By Lucy Ziesemer
When you think of a farmer, what do you see?
If you were to picture an agriculturist, what kind of attributes would that person have?
What would their life be like? You’d be forgiven for suggesting a straw hat, checked flannelette shirt, clunky old hilux with paint peeling off the steel tray and a couple of collie dogs perched in the back. Throw a piece of straw into the farmer’s mouth and you’ve got yourself a dead ringer caricature the likes of what you’d find on Google Images if you typed ‘farmer’ into the search engine.
I recently read a wonderful article on Farm Online detailing why this very imagery is so damaging for modern day agriculture. My example is a very well-meaning tv ad seen circulating during prime time viewing ever since the drought in Queensland and New South Wales started reaching the ears of inner city dwellers. Like I said, the ad is good and pure in its intentions, but it claws at my backbone every time I hear it played as I dish up dinner. The vocabulary the ad uses paints rural life as an utter nightmare. Language such as ‘harsh, deadly, despair and depression’ is used to describe the lives of people living on the land. Don’t get me wrong, there are times during drought and other natural disasters that it DOES feel hopeless, but those moments are far outweighed and outlived by the good times.. good times that are good enough to render the hard times a distant memory. I’ve often watched and listened to this ad in utter frustration followed by guilt at not being more appreciative of the compassion the ad was ultimately aiming to encourage.
However, after reading Farm Online’s piece I felt justified in airing my grievances.
There is an archaic hypothetical mascot of the rough and ready Aussie farmer living in the imaginations of people across the globe. The farmer who milks the cow, feeds the poddies, ploughs the field and breaks in a brumby all before smoko. The farmer who’s still bronco branding calves in 2021, flogging himself through 40 degree heat, dust and flies and only just putting food on the table at the end of it all. Or like the ad itself, the farmer staring at failed crops and starving cattle, backed by sorrowful music and dark lighting- you can imagine the impact of scenes like these. I don’t have an issue with going to a farmer themed party dressed like Old MacDonald.. what I do battle with is the portrayal of country life in a way that would make any ordinary citizen wonder why the hell anyone would put themselves through it.
So I’d like to set the story straight. Being involved in agriculture is hard in all its forms- physical, mental, financial, emotional. But it is so much more than that. Agriculture is a limitless realm of opportunity and possibility. You could grow the grain or breed the cattle, or you could work as an agronomist or animal nutritionist helping farmers and graziers get better results. You could work in marketing and analytics for a grass roots beef company, or on the front line in the world of live export. You could be behind the microscope developing a new super performing breed of cotton, or discovering inoculants to protect cattle against poisonous plants such as Pimelea, Gidgee and Heart-leaf. I could easily go on because agriculture is simply so vast a profession. You could live in Brisbane and be involved in agriculture wearing a suit and tie.
Old MacDonald depictions of farming should be left in story books where they originated. Those days are long gone. Ag is booming and it can take you places you wouldn’t think possible. If you want rapid career progression, take a job in the ag sector. We also have fun forums, conferences and field days like Beef Week, where they hand out lunch time beers at every second trade stall!
Jokes aside, there has never been a better time to get involved in ag. Challenge your imagination to reinvent itself when it comes to farming in 2021- we’ve come a long way and the good news is we’re only just getting started.