High levels of trust shown in agriculture but ongoing engagement is important

Sharing responsibility for stewardship of the land and sea

Opinion
AgriFutures Australia managing director John Harvey says collaboration between the rural sector and wider community is needed for effective land management.

AgriFutures Australia managing director John Harvey says collaboration between the rural sector and wider community is needed for effective land management.

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Ag sector delves into the underlying values of the community that drive attitudes and trust.

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Environmental responsibility has been identified as the number one driver of community trust in Australia's rural industries.

This finding came from a collaborative research project carried out by VoconiQ - powered by CSIRO - identifying that the community sees rural industries as stewards of the land and sea, using natural resources responsibly and sustainably.

So, what about the community? Surely environmental stewardship is a shared responsibility? If so, how does the community play its part.?

The Community Trust in Rural Industries initiative is exciting because it's the first time the agricultural sector has come together to engage the community and uncover the underlying values driving their attitudes and trust.

In particular, we focused on getting perspectives from our city-based cousins - outside our sector - with just over 42 per cent of the 6461 participants indicating that they didn't know anyone who worked in a rural industry.

This initiative is a three-year partnership involving 11 Rural Research and Development Corporations, the National Farmers' Federation and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

It aims to drive collective capability to build, maintain and rebuild trust, in line with the community's evolving perceptions and values.

The results from the first stage of the research were released in July this year and indicated that, overall, Australia's rural industries are trusted by the community.

In fact, 87 per cent of participants indicated moderate or stronger levels of trust in our rural industries.

Consequently, acceptance of rural industries in general was also shown to be strong and positive.

This indicates there is a solid platform on which we in the agriculture sector can build a deeper relationship with the Australian community.

The research identified that the three main drivers of the community's trust in and acceptance of our rural industries are: environmental responsibility; industry responsiveness; and the value of the products produced by rural industries.

Clearly, we and our rural industries are already taking this kind of action and doing the work required to be responsible environmental stewards.

Being on the frontline, we understand better than most the importance of looking after our land and water resources.

We are already focused on conserving water, improving soils, maximising biodiversity, ensuring sustainability - to name just a few ways we protect our natural resources - and we are working hard to do even more.

The question that now needs to be unpacked, is whether the community also wants to be a part of the solution.

I suspect we will find that the community does indeed see itself as sharing the responsibility, which means Australia's rural industries won't be working alone. The question is how?

Only through rural industries working together to build stronger and closer relationships with the community, can we genuinely respond to the values they've identified as important, and engage meaningfully to find solutions that work for everyone.

Then we have a huge opportunity to grow their trust in - and accept - what we do.

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