I am told the golden rule in journalism is to never make assumptions. In particular, when writing about a topical subject, one should never assume that people know the background to the subject. In other words, SPELL IT OUT.
It is an adage that we might well apply to farming.
I was reminded of this when sorting through a pile of reports in my office. One was a survey undertaken for the Primary Industries Education Foundation a few years ago.
This study confirmed that Australian students don’t know where their food comes from – which was no surprise to those of us who work in the agriculture sector.
In this world, milk doesn’t come from cows; it comes from the supermarket. Less than half the students knew that everyday lunchbox items such as bread, cheese and bananas originate from farmed products; three quarters of Year 6 students thought cotton socks were an animal product; and more than one quarter thought yoghurt came from plants.
These figures were reinforced by a survey released recently by News Corp Australia.
This showed that a quarter of youngsters think fruit and vegetables come from the supermarket, and 6 per cent think they come from “the fridge”. Only 1 in 10 children knew that they are grown from seeds.
Only 22 per cent of children aged 6-8 years could identify 5-6 vegetables in their raw state; and 12 per cent could only identify 1-2 raw vegetables.
All this when the OECD says Australia is the fifth fattest country in the world, and one in every four kids is classed as overweight or obese.
Nation-wide polling commissioned by the National Farmers’ Federation last year could well explain why this is so.
This study found that Australians have grown disconnected from where their food and fibre comes from. More than 80 per cent of those surveyed described their connection with farming as ‘distant’ or ‘non-existent’.
It also found that most people are totally unaware of the economic contribution farming makes. Presented with a list of six industries, only 4 per cent of respondents correctly identified agriculture as the fastest growing sector.
This result highlights a real urban myth – that agriculture is a thing of the past, a sunset industry. In reality, it is a cornerstone of Australia’s economic future. In fact, nationally the industry is on track to be Australia’s next $100 billion industry, having reached a record $60 billion farm gate return last year. The industry also supports 1.6 million jobs across the supply chain.
And the story is no different in Tasmania.
Agriculture is the fastest growing sector in our state, and it is growing much faster than on the mainland. Our farmers generated more than $2.5 billion at farm gate last year, and a further $4.1 billion came from processed food. The industry is aiming to increase the annual value of the agricultural sector to $10 billion by 2050.
According to Fiona Simson, President of the NFF, the problem is that people simply don’t know they have skin in the game.
Most people assume that the industry only benefits people in the bush. In reality, the bulk of jobs supported by the farm sector are in the city, in fields like retail, food service, logistics, finance and more.
“Farmers don’t just grow your calories, they grow your salaries,” Ms Simson said.
While food and fibre production is largely ‘out of sight, out of mind’, farming produces all the essential ingredients in every meal on our plates, every natural fibre on our backs, and many other important facets of our lives.
This growing disconnect between town and country is serious – and it really can’t be ignored any longer.
We live in one of the most urbanised countries in the world. Food is relatively cheap. Everyone takes it for granted and we’re quite complacent about our well-being.
The end result of being so separated from our food is that we really don’t place enough value our farmers. People should understand how far their food travelled, how it was produced, and the value of farmers and farmland in our communities.
Australian farmers are efficient producers of food and fibre; and in many areas we export more than we use domestically. However, there’s no guarantee that will always be the case.
There used to be a bumper sticker around some time back that said that ‘if you’ve had a meal today, thank a farmer’. And we should.