By HARRY CLARKE
QUEENSLAND Senator Susan McDonald has branded agriculture the most disorganised sector in Australia when it comes to lobbying governments to improve legislative frameworks and industry regulation.
Speaking to emerging industry leaders at the annual Young Beef Producers Forum (YBPF) in Roma, McDonald also said an increasing disconnect between farmers in the paddock and the people representing them in government was one of the biggest challenge facing the industry.
But she said poor support for the various peak bodies within agriculture meant there were difficulties in representing the industry adequately in Canberra and improving regulation.
“We’re having more people in leadership roles in government who have less idea of what it means to grow things, and this is incredibly serious,” McDonald said.
“As we become more disconnected, as people become less understanding of what it is to farm and grow food, the most important thing we can do is be coordinated, smart and responsive.”
“We have to be a much more united and unified and legally relevant industry,” McDonald said.
“In the US, the Cattleman’s union is incredibly effective. When they walk up to Capitol Hill people take notice.
“The Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association has something like 96 percent of their growers as members, so when government talks to them they know that they are talking to the industry, and they listen.
“We don’t have those sort of percentages and it allows ministers to say ‘come back when you talk for all of industry’, and then they do their own thing and they make ups their own minds.
“I see people come to me in Canberra from pretty well every other sector and they’re organised, they’ve got a plan, they know what they want – ‘here’s our top three and we need you to deliver on this’ – but we don’t work like that.
“I think we’ve got to go back to the days when we were much more unified and much more organised.
“I’m not suggesting that you all go and run for politics or run to be a president of AgForce – I’m saying be a member, and make sure you’re giving good, strong, clear direction to your organisations, and to me.”
For more than 10 years the YBPF, an initiative of the Future Farmers Network, has brought together emerging industry leaders for a networking and development conference at Roma.
As well as McDonald, this year guest speakers included Meat & Livestock Australia chair Jason Strong, AgForce Queensland president Georgie Somerset and Bush Agribusiness managing director Ian McLean.
YBPF chair Dan Korff said this year’s theme, ‘Prepare, Perform, Persevere’, reflected the rapidly evolving and advancing cattle industry.
“YBPF is about bringing young people together for networking, development and learning, and exposing them to people who have achieved things in the beef industry,” Korff said.
“They talk about how they’ve got where they are, what challenges they’ve overcome, and that gives exposure to real life experience and how to young people can build their own career.
“Huge range of sponsors, supporters and speakers and we try to structure the program so that there’s plenty of time for people to meet casually, have some discussions to build their industry networks, so that when they walk away from the forum they’ve got some contacts in the industry.”