It’s unlikely the founding fathers of The Land would ever have imagined how community attitudes towards farmers would change by the time the 5000th edition rolled off the presses (as it did last week).
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Back in 1911, and indeed from then right up to about the 1980s, farmers were regarded as model citizens: valuable contributors to the economy, underpinners of our standard of living, wise custodians of the land and the vital backbone of rural communities.
As a nation, we were proud of what our farmers had achieved in the mere two centuries since the dark days of early settlement, when the colony had looked to the next shipload of grain for sustenance.
But attitudes began to change, as the movement we now broadly describe as “green” began to take root, and people started viewing the world, the environment and their fellow man in a different light.
A generation (and yes, I’m part of it!) which had never experienced war, or the Depression, was growing up, prospering, and moving into influential positions.
And as time went on, people with time on their hands and a hankering for a “cause” began to poke their heads over others’ fences and discover things that offended their sensibilities.
Long-established industries – initially agriculture and forestry, now joined by coal mining - were forced onto the defensive by city-based action groups demanding that things be done differently (or not at all).
Intensive animal production, live animal exports, logging of native forests, farmland clearing, mulesing of sheep, cotton-growing, kangaroo culling, all became activists' targets.
Once protesters were limited to waving placards or lying in front of a bulldozer, today they are empowered by social media.
There are other factors at work, of course, but this constant sniping is part of the reason why we’ve seen the number of farmers in Australia fall from 180,000 in the 1980s to about 85,000 today.
As my colleague Vernon Graham observed in The Land last week, “farmers are now under attack” as never before, and many are becoming weary of it.
Moree farmer Charles Ledingham put it well in a letter to the paper last week, when he said the stream of negativity was “...causing people who are involved in agriculture to think they need to apologise if they produce something from a natural resource”.
Perhaps it’s because we have a big country and a long-standing surplus of home-grown food that allows city folk to continue to take farmers for granted.
It seems to be only in countries that have experienced war at first hand, and related starvation (like Europe, Japan and Indochina), that farmers today enjoy the appreciation of a grateful populace.
We should be thankful there are still politicians like Barnaby Joyce who – for all his flaws – can still call a spade a spade when it comes to reminding us what we owe to our farm sector.
- Peter Austin