Farmer Focus: Arable farmers need to learn to be led

One of agriculture’s greatest assets is its people. The diversity, structure and individual aspirations of farmers can drive industry, but it can also be its biggest handbrake.

In Western Australia, mining is huge. It is also loved for what it brings the economy. The people in Perth are benefiting from the royalties mining pays and they in return defend it, often vigorously. Agriculture has been the backbone of Western Australia’s wealth and will continue to support the economy after the mining boom. However, agriculture is often seen in a negative light; always going broke and in need of constant handouts. But the opposite is true.

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This perception is driven by the disunity that plagues agriculture. The individuals that make up farming, who could be its driving strength, are more often its biggest disadvantage. If a group tries to lead with a strong vision for the future, another group will pop up and exist for no other reason than to belittle it because the idea didn’t come from them. When asked what their vision is, they won’t have one.

In the meantime, the rest of the supply chain is getting on with the business of taking advantage of this and forcing prices down because with no strong united industry vision and leadership, it is a free-for-all. The supply chain cherry-picks the market, feeding in disinformation and lowering producer confidence.

If agriculture wants to grow to its full potential, it needs to take control and offer up a vision that not only its own participants can rally around, but the general public too.

Typically in Australia this has been led by the large levy-funded research and development providers, but this has led to a top-down approach and farmers feel little ownership. I would advocate farming groups on the ground lead the charge, setting a clear vision and strategy including all of the supply chain and general public.

Farmers will have to put away their individuality and learn to be led, putting their faith in intelligent, aggressive leadership and combined altruistic action.  

Rob Warburton farms 3,000ha with his wife Jen and two daughters in Kojonup, south of Perth, in Western Australia. Cropping includes wheat, barley and oilseed rape. Wildflower seed is grown for retail. Merino sheep are reared for wool and meat.

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