The Farming Narrative will be told – its up to farmers to decide how it will be remembered

Ar4Agriculture’s Young Farming Champion Josh Gilbert’s presentation to the audience at the NSW Department of Primary industry’s workshop on SOCIAL LICENCE TO OPERATE – CONNECTING WITH COMMUNITY answered the question posed by the FarmOn team in their recent blog ‘So are farmers ready to care’ found here

We at Art4agriculture are thrilled that the organisers of the event acknowledged that youth are passionate and committed to doing whatever it takes to get the narrative right and  chose to give youth a voice through Josh to tell their story

Below is an abbreviated version of Josh’s talk

Connecting with the community – the narrative

My name is Joshua Gilbert. I am, a fourth generation Braford breeder on the Mid North Coast of NSW, an area my ancestors have farmed for over 40,000 years. I commenced my law and accounting studies in 2009, with the aim of working in community practice. In the process of studying, I found myself drawn back to agriculture, and recognised that my skills could complement both my on farm operations as well as my fellow farmers.

Josh Gilbert Braford Breeder

My long-term aim is to go back to my family farm. I know that agriculture has changed, and that it now requires high level skills for farmers to be successful in the tough climate we find ourselves in. At a wider level, my background will also help me support farmers to up skill in financial literacy.

I am also completing a law degree with a view to spending some time in policy, and getting a greater understanding of what can be achieved. I also hope this training will ensure that I can add value to policy discussions, and ensure we get the best outcomes for agriculture. I am also considering a career in politics.

As a young person who is passionate about the cattle industry, watching the impact of the Live Export scrutiny on our fellow farmers in the Northern Beef Industry, I realise the greatest threat to sustainable red meat production in this country, is no longer harsh climatic conditions and volatile prices, but rather, whether or not our customers find our farming and animal welfare practices socially acceptable.

I also acknowledge that negative consumer images and perceptions about modern farming practices are seriously threatening farmers’ social licence to operate. I feel very passionate about ensuring I have the knowledge, skill sets and a team of people-around me, to help turn this around.

I identified the Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions as a group of young people who felt just like me. A core focus of the program is to provide training in how to effectively engage and build relationships with consumers. Through our learning and interactioins we are finding this is an important foundation to success.

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Meat and Livestock Australia Young Farming Champions

I  have just completed my first year of training, which involved learning how to tailor my presentation to an audience in a way that resonates and how to engage with school children. What is particularly exciting about the program is we are also able to engage with their teachers and friends to build a cohort of people who become ambassadors for agriculture and are excited about careers in agriculture.

As part of the program we also get to be the young faces of farming and go into schools participating in the Archibull Prize. This gives students the chance to ask questions about farming practices and careers in the agriculture sector. As part of the Archibull Prize the students create artworks, blogs and multimedia animations, which help take agriculture’s story well beyond the classroom

The program teaches us that the aim is not to educate. The aim is to engage and provide opportunities for consumers to have open, honest and transparent conversations. In this way, we are able to convey we care just as much about the environment and animal well-being as they do.

We are in turn able to show them how challenging it is to farm in a world with declining natural resources, and that if we are going to do this successfully, we need to build strong partnerships between agriculture and the community.

We are also given media training with a strong focus on handling the difficult questions. This has been particularly rewarding for me and shown me it’s not as hard as you might think.

I was recently asked to participate in a live radio interview with the ABC about an upcoming presentation I was to give to the NSW Farmers, Wagga District Council. Having completed a few interviews before with very supportive journalists, I knew I had been lucky and that this would not always be the case.

Prior to the event, I prepared my key messages and because of my Young Farming Champions media training, I was able to stay on message no matter how hard the journalist wanted me to focus on the negatives of agriculture.

In the past, I would have fallen into the trap the journalist set for me. However, I had recently attended a Young Farming Champions workshop where, in the safety of a training environment, I was grilled in the art of staying on message and getting the outcomes I wanted from the interview. This was a very rewarding experience and gave me new confidence

Next year I will have the opportunity to hone my skills by going into schools as part of Art4Agriculture’s programs. Once I have graduated to the next level, I will be given the opportunity to attend master classes, where I will learn how to engage with a diverse range of audiences. Art4Agriculture has recently built a relationship with Rotary and Young Farming Champions who have done master classes will now have an opportunity to present to Rotary groups across Sydney.

YFC 2014

If we want to go further we are given training in how to create a TED talk. We are also provided insights into the art of successful marketing and how important it is to take your audience on the journey with you

But there are plenty more people out there, who are just as passionate as me. People who want to be proactive and build relationships with the community, so we can all work together.

Similarly, they need training, mentoring and ongoing support. Too often I see passionate advocates provided with half day media training and then expected to talk to the media and get it right.

We all feel a huge responsibility when we talk on behalf of our sector and the industry we are part of. It is our responsibility to ensure that the people who take this role on are provided the best training and support, that people who are the faces of the corporate world receive.

We also need to acknowledge not everyone is suitable for this, and we need to support and show how people can value-add to advocacy in many different ways at a level that they are comfortable with.

I am using the skills, knowledge and networks I have developed as an MLA Young Farming Champion to help other youth recognise the social networks and relationships that underpin the new community interest in how our food is produced. This is a great opportunity for us to engage with consumers, and have two-way conversations, that will generate a mutual understanding of each other’s challenges and constraints.

I believe that as farmers, we have so much to share and are so passionate about what we do, however we have not historically been good at communicating this. Our narrative is not to change people’s values, but to demonstrate that farmers share these same values. We have immense pride in what we do; we just need to share these narratives beyond our farm gates to instil trust and confidence in our practices.

Rather than bombard consumers with more science, research or information, I believe it is integral that we demonstrate that we share our consumers’ values on topics that they are most concerned about—safe food, global warming, quality nutrition and animal welfare.

As part of the Young Farming Champion team I now have access to mentors and training, to help develop the skills sets, knowledge and confidence to be part of the solution. These mentors have hands-on, coal face experience, and share this openly and passionately- to help all those involved in the program. This experience is critical to our success- a crucial knowledge bank and practical resources that ensure we don’t repeat the same mistakes that we may have made in the past.

We need to be talking about our farms and our values to become just another role  of the farmer. However it is important to note that this process does not involve educating people, but rather being open and transparent when they want to engage with us.

Just like farmers learn how to use  new farming equipment and technologies, we need to build up our farming community to be confident and have skills  to talk about what they do and why they do it.

My Young Farming Champion story has shown what is possible, it has shown what the backbone of the farming narrative needs to be, and that we can build a confident and skilled group of likeminded people, prepared to talk positively about farming.

It is important agriculture comes together, up skill its people and start telling its story to the world. While everyone has a different story, there are common messages and ways to tell our story that will start people talking positively about farming.

The farming narrative will be told

ht to Greg Mills and Ann Burbrook

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