Sunday, 16 June 2013

Farming Advocacy (or Agvocacy) 101

by Sherrill Stivano
First published at Feedlots, Farms & Family  

It has been a very eventful couple of years in the world of farmers on social media. For me it kicked off with the ABC Four Corners program “A Bloody Business”, regarding the Live Export of cattle to Indonesia and the cruelty encountered in some abattoirs at slaughter point.

Image sourced from

It was at this time I entered into the social media world, firstly dipping my toe into the waters of Facebook only to lose a leg to the first activist I encountered. The leg was quickly followed by my temper as I watched all Australian farmers being branded cruel and evil. I am not proud of my first encounters. I struggled with my temper as I was horrified at the things that were being said about our hard working Australian Farmers.  People I know to be generous, kind and compassionate. People who work hard and encounter many difficulties daily yet keep on moving forward. Things like:

“All farmers with terminal illnesses should have their throats cut to see how painful it is”
“Hand over your children and see if they scream”
As you can imagine, these types of statements got some very strong reactions from me and many other farmers who were following the threads. Sadly, however much I want to say this type of behaviour was confined to the activists’ side I cannot.

Now here we are over two years later. What have I learnt? Have I changed my tactics? Can I hold my temper? The answers are lots, definitely and most of the time.
So exactly what have I learnt as an Australian farmer? Gosh I am unsure of where to start here as I have learnt so much!

While initially shocked at the vitriol and hatred encountered and pointed squarely in the direction of Australian Farming, I learnt that not all people use so
cial media to bully, defame and demean others.  There are many out there who are very genuine in their concerns and really want to understand what is entailed on a daily basis in different farming industries.
I learnt that many in the general public are quite removed from farming and how their food is produced, but only a handful are removed from their senses. Most people are happy to accept a factual polite explanation. Most people are reasonable.

I learnt that manners will create ongoing conversations and that there are many out there who while not actively involved in a conversation, still watch and can be reached never the less. I have learnt that you will never convince everyone, but to respect the different opinions out there. I have learnt that not only does religion start wars, but given time so will dietary arguments, especially when agendas are pushed by radical members of movements.  
I learnt that there was also a large and growing rural community on social media and contrary to the claims by some industry bodies that social media had no place in agriculture, these farmers have been able to prove otherwise. Many had been told to get the word out themselves and they have been doing an excellent job of it.  I have also learnt that rural Australia really is a small world which is a wonderful thing when it comes to closed social media groups and verification of members. It seems there is always someone who knows someone who knows someone. This is a great strength.

 I learnt that we farmers are far from silly when it comes to technology however rural technology just may not be able to keep pace with us! NBN? What NBN? Signal drop out or failure is the bane of a rural advocate.

There are so many things that I have learnt, but perhaps the biggest so far has been the fact that farmers can make a difference as shown with the back down by Coles from selling the Animals Australia Make it Possible campaign merchandise, solely due to the social media revolt by farmers. I only hope that the real reason for the massive backlash by farmers is being heard. Coles, who have suddenly made themselves the moral guardian of farming ethics (very same company now accused by the ACCC – Australian Consumer Competition Commission of misleading and deceptive marketing on a separate issue) aligned themselves with an organisation who are all about animal RIGHTS NOT animal WELFARE. An organisation who has repeatedly pushed an agenda to end all livestock farming, commencing with live export and intensive farming methods. An organisation who uses illegal methods of hidden surveillance  to obtain footage of what may or may not be cruelty (as it is heavily edited). To do so members trespass on farms which are not only businesses but family homes. From this edited footage they have pieced together an advertising campaign to illicit donations from the public. Not a single dollar will be spent on ensuring the welfare of a single animal however. This is where the outrage stems from. Social media provided farmers the perfect horse they could saddle up, muster support and stampede a major corporate company into retracting its poorly judged support for an organisation who had in their own minds been masters of the social media game.

So how have my tactics changed? There is actually a skill in getting your facts out there, and the Australian public really does trust its farmers. I have watched many very good rural advocates, people who had never really thought they would be at the forefront of rural advocacy. These clever, witty and genuine people have taught me many things.


So these are my top 12 of Farming Advocacy 101 ………….
  1. ENGAGE – Engage with the general public everywhere. In towns and cities. On buses, trains and planes.
  2. KEEP COOL – Expect resistance and at times agree to disagree and walk away from an argument before it deteriorates into personal attacks
  3.  PLAY THE BALL – Engage on the facts and argument, not the opponent. Personal attacks are not attractive and do not paint anyone in a good light.
  4. RESPECT – Respect the general public and their entitlement to an opinion that is different to yours. You can however ensure it is an educated opinion by offering facts to counter their opinion.
  5. FACTS – Use facts you know to be true based off actual experiences. These facts are always so believable simply because they are true.
  6. SHOW & TELL – Keeps photos of your farm and your animals and farm operations on your phone ready to show anyone who  may be interested when travelling. A picture says more than a thousand words, just ask an activist.
  7. POSITIVITY – When engaging others do so in a positive and polite manner and you will generally be treated in the same manner.
  8.  UNDERSTANDING – We can’t expect the general public to understand farming if we don’t tell them about it, but make sure explanations do not equal whinging. It is a fine line from the general public’s point of view
  9. SOLUTIONS – Be proactive and find solutions to problems. Talking about a problem repeatedly becomes tiresome if no solution can be found.
  10. IMPROVEMENTS -   Even the best farming operations have room for improvements, but make sure they can be on YOUR terms. Be proactive don’t wait to be told.
  11. RESPONSIBILITY – It has become clear that the responsibility for public perceptions lies with farmers and farmers are one of the most trusted professions in Australia. We are responsible for bringing about change and we are responsible for educating the Australian consumer about their food
  12. PROUD – Australian farmers are some of the most innovative in the world producing food that is clean, green and disease free. Hold your head up high as an Australian farmer and be proud. Share your pride in your farm, crops and animals. It is contagious.

Lastly……can I hold my temper? Hmmm I will say most of the time. I try hard and revert to pasting facts I have stashed away when someone has stirred the pot a little too hard. I sometimes write several scathing replies, but never post them and then walk away. Or at least most of the time I do………………….. 
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