There’s a Rural/Rural Divide and it’s not doing Agriculture any favours

Food is our common ground, it creates communities, a universal language and experience

This week’s social media sensation (see Footnote) and Wool Young Farming Champion Bessie Thomas from Wilcannia in Far Western NSW who knows all about dry river beds and what its like to farm with very little water is very unhappy about the farmer versus farmer divide she is witnessing in the media and she wants it to stop

This is Bessie’s plea ……..

The environmental crisis of the Murray Darling river systems has hit headlines this week and copping most of the flack is Australia’s cotton farmers.

While temperatures soar, rivers dry up and fish die across New South Wales, bridges are burning in my social media feed too.

Water users, including farmers, downstream are blaming irrigators upstream and right now being a cotton farmer in Australia seems dirtier than the algal waters of the Menindee Lakes.

Murray-Darling debacle aside – read this great perspective from Mike Logan for more on that – this week’s online cross industry interaction has illuminated an ingrained problem that affects us all: there’s a rural/rural divide and it’s not doing agriculture any favours.

I have livestock farming friends downstream who’ve de-stocked and are showering with a single bucket of rainwater because the river water they would usually use is too putrid. And I’ve got irrigation farming friends upstream who’re being blamed for taking water they also don’t have. Verbally their stones are aimed at each other, though I’m sure they’d be friends if they met at a BBQ.

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I have a friend who lives in marginal livestock country, farming meat-sheep, working in agribusiness and completing PhD research with an end game of helping feed the world’s hungry. Her farm just happens to be smaller than average for the region.

Her research gives her access to a global audience, with invitations to speak at agricultural events world over. And while some locals throw verbal stones about “hobby farming,” everyone who hears her speak is enchanted by her passion for the industry and love of the outback landscape. Even if her external audiences only take away one positive message from her talks, that is an inspiring thing.  It could simply be, “I’ve always wanted to visit the outback and now I’m actually going to do it!” and that would would be invaluable to her region.

I have another friend who works in the city but farms in the country on weekends and during holidays. “Part-time farmers” get a bad rap from us “full-timers,” yet who’s to judge if part-time job is a full-time passion?

When her colleagues ask what she’s up to for the weekend and she tells them about her farm, she is building connections with consumers of our produce. Next time those work colleagues order dinner at a restaurant they’ll think of her and maybe they’ll choose the dish with locally grown ingredients over an imported product. That is an enormous benefit to all of us.

Every step of the agriculture cycle is vital to a healthy and wealthy nation. Every day, Australian farmers produce nutritious, safe and affordable food for 60 million people and are entrusted as stewards of 60 percent of the Australian landscape.

‘If we can’t respect each other as experts in what we do,

then we can’t expect consumers to.’

Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion founder and mentor Lynne Strong recently told me,

“When our fellow farming industries are under the hammer it’s hard to know how to support them without making comment on the controversy. Yet, the best way for agriculture to build social licence, maintain it and be credible, is cross-commodity support.”

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We don’t have to agree with each other, but let’s ask questions, listen to the answers and respect each other enough to broaden our minds. It’s time to build cross-industry relationships and be each others advocates.

Let’s bridge our rural/rural divide and embrace the power of collaboration to build lasting connections with consumers.

#StrongerTogether  #YouthVoices19 #YouthinAg #BreaktheDrought

Footnote:

Bessie volunteers ( in the little spare time she has ) as our social media manager and she created this fabulous video of life on her farm in 2018 Check it out it, its gone viral this week and will melt your heart. We cant wait to share with you the Random Acts of Kindness it has generated