US colonel outlines why farmers are essential to national security

James Nason, 12/05/2020

FOOD security and national security are one and the same, US Air Force Colonel and veterinarian Sam Barringer told an Australian feedlot conference last October, a message that would be dramatically reinforced by global events just a few months later.

“If you don’t have food security your society will devolve very quickly,” he told the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) conference in Dalby last year (left).

No one could have predicted how soon Colonel Barringer’s words would be borne out but just months later images of panic buying, empty supermarket shelves and violent altercations between consumers were playing out amid supply shortages around the world.

In a follow up address to ALFA members held via a Zoom webinar this morning (Australian time) Colonel Barringer reiterated his message that agriculture is central to national security.

“When you look around the globe all you would have to have is a break down in food security and very rapidly a nation would cease to exist,” he said via video link from the US to the Australian cattle industry audience.

He urged people in agriculture “think about the role you pay in that”.

“We saw this recently, people fighting over a roll of toilet paper. How irrational is that?

“But magnify that – if it were taken to this idea of hunger and watch how quickly people would become deeply irrational, and I have seen that as someone who has been deployed around the world, it is insane what people will do when they’re fearful of going hungry.

“So keep that in mind as we think about how important it is we do what we do well, and what would happen if we fell down and everyone in this chain of getting goods to those shelves broke down.

“Chaos would be imminent.

“I think a lot of people who heard me in October (at the ALFA conference in Dalby) may have been just a little sceptical.

“I doubt there’s any sceptics today.”

Unique, parallel skill sets in farming and military

In this morning’s webinar Colonel Barringer praised the ‘jaw dropping’ resilience and efficiency of Australian and American agriculture.

He also spoke of unique parallels he sees the in skill sets of people commonly drawn to agriculture and military.

‘Conceptualisation’ is a skill set common to people in animal agriculture and special forces personnel, and uncommon outside those areas.

It refers to the ability to see how elements of an abstract whole fit together to identify problems that need to be addressed, before others are able to.

It involves not just identifying problems, but actually coming up with an innovative solution as well and “driving it home”.

“Conceptualisers see the problem before anyone else does, they look at innovative solutions and then those innovative solutions are implemented and the enterprise is moved forward, he said.

“That is a rare and very difficult skill set.”

He said less than 3 percent of the population are conceptualisers and a high proportion of people with those skills can be found in animal agriculture industries and special forces.

“Recognise that a high, high percentage of people that are in agriculture go into the military, there is that cross over and a lot of our special forces come from agricultural backgrounds,” he said.

‘you don’t really pick agriculture or special forces, it picks you’

“I often make this point: you don’t really pick agriculture or special forces, it picks you” because of this very unique skill set.

“This a very unique skill set that the bulk of you listening in today own, but outside of your world there aren’t very many people that also own it.”

Colonel Barringer focused a large part of this morning’s talk on strategies to help food producers be successful ‘conceptualisers’.

This included “knowing your why” and recognising your motivation, using effective stories to make a point without alienating people, understanding what resiliency is and how it works to get through hardship, and how to keep people and cattle healthy with optimised immune systems to reduce breakdowns and to maintain food security.

He also emphasised focusing on ‘teamsmanship’ above leadership to generate effective outcomes, and encouraged people to intentionally create “unforgettable moments”.

“From my perspective, the more people I am willing to die for the better my life is,” he said.

In a deeply poignant moment Colonel Barringer also expressed his gratitude to the Australian people for the love and support they showed to his close personal friends whose son, a US pilot, was tragically killed in the crash of a C130 plane which was helping to fight Australia’s bushfires in January.

Colonel Barringer closed the presentation by reiterating that food security and national security are synonomous, and paid tribute to the job Australian farmers do as food producers.

“Australian national security is 100 percent dependent on you doing a good job to maintain food security.”


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