Tom Roberts – Shearing the rams 1890
oil on canvas on composition board 122.4 x 183.3 cm National Gallery of Victoria

By Alison Parkes 

6th February 2014

Two recent issues have been in the news lately concerning rural and regional communities – the impending closure of SPC and the Leardblockade. People in capital cities, on social media and old media talk about thinks like SPC or live export or another mine as if they are unaffected by the impact of these things. As a farmer in a rural and regional area the impact of mining, climate change and job loses affect me now, but in the long run, these things affect all of us.

More of us than ever are living on the coastal fringes, but the way some people talk, it’s like they have never met a farmer or someone from a rural area in their lives. What I see in the capital city newspapers and on social media is so far from my own reality that it’s like people are talking about two different things – what they think farmers do and what we actually do.

If all you know of rural areas is mining and SPC, you might have a one-dimensional image of what life is like for the 2 per cent of Australians who do not live on the coast. I am a farmer, and I am going to clear up a few common misconceptions I encounter frequently.

Farmers, Responsible For All That Is Wrong With Australia… Really?

  • farmers are just straight-up dumb, yee-haw
  • farmers are greedy, always with their hands out for compensation
  • farmers don’t understand climate change
  • farmers are environmental vandals who chop down every tree in sight and use way too much water
  • farmers are mean to cows and sheep, just look at live export
  • all that mining on farmers land is ruining the environment
  • farmers are anti-Australian, and happily sell out to foreign buyers
  • farmers vote National despite Nationals not representing rural interests

Farmers are just straight-up dumb, yee-haw

When I tell people I am a farmer, they act like my IQ just dropped 100 points – they speak slower or louder or like they are talking to a three-year-old. Or they start mocking me with Southern US accents, like I just stepped out of the Dukes Of Hazzard, or, something.

Yes, I went to an agricultural college, but my degree is just as real as your fine arts degree or business degree. I also have post-grad qualifications and a couple of diplomas.

I get access to the same media as you, with the internet I can watch the same television shows, obsess over the same celebrities, buy the same products online (as long as Australia Post doesn’t get privatised it is still affordable), hear the same music (no I don’t listen to banjos, I prefer Grime). I am not stuck in the fifties. I do know what is going on in the world.

Farmers are greedy, always with their hands out for compensation or bail-outs

Tell someone you’re a farmer, and you hear stories about how much compensation farmers demand because they can’t run their own farms efficiently.

I grow apples, peaches, plums, I grow lemons, oranges, mandarins, I grow pumpkin, squash, zucchini. My last crop of pumpkin got me 8 cents each. That’s not profit, that’s total. Those same pumpkins go for $5/half at the local Coles/Woolworths.

If I lose my produce to flood or drought, I will get no government assistance. The value of my land is worth ‘too much’. Which is funny, because the mining companies have been sniffing around – a significant coal deposit has been found nearby and possible fracking in the next suburb overshadows our daily lives and if my land gets compulsorily resumed, it’s value is a third of the valuation for other purposes.

People want cheap, clean food, and they want it all year round, but fruit and vegetables don’t grow in factories, it is subject to the seasons, weather and natural disasters. If hail or locusts wipe out my produce before harvesting, I don’t get paid. Sounds fair? We can always source our food from overseas, and when there are no more farmers, we can source all of food from overseas.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about the subsidies given to the big miners, the rebates, the ability to negotiate your own taxes.

If you want to know more on the issue of SPC – #SPC Ardmona isn’t just a factory.

Farmers don’t understand climate change

Did I mention my degree, post-grad, and diplomas, I wonder why people assume I’m an idiot? When the weather people read the autocues at the end of the news and talk about yet another brilliant cloudless, hot day, to city people that means ‘hit the beach’, to me that means time to rip out a few more fruit trees so I can keep at least a few trees growing during the extended drought.

I understand climate change and weather, not just theoretically, but my everyday life is ruled by the weather. Long-term changes affect my income, it is in my interest to know these things. Crops that I used to harvest in January-February I now harvest in late December. In the past two years I have experienced drought, flood, bushfire.

Farmers are the canary in the coal mines. Maybe climate change is a minor inconvenience for people in the cities, but what affects rural people now, will affect you sooner or later.

Farmers are environmental vandals who chop down every tree in sight and use way too much water

Said by people who drink bottled water owned by multinational corporations sourced in 3rd world countries.

