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Consumer preferences - how this would help farmers

Fiona Simson, NFF President, is challenging readers to provide a better insight into just where what farmers grow ends up.

The food provenance movement is booming.

The very fact there’s an appetite for a magazine such as Food Miles is testament that, globally, people are wanting to know more about the origin of the food they consume.

Shoppers want to know more about (and develop trust in) farming practices plus get that romantic feeling that comes with knowing the origin of what’s on your plate.

As a farmer, and in my role as National Farmers’ Federation President, I see food provenance as a great opportunity for our industry to ‘show off’ what we do, how we do it and where we do it.

I loved an initiative I saw recently where shoppers could scan a QR code on their steak’s packaging and be transported (via video) to the farm where the animal originated. Up popped footage of an idyllic property in southern New South Wales with rolling hills covered in lush, green pastures. The farmer spoke with pride about the cattle her family produced and how they were bred to produce meat that tickled the taste buds.

It got me thinking – wouldn’t it be good if this was in reverse. If I could see where the grain, beef and cotton I produce ends up. I’d get a real thrill out of being a fly on the wall of the home of an Indian family enjoying Dahl made from mung beans grown at our Liverpool Plains property.

...farmers also want to know more about consumers’ preferences for the food they produce.
Fiona Simson, President, National Farmers' Federation

You see, just as consumers want to know more about how their food has arrived on their plate – farmers also want to know more about consumers’ preferences for the food they produce.

Such knowledge helps farmers tailor their production to meet these preferences – which in the long run is likely to improve their returns. After all - the customer IS always right!

In truth what the consumer wants is already a large part of what influences farmers’ decision making (makes sense doesn’t it?). When it comes to farm produce, consumer preferences have played a role in the starting product - whether it’s the wheat variety sown, the variety of potato planted or the breed of sheep reared.

Wheat breeders, for example, consider the properties flour millers are looking for, such as what levels of protein make for a good loaf of bread?  And for cattle breeders the eating quality of the meat they produce is the number one consideration. For the renowned Wagyu breed, for example, meat tenderness, fat composition, and softness are the main considerations.

And do you think it is a coincidence that the apples we buy fit snug in our hand, making for the perfect ‘on the go’ snack?  Not all the apples grown on in our orchard are so uniform!  Or is it that farmers are choosing to plant varieties of apples that produce apples that suit the most preferred specifications?

And what about seedless watermelons? Are these beauties as much of a work of nature, as they are an acknowledgment by watermelon breeders that seeds get in the way of our melon experience?

As a farmer, ... I have an immense sense of pride in the job I do. And I’d like to see more of the finished product.
Fiona Simson, President, National Farmers' Federation

The CSIRO recently developed a barley variety with such ‘ultra-low’ levels of gluten that it qualifies as gluten free according to the World Health Organization. The break-through caters for the needs of people with coeliac disease and people who are gluten intolerant. It is also perfect for the gluten-conscious beer drinker!  And FYI – sorghum, historically mostly only used for livestock feed, is now making headlines as a new non-gluten grain ideal for human consumption.

So getting back to my point about food provenance in reverse. As a farmer, who is, to use a cliché, feeding the world, I have an immense sense of pride in the job I do. And I’d like to see more of the finished product.

I’m challenging readers to indulge me – I want to get a better insight into just where what I (and other farmers) grow ends up.

So. please get snapping. Take a photo of your breakfast, lunch or dinner, upload to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, comment as to the providence of your food and share. If you like - tag me. My Twitter handle is @afsnsw or you can get in touch via @OzFarmers or by searching Australian Farmers on Facebook.

Fiona Simson is a Liverpool Plains farmer and the (first female) President of the National Farmers’ Federation – the peak representative organisation for Australian agriculture. To find out more about Australian farming visit www.farmers.org.au

This article was originally published in Food Miles Mag.

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