When a farmed product has the backing of local community, amazing relationships develop with consumers.
When that marriage goes sour, perhaps through a series of supposed wrong-doings, the bad vibe emanating from a multitude of mobile phones will spell disaster.
In addressing the Lismore Next Crop forum last week keynote speaker Jolyon Burnett, chief executive of the Australian Macadamia Society, urged the Northern Rivers’ agricultural community to embrace “social licence”.
These days nosy neighbours have a phone, with a camera, and any error of judgement in their eyes can be broadcast to the world through social media. Once trust is broken, brand loyalty takes a hit. An exercise in wrong-doing will cost a lot of money.
“Like a lot of producers we, as macadamia growers, look beyond our shores at export markets and consumers afar but our biggest challenge is maintaining local social licence,” Mr Burnett said.
“We need to make sure we keep the support and positive encouragement of the communities in which we operate.”
Growing nuts certainly developed an image problem in the eyes of nearby neighbours, concerned about soil erosion under dark canopies and spray drift. Co-ordinated management and auditing, much of it through the society, are helping to correct a lot of those problems and create a good news story.
North Coast dairy co-operative Norco was on the receiving end of public good will earlier this year when Tweed Valley hospital nurses protested that state government cut the co-op out of an historical supply contract. On-line communities joined the fight and before long government backed down and Norco’s contract was re-instated.
On the flip side, fast growth in the emerging blueberry industry has resulted in poorly managed properties where extensive nitrogen run-off, particularly in the high rainfall zones around Coffs Harbour, are showing up as greenhouse-volatile nitrate at levels 50 to 800 times the norm. Now three local councils on the mid-North Coast want to demand a DA for what used to be minor horticultural work.
READ MORE: Are you confident about your social licence?
“We are all losers for that,” said Mr Burnett.
The industry is working hard to rectify wrong doing and recent work through the LLS is establishing cost effective solutions, like the use of woodchip bioreactors to mop up excess nitrogen using fungi.
That’s a good news story and telling it right might help return customer loyalty to market.