take the approach that there was little harm in grains production, but it was also at risk of losing access to some chemical groups through regulation.
She said part of maintaining these could be through explaining the robust regulation already in the industry.
“We have the world’s best oversight and environmental health,” she said.
Ms Rhodes said the industry had already lost out with the GM moratorium.
“We have lost a lot of opportunity by allowing GM debate to sit there for a period of time,” she said.
“We have some of the best minds sitting at Waite and the argument has overshadowed the opportunity that exists. We need to frame GM as part of a toolkit.”
Dr Bray said the GM debate could shift by aligning its use with community values.
“GM was at its most popular when the discourse was around preventing and dealing with climate change,” she said.
“When (GM use) can align with sustainability goals, it can change the conversation from where the companies benefit to one where there are broader benefits.”
University of Adelaide PhD student Emily Buddle, who has been researching public perceptions of animal welfare, said it was also important to acknowledge in these conversations that other people may have different values and to not automatically shut down upon hearing different opinions.
“Our faux meat friends have a place – if people are opposed to uniting to consume animal-based protein, they have a right to do so,” she said.
Next generation connects with agri industry
FUTURE agriculture employees have been demonstrating their passion for the sector, with the Adelaide University Agricultural Students’ Association holding its third Growing the Future night at the Adelaide Oval.
AUASA president Nathanial Modra said the goal of the evening was to enable those who wanted to work in agriculture to build connections with potential employees and learn more about the industry they would enter.
Included in the night were three panels on topics such as the right to farm, trade opportunities in Asia and the uptake of new farming technology, featuring Assistant Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Anne Ruston and National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson, while Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone also addressed the crowd.
Mr Modra said the topics came about through brainstorming about relevant issues that went beyond any particular sector, such as cropping or livestock.
“It’s great to have all these people in SA for this sort of event,” he said.
The evening also included a forum, where students could hear from the agriculture industry about what employers were looking for in potential employees.
Science communicator and AgCommunicators director Belinda Cay said it was an exciting era.
“With urbanisation and changing diets, there is a call for a new way to produce and market foods,” she said.
Ms Cay said research showed a 15-year-old in 2018 could expect to have as many as five career changes across 17 employers, which meant graduates needed to be flexible.