Leading the charge for Year of the Farmer

Kate MatthewsCountryman

When David Cussons returned to the farm in 2006 after working as a rural presenter and journalist for the ABC for seven years, he was 'on the other side of the fence'.

The stories published by non-rural media were not always positive and often about the problems farmers faced.

"Being in the farmer's seat with a farmer's hat on, I was thinking it's time we do something about that."

Then two years ago, David had the opportunity of a lifetime to study ways of educating the non-farming public about farming through a Nuffield scholarship.

As a result, the third-generation mixed farmer was approached by the instigators of the Australian Year of the Farmer (AYOF) campaign, Geoff Bell and Philip Bruem, to get involved.

"In part, the Australian Year of the Farmer is about farmers - getting farmers involved in telling their story and about educating the non-farming public about agriculture," David said.

A key to getting the message across is using media that city consumers prefer for receiving information, such as twitter where @AYOF2012 already has more than 850 followers.

Throughout the year, AYOF will hit the road, attending more than 300 event days including agricultural shows, field days and cultural events covering more than 55,000km.

The campaign is also working to encourage state-based educators across Australia to use existing classroom resources to promote and explain agriculture.

"Following from that we are working with career advisers to help push the message of agriculture and to get city and country schools to form linkages," David said.

"There is a lot that can be done to get the message into the city."

The campaign already has former Test cricketer Glen McGrath on board as the key ambassador.

Glen grew up on a 485 hectare sheep and wheat farm near Narromine in New South Wales and 15 years ago bought more than 13,000ha to farm sheep and beef near Bourke.

The campaign has also enlisted Farmer Wants a Wife host Natalie Gruzlewski and mining magnate Andrew Forrest, who grew up on a WA station. The 2010 national rural women's award winner, Sue Middleton from Wongan Hills, is also on board, along with 2010 Australian Farmer of the Year Ross Woodhouse, a dairy farmer from Scott River.

The 12-month campaign will culminate with a week-long food and farming expo held in the last week of December, most likely in Brisbane or Melbourne.

"Farming is so important and provides food and fibre and when you think about the global population growing, it's critical," David said.

"Agribusiness is really everyone's business.

"Whether it's because you wear a woollen jumper or go to the supermarket to buy food, you are interacting with farming and agriculture at some level, even if you don't realise it.

"It's also important to be able to explain that agriculture's value chain represents 27 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and employs 1.6 million people. So spreading the message of agriculture and how to get involved, and why it's a great industry to be involved with is important."

To make a lasting impact and a big splash in 2012, David said WA farmers needed to get involved by visiting www.yearofthefarmer.com.au.

"Individual farmers can become proud supporters of AYOF," he said.

"It's one way of saying you support farming and agriculture and it also means you are added to a database can be kept up to date with events."

And soon to be released will be AYOF-branded farm signs.

"We would love everyone to buy a farm sign promoting agriculture and themselves and to come and visit the roadshow and tell their stories," David said.

"If you're holding an event in a local area, contact AYOF and tell us.

"There are a number of ways to connect but the key is to keep in the loop by jumping online."

·To get involved visit www.yearofthefarmer.com.au or follow @AYOF2012 on twitter

Australian Year of the Farmer objectives *

·Establish closer ties for rural and urban communities.

·Celebrate the range and quality of produce farmers grow and harvest.

·Share Australia's world leading farming techniques and innovation.

·Highlight agricultures role in national and global food security.

·Promote farmers roles as environmental managers and best practice sustainability.

·Recognise farmers for feeding the nation and sustaining vital agribusinesses.

·Communicate importance of farming and rural communities to national economy and social fabric.

·Encourage consumers to buy Australian produce.

·Create awareness of career opportunities.

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