Opinion

Opinion: Can Australian ag afford not to promote itself more actively?

James Nason, December 8, 2017

Australian agriculture is a major brand relying on a handful of individual organisations and farmers to handle the critical job of maintaining and building consumer trust. Picture: Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre.

 

In 2016-17, the gross value of Australian farm production was more than $63 billion.

If you think of Australian agriculture as a collective entity, it would rank in revenue terms as Australia’s second largest company.

Above it is Wesfarmers, a company with strong roots in agriculture, the owner of Coles supermarkets and other big retail brands like Bunnings, Kmart, Target and Officeworks, which earned $68 billion in revenue in 2016-17.

Close behind is another company closely connected to agriculture, Australia’s other supermarket giant Woolworths, which also owns big brands like Dan Murphys, BWS and Big W, which earned $56 billion.

Included in the top 10 are the major banks (Commonwealth, Westpac, NAB and ANZ) and the big miners Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton ($31.6b).

One factor uniting all of these big players is that they continually promote their brands to build trust with their consumers and the wider community.

It’s rare to turn on a television or open an online screen without seeing an advertisement promoting at least one of these major brands.

The mining sector collectively is also very proactive at running public awareness campaigns to reinforce the importance of the industry to Australian jobs and the Australian economy.

Australian agriculture produces more annual revenue than most of our major brands. It is a driving force of the Australian economy, generating 1.6 million jobs across the supply chain according to the National Farmers Federation (NFF). It is also Australia’s fastest growing industry, up 23 percent in the past financial year.

Yet, as a collective industry, Australian agriculture is often not publicly visible to the city-based voting public.

All the while interest groups continually work to undermine public trust in agriculture, often through campaigns trading on emotion rather than scientific fact or accurate data, resulting in an ever-increasing load of regulatory burdens being pushed onto Australian farmers, further diminishing their viability.

Last month, in the lead up to the inaugural National Agriculture Day – a great step in the right direction for promoting agriculture – research commissioned by the NFF indicated that 83 percent of Australians would describe their connection with farming as ‘distant’ or ‘non-existent’.

There is nothing new about these findings, but they reinforce the extent to which most Australians have become even more disconnected from where their food and fibre comes, and how unaware they are of the farm sector’s vital importance to our national economy.

So what are we doing as a collective industry to counter this serious public awareness problem?

There are some examples where efforts are being made.

The first National Agriculture Day on November 21, an initiative of the NFF, Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, the Federal Government and Coles (there’s one of those big brands again!) was a long overdue step forward, and clearly helped to generate some important balancing mainstream media coverage of the importance of Australian agriculture.

Some years ago Queensland farming group Agforce launched a series of ‘Every Family Needs a Farmer Campaign’ television advertisements in an attempt to counter the public portrayal of farmers as environmental vandals led by green groups campaigning to end tree-clearing.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s Target 100 program helps to showcase the important work Australian farmers do to protect the environment and animal welfare.

A proactive host of individual farmers and rural advocates actively promote and defend their industry on online channels and social media, or spend time spreading the word in schools – for just one example see our earlier article about this year’s Young Lot Feeder of the Year award winner Thomas Green.

Each of these efforts are individually valuable, inspiring and vital.

But, on their own, not nearly enough.

Australian agriculture is a major brand relying on a handful of individual organisations and farmers to handle the critical job of maintaining and building consumer trust.

Isn’t it time for a collective, industry-wide effort?

Think back to those other big brands, and what they spend to maintain public support. Australia’s largest company Wesfarmers, for example, spends over $200 million on advertising in a single year.

Can Australian agriculture afford to advertise its message to the Australian public?

It is worth noting that 2016-17, the Department of Agriculture disbursed $790.8 million in grower-generated levies, plus matching Commonwealth payments, to 18 levy recipient bodies.

A large portion of this revenue is collected for the purpose of industry research and development and marketing.

Just a small share of this collective funding could play a big role in ensuring the Australian public, and Australia’s political decision-makers, better understand the true value of Australian farming.

Amid an ever-rising tide of anti-agriculture headlines and agenda-driven campaigns continually seeking to undermine a disconnected public’s confidence in the food production sector, can Australian agriculture afford not to promote itself more actively?

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Comments

  1. Michael Guerin, December 17, 2017

    A timely and poignant article and following comments. Through the National Farmers Federation (NFF) as our peak farmers body we should be prosecuting this with those who receive our levies. How do we get that right balance of Research and Development and Marketing and are our levy receivers structured to provide optimum efficiency and effectiveness? We can and should be doing this better I believe.

    Debt loading should i believe be elevated to a discussion about Balance Sheet structure. Debt is often cheaper than equity but misused (by provider or receiver) can can cause irrevocable damage to a Balance Sheet. Then there is the whole equity argument. Equity (via a multitude of funds) flows around the world looking for opportunities to invest and create jobs and economic activity. We should welcome it within the broader agenda of managing our Balance Sheets and ensure the laws of our land protect what is important within that.

    As a state farming organisation within the federated system Ag Force Queensland Farmers Ltd will be looking to drive these issues through and with the support of our national body, NFF. Through the NFF we have the basic structure in place to push this critical agenda much more strongly, what we don’t need is more structures, we just need to use what we have more effectively is my view.

  2. shane Stenhouse, December 9, 2017

    All that needs to be promoted is one fact ” If you don’t eat you die. Farmers produce your food ,so support the YOUR farmers.”

  3. Charles Nason, December 9, 2017

    Thank you for a very strategic thinking opinion piece
    There are other important aspects of agriculture you could have expanded on
    Such as that most regional towns are dependant on the profitability of the surrounding area which is dominantly agriculture and anything that reduces the profitability of agriculture and farmers also affects the local towns
    This flow on or multiplier effect also affects the national economy . The millennium drought of circa 2002 had a significant effect on growth rate and employment , far more than its contribution to GDP ( only 2.5% ) would suggest
    Australia is a very urbanised country and the connection (and thus understanding ) between city and country seems to have waned dramatically
    Far too many who should know better say we export 60-70% of our food production and there is no need to worry . True for some commodities , but we also import a huge amount which is never taken into account so the net position should be very concerning . Mark McGovern of QUT ( and others ) has commented on this . Our net position is possibly only about 20%
    Julian Cribb suggests that agriculture is strategically as important as defence
    Our forefathers knew the value of agriculture and food security , we seem to have forgotten .Possibly why farmers can not understand why land clearing is so high on ALP’s election promises yet will impact so severely on their traditional voters
    The enormous rural debt should be ringing alarm bells as to the health of agriculture . QRAA debt figures and MLA’s northern beef situation report also indicate a unsustainable debt load
    No one seems to want to address it . They face the alcoholic’s dilemma – you can not solve a problem until you admit you have one
    Is agriculture is too important strategically to be financed by commercial banks ? Why did the Ag Bank of old fund so much agricultural development? An enquiry into the banking sector might ask these questions ?

    To avoid any reader drawing conclusions about possible nepotism in Charles Nason’s opening comment, we’d like to point out that he is only a distant relation of Beef Central’s James Nason. Jon Condon

  4. Ken Schultz, December 9, 2017

    For this argument to make sense Bunnings would have to be promoting the DIY industry as a whole and Masters would still be in business. This is exactly the reason why Australian farmers’ productivity gains are flat lining. I don’t believe that there is any proof generic promotion has ever or will ever be successful in achieving desired objectives. This is just another example of ag-socialism. Unfortunately the majority of farmers and graziers want the benefit of others hard work, persistence and vision without the effort.

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