By CAITLIN CROWLEY
THE Chief Financial Officer of one of Australia’s largest cattle operations has urged supporters of agriculture to use positive, “science-based” arguments rather than those “fuelled by emotion” to combat misinformation around the sector.
Speaking to an almost 800-strong crowd at the Rural Press Club’s annual Ekka breakfast, Julie McDonald (pictured below) said farmers should be “loud and proud” about their industry and ready to respond to questions with messages that were clear, truthful and backed by science.
“We are the experts in the field and we’re often looked to for information, so when this happens, we need to speak up,” she said.
“When we hear some of the misinformation that gets bandied around, we need to reply with facts.
“How and how many times we speak about the good things in our industry, and what we continue to strive for matters.
“Use the science, use the resources available to us, advocate well and often.”
McDonald, who is the CFO of the family-owned MDH Pty Ltd, said that if everyone in the audience told someone outside the agriculture industry one factual, positive comment every day for the next 12 months, it would add up to around 280,000 positive messages.
“That is a lot of reasons for people to consider the way that they think about farming in Australia, how it contributes to our economy, through employment, exports, and by putting food on our table and those of our neighbours,” she said.
McDonald explained that while it was important for organisations to advocate for their industry, individuals could also take control of conversations about Aussie farming by throwing in facts and figures at family barbecues, P&F meetings and parent teacher interviews.
The sentiment was echoed by UniSQ’s Institute for Resilient Regions Executive Director Professor John McVeigh, who told the Caller the Ekka provided a pivotal advocacy opportunity for agriculture in Queensland.
“I think it (advocacy) is more important than it’s ever been because society at large is dealing with significant transition issues – transition to a lower emissions environment going forward, transition out of fossil fuels into renewables,” he said.
McVeigh said not only were those transitions impacting on agriculture but were playing out in regional areas where farmers lived, giving city people the chance to ask questions around issues such as mining, coal seam gas and wind farms.
“The Ekka is a chance to ramp up that broader community understanding and to bust the myths and combat misinformation,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity for people in the city to really understand what all this policy discussion in regional areas and agriculture is really all about.”
RNA Chief Executive Brendan Christou said about 400,000 people were expected to attend this year’s Ekka to learn about agriculture, share stories, be entertained and delighted by the 21,000 competition entries and more than 10,000 animals.
“Ekka is an incredible Queensland institution which continues to champion Queensland’s agriculture and industry and the vital role they play in our everyday lives and community,” Christou said.
Julie McDonald also used her keynote address to highlight the importance of mentoring the next generation.
McDonald revealed that if it hadn’t been for those who offered support and guidance to her in the wake of her husband Zanda McDonald’s tragic death in a farming accident back in 2013, she would have left the industry altogether.
“I found myself and significant fork in the road – whether to stay and continue to live in the bush and work in agriculture, or to leave with our daughters and build my career and life elsewhere,” she said.
“Without a doubt, my decision to stay was due to the people around me.”
She encouraged those in a position to mentor the next generation to share their knowledge and said it was just as important to retain the young people already in agriculture, as it was to recruit them in the first place.
“It is when they are at their fork in the road that we have the opportunity to turn their gap year into their career,” she said.
“Every person who walks away from the sector takes with them their training, knowledge and their curiosity. But every person who stays connected to the industry, builds on their foundations and contributes.”