Australian cattle producers have been thrown down the challenge to speak up and tell their stories to counter the increasingly relentless tide of criticism and mis-information directed at agriculture by animal rights activists around the world.
If one word captured the underlying message for producers at yesterday’s Meat and Livestock Australia Meat Profit Day at Eidsvold, it was “advocacy”.
Just as animal rights activists have successfully harnessed the power of social media to galvanise support for anti-farming and pro-vegetarian causes, producers have been urged to fight fire with fire by using social media to communicate their stories about agriculture to the city masses.
The clear message to producers was that the information landscape has changed, and traditional forms of media are being replaced by electronic and social media as the dominant forms of communication.
Meat and Livestock Australia chairman Don Heatley told producers that while a television program provided the initial spark, social media provided the fuel for the firestorm of public outrage that ultimately triggered the Federal Government’s decision to shut down the live export trade to Indonesia.
“I can say quite clearly that social media drove this issue like you wouldn’t believe,” Mr Heatley said.
“It has affected our industry enormously, it has effected some individuals terribly.
“As an industry we must grasp this medium, we must use it to our advantage, and not have others use it to our disadvantage.
“The average everyday producer like you and I has a tremendous role to play here. We must get up and tell our story. That is what the Government and what the press will listen to”.
South Dakota beef producers Troy and Stacey Hadrick have proven just how effectively that can be done through their successful campaigns in the US to rally support for farming and to counter mis-information about agriculture via Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.
They provided the key note address to yesterday’s Meat Profit Day and spoke at length about the opportunities that electronic media was providing for producers to communicate directly with urban people.
Stuart Barrett from Drumburle at Thangool is one Australian cattle producer already embracing the challenge of advocacy. He told the forum he had spent considerable time talking to city people about farming. Most were hungry for the truth about agriculture and very receptive to hearing directly from farmers, he said.
“I love living in the bush and I love the beef industry,” he said.
“This means that I have a vested interest in the natural resource that supports beef, my family and my future.
“Because to me, it is a fact that healthy environment equals healthy business.”
It was important that this message was understood by city people, he said, to ensure farming’s name was not dragged through the mud when it came to issues about sustainability and land care.
“We need to be able to confidentally and truthfully say that are producing beef in the smartest and healthiest way possible for the environment.”
By her own admission MLA environment and communications program manager Pip McConachie is a classic example of the type of urban resident agriculture needs to reach. She grew up in inner-city Sydney and readily admits she knew nothing about agriculture when she joined MLA. Nor is she alone. Research she cited shows that 67pc of Australian residents have little to no understanding of rural industries, and almost 60pc had never been on a sheep or cattle farm.
But she agreed with Mr Barrett that city based consumers had great interest in hearing stories about what farmers do.
“The big issue is around modesty of producers,” she said.
“People don’t want to be seen to be out there promoting themselves or for the neighbours to be thinking they are talking themselves up.
“But it is not about promoting yourself, it is about promoting your industry and the integrity of the industry.”
MLA has developed a range of tips to help producers to tell their stories on its website, available by clicking here.