If I don’t look after my land, I don’t make any money.

Two years ago my land was under half a metre of water, today there are cracks so large I can measure them with a ruler (6-7 millimetres and growing).

I plant trees, I don’t chop them down. I plant trees because they hold the moisture in the ground, they stop the soil getting rock-hard, provide wind breaks and shade. More trees is better for me.

Drought, to me, means I simply do not have water. If you live in a capital city, drought means the cost of your fresh fruit-and-veg goes up 5c. Where I live the phone numbers you keep on your fridge are not the local home delivery pizza place – it’s the water carter, the rural fire brigade, the farm machinery mechanic.

As for the chemicals, there are a long list of chemicals that are banned in Australia that are still used overseas, some are used on the food we import. If you want clean food, buy Australian. If you want cheap food with bonus lead and banned chemicals, eat the imports.

Farmers are so mean to cows and sheep, just look at live export

To the people who say that, I ask, are you a vegan? No? then stop talking to me about cruelty to animals. I grow crops. I am not a pastoralist, I don’t raise animals for food. Live export has nothing to do with me.

My grandmother ran her own cattle station, and she was a vegetarian. Why was she a vegetarian? Because she ran her own cattle station.

Where I grew up, I was within walking distances of live animal sale yards, an abattoir, and a pet food processing plant.

I understand “being mean” to cows and sheep beyond just a few graphics on your Facebook feed.

Oh, and I am a vegan. However, if you are not, and you still want to talk about people being mean to cows and sheep, I will happily have that discussion with you, it just might not end the way you think it will.

Look all that mining on farmers land is ruining the environment

Mining, it’s environmental Armageddon. As a farmer, I don’t get a say, if someone wants to frack or put in a quarry, there is nothing, not one single thing, I can do to stop them. Take that up with the mining companies, not the farmers.

The Leardblockade has highlighted just how important our rural areas are for all of us. They aren’t just an inconvenience to the profits of a few mining companies. Often it’s farmer who are fighting these mines. In my experience, mining and farming does not happily co-exist, despite what their ads tell you.

Farmers are anti-Australian, and happily sell out to foreign buyers

Farmers are selling out this country every time they sell their land to foreign buyers.

Where were your clothes, food, electronics, cars made? My guess some of it was made overseas. If people don’t buy my food, my choices are sell my land or go into debt to pay the bills. I work outside jobs to pay my bills, but some farmers don’t have that option. People screamed at the Rudd-Gillard governments about the so-called debt they were leaving our children, then criticise farmers and people in rural areas for doing what they can to avoid leaving debt to their children.

When you think about what you will leave your children when you die, you think house, art, grandma’s silverware, your grandfather’s war medals – farmers think about the debt, a debt that will cripple the next generation. Like all sellers, we sell to who ever is buying, if an Australian wants to step up and buy our land, good, but if not, farmers cannot continue to get into even more debt waiting for an Australian buyer.

Farmers vote National despite Nationals not representing rural interests

If it wasn’t for farmers there would be no Coalition government, and we wouldn’t have Tony Abbott.

I thought we were blaming the people of Western Sydney for the Abbott government? Anyway…

Not all people in rural and regional areas are farmers. Some are small business owners, bankers, property developers, accountants, artists, online traders, office workers, nurses, security guards, plumbers, construction workers, nuns, athletes, shock jocks, surf clothing store sales staff… in other words: a diverse range of occupations.

When people vote, they don’t just vote on economic issues. They might vote for social issues, to stop the boats, stop abortion, stop public schools, stop the unions. Maybe Nationals and their Coalition partners do act against the interests of rural areas, but there are just as many people in those rural areas who personally benefit from conservative governments.

Maybe we should look at the reasons why rural and regional people vote against their best interests and for governments that act against the people of their communities, instead of simply blaming Nationals-voters for helping give us an Abbott government.

Farmers also vote Green, Labor, PUP, Independent. The times they are a-changing.

Farmers are not destroying this country, they are being destroyed by policies put in place by successive governments. This current government is among the worst, if not the worst, I have seen. When the farmers go, it won’t just mean cheap food imports, it will be a disaster for this country, except for maybe the big miners and multinationals. In the meantime, farmers are not the enemy, we fight for many of the same things you do.