As a professional farmer in 2019 it is understood “best practice” means you take care of your land, your animals/crops and you are economically astute.
Despite that it doesn't matter what you or the industry believes is appropriate. We live in an era of ‘social licence’ where the opinion of the ill informed can determine the future of your farm and its practices.
In Robert Herrmann’s article ‘Social Licence – it’s a rubbish concept!’, he wrote about his concerns. The foremost concern, is the pursuit of a social licence can involve making changes to our industry to suit the viewpoints of a populace far removed from commercial agriculture.
In the well meaning race to have a positive social licence, we face a number of major challenges. The main concerns I hold are: Who dictates the social licence? Where does it stop?
Ethics and moral viewpoints can differ drastically. What you determine as appropriate, I may find abhorrent. This begs the question, who determines what is an appropriate action for the agricultural industry to take? Is it wealthy inhabitants of the inner city, the suburban working class or consumers in developing countries? It is highly likely each have differing views, however all are consumers and customers of our produce.
In 2018 a Californian jury determined glyphosate was the cause of a ground keepers’ cancer, and awarded compensation of US$289m. At the same time activists are calling for a ban on the use of glyphosate in a number of developed regions.
This is despite science showing glyphosate, when used as advised, poses minimal risk. The science shows glyphosate is a safe product, and assists farmers to produce crops efficiently.
So in aiming for a social licence not necessarily based on data and science, who dictates what is an appropriate farming practice?
In the modern world of social media, it is largely the campaign group with the biggest marketing budget which will determine the route the conversation takes. At present activist groups have money and volunteers to ensure they can loudly proclaim their message to a wide audience.
The agricultural industry has economics, environmentalism and science on it’s side, but this is not enough. The industry is told to win the emotive argument, however the reality is activist groups, through simple imagery, are capable of winning the emotions of those removed from the day-to-day actions of agriculture.
The biggest ‘social licence’ issue at present is the live sheep export industry. Based on current polling, it is likely Labor will win the coming federal election, and with that a ban on live sheep export will be enacted.
There are many within the agricultural industry who believe a ban on live sheep to be the ‘sacrificial lamb to the altar of social licence’ – that its removal will allow the the rest of the industry to have a healthy social licence unencumbered by perceptions of live export.
The move to ban live sheep export has largely been as a result of the well funded animal rights industry. These organisations have successfully garnered support and donations.
The pursuit of social licence has a risk of incrementalism. Once an industry practice has been removed, activists will not be satisfied. In all likelihood the opposite will occur. Their successes will further magnify their efforts into other causes. It may not impact you today, but it could tomorrow.
- Andrew Whitelaw, Mecardo