Speech: Farming in a Risky Climate – Is community trust in agriculture a new climate risk?

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Speech: Farming in a Risky Climate – Is community trust in agriculture a new climate risk?
Wednesday, 26 Jun 2019

The Australian Farm Insitute's Farming in a Risky Climate event was held at the Stamford Plaza in Brisbane over Wednesday and Thursday, 26–27 June, with a conference dinner on Wednesday evening.

Good afternoon. I’m Georgie Somerset, South Burnett Cattle Producer and General President of AgForce.

We’re an independent, member-driven voice for Queensland’s $6 billion beef, sheepmeat, wool, and grains industries. Our 5,500 members place their trust in us to fulfil our mission to advance sustainable agribusiness in Queensland.

That word – “sustainable” – I thought about that a lot when contemplating what I might say here today in answer to the question: Is community trust in agriculture a new climate risk?

I believe it’s an incredibly important word – perhaps more so now than ever before. It’s our ethos. It’s at the core of every decision we make, in every policy we conceive.

Sustainable practices are at the forefront of our every action. And I believe sincerely that if we remain true to that then the answer to the question should be no.

But it could be. It could be a new climate risk. After all, trust is something you earn. As an industry we have done that, throughout more than 200 years of farming we have developed that trust within the community.

But trust can be broken.

I do believe community attitudes are changing. People want their food delivered from paddock to plate in a way that they can feel good about. Sustainably, humanely, with an eye on the environment. These are issues as producers we would be foolish to ignore.

Failure to meet these expectations provides an opportunity for the extreme views of vegan and environmental activists to foster and create a footing they otherwise wouldn’t have.

The community wants to know that not only does Australian agriculture produce world class food and fibre, but that it’s done in a way that’s good for them, is kind to livestock, working animals and wildlife, and good for the health of the planet.

And that’s the thing!

The current crop of Australian farmers overwhelmingly understands this. In fact, agriculture has been ahead of the pack in developing and delivering these innovations. As an industry we are already one of the most progressive, passionate, collaborative, innovative, resilient industries this great country has.

Can we improve further? Of course we can. There probably isn’t an industry out there that couldn’t be doing more for the sustainability of our planet.

We’ve already taken many steps to constantly improve our already incredibly high standards when it comes to our farming practices.

Personally, in my husband and my business, it is over 25 years since we first started combining scientific long-term weather forecasts and analogous years with on farm decision making. It’s almost 15 years since we first converted annual fodder cropping paddocks to a perennial legume fodder cropping system through leuceana, fixing nitrogen into the soil, creating new energy cycles and reducing annual inputs.

That’s why as an industry we’re already on the path to meeting our goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. We’re also the only industry that has substantially reduced emissions, while almost every other sector of the economy has increased over the last 25 years.

As evidence of how we’re continuing with our mantra of sustainability, through the Climate Change Research Program, the Australian Government has funded research to develop practical on–farm options to reduce emissions from livestock while maintaining or improving productivity.

As farmers, we turn up at the paddock every day because that’s what we love doing – we battle, we endure, we strive, and we deliver – and you know what, we usually exceed expectations.

But the thing is, the fact the question of community trust in agriculture has been raised at all suggests we have to continue working hard in order to live up to community expectations of us as an industry.

We can’t rest.

The biggest challenge for us at the moment in Queensland is not the lack of trust of the community, but of the Government.

Vegetation management, the Great Barrier Reef Bill, climate change, trigger mapping (if you don’t know what that one’s about yet, jump on our website or take a look in Queensland Country Life today – we’re all over it).

Clearly, despite the industry’s ecological achievements mentioned earlier, our State Government no longer trusts us to deliver both the best agricultural, and the best environmental outcomes.

Whether that’s because of their own fear about where changing community attitudes will lead them, I don’t know.

What I do know, is that they have made it their mission to regulate our industry like seldom before, and it doesn’t appear there’s any end in sight.

AgForce will continue to fight for our members interests when we know that government policies and legislation are based on flawed scientific evidence, when we know they will cripple regional communities who are already doing it tough from drought and flood.

Like all Australians, our farmers want to ensure Australia’s unique climate and landscape are preserved for future generations, but we simply cannot accept red-tape that actually impedes our ability to farm sustainably and will cause more damage to the environment than it professes to do good. On those issues we will always fight.

Our challenge here is to ensure that the community, not only producers, are brought along on the journey. So they understand why we do what we do – that it’s not about not wanting to follow rules, but about putting in place rules that will actually work and achieve environmental outcomes. That producers know best how to manage their particular landscapes, that producers should be encouraged to adopt best practice, incentivised to create environmental outcomes on behalf of the nation, not penalised by red and green tape, and punitive penalties.

That’s why we must continue to send the right messages to the wider community, to counter any perceptions that as an industry agriculture is not doing enough, or at the very least, the perception that we aren’t doing it willingly.

If we ensure we have our own house in order, if we follow best practices, treat our livestock humanely, while at the same time continuing to deliver world class food and fibre, and injecting billions of dollars into the economy annually, community trust in our great industry will flourish, and it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Speech: Farming in a Risky Climate – Is community trust in agriculture a new climate risk?

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