Innovation, which is the future of farming, is driven by ownership of the result and is delivered via a belief in the nobility of the job at hand.
This was the message handed down by an in-form Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce at the National Farmers Federation’s congress in Canberra.
Despite the fact it came littered with Barnabyisms in a sea of trademark colourful metaphors and colloquilisms, and with more than one punch landing firmly on the jaws of Labor and the environmental lobby, it wasn’t lost on an audience keenly attuned to the concept of retaining both a social licence and the right to farm.
“Innovation is inherently risky – you have to spend money and break away from your previous approach,” Mr Joyce said.
“Behind every shed on every farm is a pile of ideas that didn’t pay off.
“When the excesses of the environmental movement press caveat upon caveat on your property rights, that is destructive to the drive for innovation.
“Why try to improve something you don’t ultimately own?”
Mr Joyce told producers it was to their advantage to partner with others to share the risk while still owning some of the benefits
The socialisation of benefit is the socialisation of risk, after all.
While embracing digital innovation was the theme of the 2016 NFF congress, Mr Joyce was also using the concept to draw parallels to what his government had achieved through its Agricultural White Paper, what challenges it faced as that was rolled out and what motivated his personal drive to ‘fight all and sundry’ to see it to fruition.
At core, he said, there was nobility in the farming job and those who did it.
“It is an honourable pursuit,” he said.
“We deserve to make a dollar feeding and clothing people.
“We are not ripping people off; we are not sitting down and getting fascinated with how we feel about the color blue behind a computer screen.”
His motivation stemmed from that nobility, not “because I have a thing for sheep or dearly love canola or just froth at the mouth every time I see a cultivated paddock, or because I think drenching sheep is up there with playing golf.”
He said he wondered about the excesses of animal welfare activities and how activists would go working with the farmer for a day.
“Maybe after they have been kicked a few times, fallen over in sheep manure and after years of being burnt in the sun and riddled with skin cancers, they might harden up a bit and become a little more understanding that this is not an esoteric life: it’s real; it’s tough and it’s good and it’s run by real families,” he said.
Thinking about why farmers worked so hard “when so many are riding their little hobby horses against us” gave him motivation for continuing the fight for agriculture in the face of an opposition in government that “just doesn’t get it.”
Mr Joyce used the opening NFF address to run through what the White Paper had delivered and to defend policies, including those such as decentralisation which are attracting pushback from the sector he hangs his hat on.
That list included tax reform, which ranged from a hundred per cent write-off for water reticulation and fencing to the $800,000 increased cap for farm management deposits; expanding the foreign land register; creating a $2.5b water infrastructure fund and investing $200m in biosecurity.
Biosecurity may be something you can’t see but without it Australian farming was nothing, he said.
The Coalition was decentralising the likes of the Grains Research and Development and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority because “innovation can only truly happen when smart people meet other smart people in their chosen field”, he said.
It was time for towns like Toowoomba and Armidale to be a part of the innovation frontline.