Engaging with the broader public and communicating the benefits of key tools such as biotechnology and glyphosate was a key theme arising out of the third annual GROWING SA Conference held at Hahndorf last week.
About 230 delegates attended the event, hosted by Grain Producers SA and Livestock SA on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 August.
Keynote speaker Professor Kevin Folta from the University of Florida stressed the need for industry to engage with the community and build trust in food production.
While science is important, he said the community wanted to first know that they can trust farmers, highlighting the need for empathy and understanding in conversations with those outside agriculture. Once trust is established, then farmers can talk about how they produce a quality and nutritious food supply.
This was reinforced by 2019 South Australian AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner Deanna Lush, who outlined a strategy to start to change the way the industry engages by giving new skills in how to have honest conversations with non-agricultural audiences. This is through establishing a network of Trust in Ag Champions who have the tools and confidence to engage.
This is particularly important given international research shows that connecting based on values rather than science, facts and technical expertise is the key to opening the door to have conversations about food and agriculture.
In her address to the conference, National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson outlined the NFF’s upcoming awareness campaign that is designed to engage the non-agricultural community.
Ms Simpson also outlined the policy advocacy the NFF has undertaken so far to help combat farm trespass, including a range of reforms that will be shortly presented to the Federal Parliament which will make it an offence to use a communications service to incite trespass.
Mellor Olsson solicitor Victoria Gilliland added to the farm trespass discussion in her speech, which covered the existing trespass offences in South Australia and their effectiveness as a deterrent.
Meanwhile, another keynote speaker Bayer medical science outreach lead Dr Eliza Dunn, from the United States, explained the importance of pesticides to food security but also for public health, highlighting that insect-borne diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide.
She said bans on such products – which were already heavily regulated – put food supply and children’s health at risk.
Grain Producers SA chief executive Caroline Rhodes said these topics were timely following the recent announcement by the State Government that the moratorium on the commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops in SA would be restricted to Kangaroo Island.
“As an industry, it will be important for us to engage with those who have genuine questions about agriculture, particularly GM crops, and have authentic and genuine conversations about why it is important farmers have access to these tools,” she said.
“GM technology has been proven to be safe time and time again, but as we have heard at GROWING SA this week, facts don’t matter until trust is established.”
Other highlights of GROWING SA were the gala dinner held on Monday night, sponsored by Ramsay Bros, which saw 150 guests get a taste of some of SA’s finest food and beverages.
Highlighting the importance of GPSA’s grower advocacy was the attendance of politicians from across the political aisle, including the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone, Shadow Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Eddie Hughes, and Federal Member for Barker Tony Pasin.
GPSA also held its annual general meeting as part of GROWING SA, where Directors Jared Sampson, Warramboo, Dion Woolford, Kimba, and Adrian McCabe, Hamley Bridge, were re-elected unopposed.
“GROWING SA continues to be the leading forum for grain and livestock producers to engage with their counterparts, industry service providers and stakeholders, politicians and policy-makers in a two-way dialogue regarding policy issues,” Ms Rhodes said.
“Delegates at GROWING SA were exposed to world experts who challenged thinking and shared international expertise for the benefit of members.
“GROWING SA is also an important part of GPSA’s member engagement strategy as it helps us to identify areas of need for advocacy.”