The agvocate taking on social media

Life on a million-acre cattle station in South Australia is a pretty unique place to call home. While day-to-day life is incredibly remote, Gillian Fennell makes it her business to stay connected. A true ‘agvocate’, she is on a mission to promote agriculture, and sometimes that means uncomfortable conversations. She takes on tough issues publicly, dispelling misconceptions on social media.

Voice from the bush

Gillian is a Livestock South Australia board member, Cattle Australia – Sustainable Resilient Beef Systems working group member and National Farmers’ Federation telecommunications and social policy committee member.

It’s an impressive resume whilst also working on the farm and being a mum. Gillian takes the time to be involved, so that she can speak from a place of fact rather than fiction when forming an opinion on controversial topics. 

For some perspective on how isolating life can be, her two eldest boys go to boarding school 900 kilometres away and her daughter does School of the Air. So, work on the farm, is life. Everything comes back to being able to produce food, specifically beef, and Gillian is a fierce defender of what she does.

Gillian has been a strong voice on the national stage promoting agriculture

Gillian’s why

“It’s to highlight that we are people, just like our urban friends. We’ve got the same concerns about healthcare and access to education, transport. It’s just there are so few of us, we don’t have the same power when it comes to voting and lobbying,” Gillian explains.

Gillian believes if there is a disconnect between city and country, the onus is on farmers to open the door and let people in.

“Some things are controversial and not best practice. You can talk about mulesing and land clearing. Twenty years ago, we were correct and doing it the best way but maybe there is a different way of looking at things.

“Unless we have these honest conversations that come from a place of mutual respect, we are never going to be able to enhance our industry or get the support we need from the urban voting base to continue to provide world-class food and fibre.”

Tricky conversations

Gillian admits sometimes those conversations are tricky. In particular, live exports and cotton growing. “There’s no shying away from the fact there have been some disastrous events happen in the live export industry. To their credit, they put their hand up and admitted they were doing it wrong and made the changes at their expense. It’s just disappointing that we haven’t been able to bring people along on that journey with us for whatever reason,” Gillian shares.

Gillian also says she hears a lot about the cotton industry with the perception that due to its water requirement and need for sprays, it shouldn’t be grown here.

“Cotton is not that. It’s been engineered so that it’s really resistant to pests and doesn’t need a lot of pesticide. It doesn’t need as much water as you might imagine. It’s just demonising particular aspects of the agriculture industry because it’s a popular political thing to do.”

Sticking to the facts

Gillian knows there are some people she will never reach. But she aims to open conversations with those sitting in the middle who may be seeking more information due to a lack of connection to those on the land.

She’d like to see farmers become the authority on their own industry instead of activists. “We just need to have our facts and figures ready and be prepared for conversations. It’s about engaging in a respectful manner.”

The love of animals is clear on Gillian’s social media platforms.

The fact that farmers are not considered experts on matters affecting them, Gillian believes, is the single biggest challenge the industry is facing.

“Other people are readily accepted by the media as experts in our field. They assume because we are making money out it, we are the ones not telling the truth. But activist organisations make a lot of money out of it. It’s in their best interests to generate controversy. We are just trying to produce food and fibre with the least amount of impact.”

The outspoken ‘agfluencer’ believes any industry group not willing to have these conversations internally and keep up with the latest research is doing themselves a disservice.

“Let’s be proud and not ashamed of what we do.”

And you couldn’t find a prouder member of the agricultural community, than Gillian.

Hear more stories like this by subscribing to the Telling Our Story podcast on iTunes (or wherever you listen to podcasts) and follow podcast host Angie Asimus on Instagram for more updates.

Angie Asimus

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