Australian Fair Food Forum

Connecting with Traditional/Industrial Farmers

These notes were taken from a group discussion session at the Food Sovereignty Convergence in Canberra, 23/24 October 2017.

  • Traditional/industrial farmers are damaging the land but may be trapped in production
  • How can we give them the tools to make change?
  • France- 400 acre farm- Farmer wished to make the transition to organic practices but found it easier to make this transition in incremental steps. Invited other farmers to grow organic veg, pork and beef.
  • Industrial/traditional farmers are concerned whether they make a profit using organic/regenerative practices?
  • Easier to farm organically if you start from scratch or plan from the beginning. How to change the direction of a system already running?
  • Don’t expect to change all at once
  • Traditional education streams favour industrial farming. Not enough schooling in agroecological models
  • Ecological association of Australia – Charles Sturt
  • Many assume large scale equates with profitability. Not enough affordable labour. Support for farmers to share their land. Profitability per m2 increases.
  • Support farmers to share land with new gen farmers.
  • New farmers- increasingly middle class urban people who can live on savings for a few years. These people could be paired with struggling traditional farmers.
  • They don’t know how to talk to each other. Different languages and background.
  • Organic regenerative investment cooperative - ORICoop
  • Only 25% farms are profitable- already stressed farmers choose the option to make profit rather than transition to more ecological practices.
  • Land costs now are so high. Are we protecting farmland? ACT is an example – lifestyle farming and land gets expensive
  • Solution is to reduce land costs by locking out investors
  • England farmers farm as tenant farmers
  • Defining in land ownership
  • Can Aust look at small lease agreements?
  • How do you manage a farm commons?
  • Idea of community based farmers who share tools, workers and host small-holders, thereby creating more jobs.
  • Sheep farmer near canberra didn’t know how to farm regeneratively on a large scale or any examples of farmers doing it even though there was a prime example down the road (Millpost Merino)
  • Communication is the key.
  • WA group of farmers increasingly moving towards more biological methods of farming, focused on improving soils (although they may still use glyphosate). But these people may not subscribe and may even be against terms like ‘organic’, ‘biodynamic’ or ‘small-scale’ but what they are doing is better for the land than industrial, extractive ag.
  • Workshops could be an option (but not selling a product or service as is the norm). Events are often promotional but create space for conversation with others and model of transition.
  • Online platforms. Ie. The FARM TABLE – peer to peer contact.
  • Tall poppy culture? People don’t want to be seen as tall poppies by standing up and say I’m doing things differently.
  • Safe space required for those struggling to say this is not working. Please help. Anonymous digital platform
  • Starting to bond people together
  • Supporting farmer to farmer connection
  • Help farmers financially to move on.
  • People don’t like being told that what they’ve been doing for years is wrong because it’s their livelihood, identity and culture. Effort put into resist and argue for their way of farming. ‘Feeding the world’ paradigm.
  • How to get them to want to make the step?
  • Wall goes up when organic or biodynamic mentioned. Use the word biological instead?
  • Story sharing element. Really good examples of agroecology are the way forward.
  • It takes time to gain trust and build relationships. Interview with biodynamic farmer- older farmers come to him for advice now that they see improvements on his farm over time. Younger people who may only follow what their parents have been doing, can’t see this improvement over time.
  • Stories are really important. Where can people go to see the proof? Lots of stories on SOIL FOR LIFE
  • Fixation on profit- Exponential profits are not sustainable. Changing the narrative around profitability. Degrowth models.
  • Pay for carbon in the soil. Eventually the quality of soil and carbon will be monetised
  • Many farmers are not dismissive of organic practices but believe that it won’t work for them for whatever reason (soil, weeds, climate etc.) They aren’t averse to taking on new ideas – they want to do real farming.
  • Terminology. A new name is needed that isn’t exclusionary–be cautious of ‘small scale’ term. Biological is a word that breaks down the barriers with broad acre farmers rather than organic or BD. Other terms – Regenerative is good as it is hard to dilute
  • Permaculture is a technique
  • Soil biodiversity as capital
  • Need to break down the divide between ‘greenies’ and ‘conservatives’. It doesn’t need to be so black and white.
  • Farmers and rural communities like the idea of ‘local’. Community is important to the traditional farmers.
  • Farmers generally want to look after their land – long term
  • Australia is a nation of fairly broad acre farmers, not small-scale farmers like in France for example where 20ha is the norm. This means we need to use language that is appropriate.
  • Large scale is a target for chemical companies so that means the food sovereignty movement needs to include these large scale farmers and help them transition.
  • Local production and consumption. Know your Farmer movement
  • CSA are great but some farmers struggle to produce and then sell their own food as well
  • Local and regional groups are good but how do you engage with the large-scale farmers?
  • Women in Ag conference- Most were from very large farms – take away “ they are not being heard” in the city. City/country divide. AFSA appears very city based.
  • Charles Massy- potential to bridge the divide
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I thank Shirley Harring for forwarding me the link here. I have read and agree with each and every point. I have encountered many of these scenarios in my work in organic farm education, mostly in viticulture. In my experience gaining boots on the ground credibility to build report and bridge the communication divide has been essential. Secondly an achievable incremental education and adoption process that is based on a spectrum of agroecology (the term used in the wine industry is sustainability) was the best method I found to convert industrial farmers. This Sustainable Australia Winegrowing program was backed up with a marketing campaign and organic viticulture profitability reports from other (credible ‘green’) countries, namely NZ. It’s certainly a multipronged approach.


Thanks for these and other notes Courtney, loving catching up on all the great topics and content

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This should be put up on the AFSA website as it is a great way of extending out to these famers who largely are being let down by the big AG orgs.

This is a real demonstration of the inclusivity of AFSA that needs to be put out there. well done to all who contributed to this session.

cheers all


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I’ll see if I can write it up into something a little more cohesive for the website :slight_smile:

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