2011 was officially the Year of the Forest, but for many in agriculture a title like year of the natural and man-made disaster may well have been more appropriate. Devastating floods, fires, cyclones, and a Government imposed shutdown of a major market made 2011 a year of massive challenges and hardship for many Australian farmers.
However, the good news is that a new year has arrived, and, in a timely initiative, it has officially been recognised in Australia as the Year of the Farmer.
The National Farmers Federation says 2012 is shaping as one of the most positive years on record for Australian farmers.
"The beginning of 2012 brings with it improved seasonal conditions across most of Australia, favourable commodity prices, a weakening Australian dollar and a forecast that the value of farm exports is expected to rise some six percent," NFF president Jock Laurie said in a press release issued yesterday to recognise the year-long initiaitve.
"There has never been a better time to be a farmer – and the story of Australian agriculture reflects this. The growth in the farm sector over the past 20 years has consistently outperformed other sectors, and was a key reason Australia avoided a recession during the global financial crisis.
"The prospects for agriculture are huge, with the need to feed, clothe and house a booming world population. World population growth will continue to expand to over nine billion by 2050, driving demand for both quality and quantity of food and fibre, as well as availability of arable land and water. We are entering the 'Asian century' and we are well placed to capitalise on this.
"Agriculture has an enormous uptake of new technology, we have thousands of jobs available, we contribute $32 billion in export income to the economy, we manage some 61 percent of Australia's land, and we produce the clean, healthy, fresh food that Australian families, and indeed families across the world, enjoy.
"This year, the focus on farming via the Australian Year of the Farmer will help us tell the great story of agriculture and raise awareness about the enormous contribution of our farmers.
"At the same time, the NFF will this year be working with the agricultural industry and the wider supply chain to develop the Blueprint for Australian Agriculture – one of the most ambitious and innovative programs ever undertaken to set a road map for the future of the farming sector.
"We look forward to working with farmers and all within agriculture this year to celebrate the Australian Year of the Farmer, and to develop the Blueprint for Australian Agriculture," Mr Laurie said.
At the launch of the Australian Year of the Farmer in October last year, managing director Geoff Bell said it was time for all Australians to give their farmers a pat on the back. This is what he said:
“I've always had a strong connection to farming – but I'm not a farmer. Like many other Australians, I have family ties to the land. I also married a farmer's daughter and, as the CEO of the Sydney Markets Limited, I came to understand the pressure farmers and growers are under as they work to provide food and fibre for the Nation.
“I often wonder how many people fully appreciate the role farmers play in this country. There's a common perception that farming is only about people in rural communities; well I'm here to tell you that's wrong.
“Whether you live in the smallest country town or one of our biggest cities, farming is integral to all our daily lives.
“If you disagree, imagine for a second how you'd be impacted if our farmers went on strike. What would you eat? Where would your fresh fruit and vegetables, your dairy products, your fish, meat, poultry, eggs, grains and fibres, your takeaway hamburger come from? Maybe you'd like to crack open a cold beer or a glass of wine to drown your sorrows, think again – the malt, hops and grapes also come from a farm.
“Then again, it's not just things we consume that come from our farmers. Think about wool, cotton, leather, paper and timber. There are so many other fine quality products that our farmers grow and harvest that we too often take for granted.
“I am proud 2012 is going to be the Australian Year of the Farmer. It's a celebration of what farmers do for all Australians.
“Farming is a very diverse and exciting industry. It combines things like economics, engineering, environmental management, science, plumbing, labouring and building.
“Our farmers and agriculture service industries are leading the world, constantly addressing issues like climate change and food security. Our farmers produce more − while using less of the environment's resources. In 2010, our farmers used 7.3% less land than they did 60 years ago, but are producing 220% more product and use 50-80% less water than before.
“The Year will acknowledge the hard work and innovation of the many Australians involved in the farming industry, from the farm gate, forest or estuary to consumption. An exciting calendar of events and activities is being finalised to celebrate all things farming, reinforce the relationship between rural and urban communities and help educate children (and adults) on the important role farming plays in this country. We hope the year will also serve to enthuse youngsters about the wealth of careers available in agriculture and related industries.
“I was talking to a teacher the other day and he said to me the most common response to a simple question like "where does milk come from?", is "the supermarket." To me this sums up exactly why a year that specially recognises farmers is needed.
“Farming is a partnership between rural and urban communities. For farming to remain sustainable, people living in our cities need to understand their role in the partnership. They need to take the time to find out where their food comes from, to understand the exciting careers available in the farming and agricultural sectors, and the crucial role farming plays in Australia's economic and social fabric.
“It boils down to all of us remembering our farmers are integral to our future. And that our farmers' future is in our hands.
For more information on the Year of the Farmer, visit the website here