Nuffield Scholarship winner, Colin de Grussa, investigates how farmers and agribusinesses interact with consumers.
Colin de Grussa is an Esperance farmer, a Nuffield Scholar and a newly-minted member of Western Australia’s Legislative Assembly. He is passionate about raising (the positive) profile of agriculture. For his Nuffield study Colin travelled to Europe, the US and New Zealand to better understand the perception of farming abroad and to learn from the people behind creating that perception.
According to branding expert Craig Davis, in Australia today only 0.6% of the population is directly involved in agriculture compared to 14% 100 years ago.
A Rabobank survey in 2014 found that of the participants in the survey, 17 percent said they had never been on a farm and two-thirds had visited a farm less than three times in their life.
Whilst careers in agriculture rated lower than many other occupations, it was pleasing to note that more than 90 percent of respondents saw farming and food production as very important!
Given the relatively small population in Australia who are directly involved in agriculture, how then can public policy be influenced and keep consumers and schools informed about this vital industry?
As part of my research I approached a number of different organisations who are working to improve the links between agriculture and the community, in a variety of different ways. Much of the work they do is transferrable and could be replicated here in Australia.
The German FNL organisation describes itself as "an organisation to promote sustainable agriculture". It comprises 44 members made up of industry, trade and other associations from the agricultural sector in Germany. If an urgent issue in the agri-political space arises, they can provide research and information but the job of dealing with the issue lies with lobby organisations like Deutscher Bauernverband or DBV.
The California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) has developed a program called the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. The program is run by a small group in the CFBF who work closely with teachers and industry organisations to develop the materials used and to provide teachers and students with a complete package including all information and lesson plans for them.
The British National Farmers Union (NFU) has worked hard to try and position themselves as the trusted source for agriculture related information for the British media. The mantra of the media and communications team was best summed up by Senior Campaigns Adviser, Gemma Fitzpatrick who said that they must be “relentlessly positive in all that they do”.
The media team receive around 300 telephone calls per month from journalists seeking information on agriculture related issues. Ms. Fitzpatrick emphasised the point that the evidence based and expert knowledge the NFU have on all agriculture industries is substantial, and that the media recognise this.
The statistics are pretty clear. Australian agriculture’s connection with an increasingly middle class and urbanised society is weakening, and this population is influencing policy makers. Time will not change this and the industry needs to act quickly to address this growing divide.
Importantly, in recent years, communities are asking more questions about where and how their food and fibre is produced. It is my belief that this desire for information and understanding presents a fantastic opportunity to “inform the masses” – and a way to make that happen needs to be found.
In many ways, the first and most important role for the industry is to significantly improve its links with education. It is absolutely critical that children across Australia are given a clear and balanced understanding of food and fibre production, and the many opportunities which exist (or don’t yet exist) in this exciting industry.