The agriculture sector needs to do more to inform the public about what’s involved and happening in our industry.
Farming’s critics have the industry constantly ‘under the pump’, often using misleading information and ill-informed assertions. Many claims are made about farmers deliberately damaging the environmental, over-charging locals for produce, making huge tax-free profits and inflicting undue pain on animals, to name but a few.
Where such events are happening the sector needs to move quickly to publicly punish those besmirching and risking its reputation; and such actions must be rectified.
Already in 2014 we’ve heard assertions that dairy farmers are profiting while destroying the nation’s waterways at taxpayers’ expense, and that most New Zealand meat exports are shipped in carcase form. Both claims are demonstrably false, but they attracted wide, uncritical news coverage.
As Churchill said, a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has even got its pants on.
The rural urban divide is a growing problem in New Zealand. More accounts of the benefits of farming to our economy and society are essential.
Only 15% of New Zealanders are farming or have any contact with farming – and that number is falling, though it’s much lower (1%) in other countries. This carries huge implications: less influence with legislators and poorer global understanding of the agricultural experience.
Less and less is the farming voice influencing policy and that’s not good. Globally there is a challenge in public perception. Activists speak with one voice globally, so should farming.
The best solution for New Zealand is for the industry to connect more with media and the general public by self-promotion and actions. Rural media, though effective in this sphere, are preaching to the converted – our audience is mostly rural and/or industry people. It is time for the general media to pick up more stories about farming and less meaningless drivel about Justin Bieber’s latest tweet!
Industry and lobby groups such as Fed Farmers, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ and Fonterra all do good work, eg farm open days and Milk in Schools, but more is needed. Government also has a role in ensuring the wider public better understand and appreciate the importance of our agriculture sector.
The time for action is now!