Dont hold your breath

Last Tuesday night’s twitter forum (#Agchatoz) focussed on Agricultural representation. In any one’s language this is a contentious and potentially polarising issue. Views held by farmers on agricultural representation range from supporting compulsory union style representation, all the way to “why do we even need it”, and every view in between!

For a long time now there have been questions raised about the effectiveness of farmer representation. After all, declining terms of trade, shrinking farmer numbers and the sheer difficulty of making a profit are some of the issues we face every day and have faced for a very long time. On the social media medium of twitter, this has been a regular discussion point amongst many in the production agriculture field. It constantly meets a passionate defence of the representational model from both elected representatives and employees of most farmer representational organisations.

Recently, this defence has been brought into question following a report presented by former NFF directors David Trebeck and David Crombie. Almost as suddenly as the release of this report, the rhetoric from the National Farmer Federation (NFF) and New South Wales Farmers (NSW Farmers) changed. From a position of impassioned defence of the current representational model to one of admitting ‘the model is broken’. Stunningly, in my opinion, this switch in position has missed the attention of the main stream agricultural media, whose focus has been on the review and not what prompted the review and why there was an abrupt change of position by the farmer representative organisations.

On Twitter, one of the most ardent and persistent critics of the current Agricultural representational model has been @Tim_Whiffler. Recently “Tim” embarked on an eight hour session of tough questioning of the NFF. I and others occasionally joined in to what could only be described as one of the most intense Twitter debates I, and others, have ever seen. Tim really knows his stuff. He was forthright and blunt, without being rude. From that debate it seems results have flowed. The Australian Farm Institute has conducted a survey of farmers and farmer representation has become the focus of a study. There has been a change of NFF President and the new President, Queenslander Brent Finlay has admitted the model is broken. NSW Farmers President, Fiona Simpson is also admitting to a broken representational model.

Throughout the eight hour session of questioning and debate, there was nothing but resistance thrown at Tim. However, behind the scenes it appears Tim received private correspondence from the NFF inviting him to talk further. This didn’t seem to make sense. The model was fine and there was no admission of fault with the model from the NFF. However, it was very obvious to those of us who witnessed and even took part in that debate that @Tim_Whiffler knew his stuff and had an exceptional grasp on the economic history of agriculture in Australia. It can only be assumed Tim’s influence has led the NFF, and its new board, to accept that it was now public knowledge that the farmer representational model is broken.

When Tuesday night’s #agchatoz started, Tim was involved from the start. Having had a private invitation from the NFF to talk and having witnessed the public admissions of a broken model, he had been feeling fairly vindicated and perhaps was looking forward to discussing future options for farmer representation. Unfortunately this ‘vindication’ has not moved him beyond earning him “troll” status in the eyes of some regular users of Twitter. This quote from an @agchatoz co-founder (and host on the evening) highlights the labelling Tim received last Tuesday…

‘Thanks Corey & he was trolling, there is a difference between criticism (constructive or not) and being a troll’.

That labelling is incredibly unfair. More so when numerous farming organisational staff were vigorously defending the organisation’s that pays their wages. One would expect nothing less. Unfortunately for the staff only one NFF director could make it onto the discussion.

The defence from some of the farming organisational staff was very robust. Heavens, some people may even call it troll like behaviour! Unfortunately, this was acceptable to the majority on #agchatoz last week.  As one well known rural twitter peep put it, ’so as a community it seems time to shush the noisy, unhelpful minority #schoolyardbullies’.

I would invite readers to read through the transcript of the #ahchatoz session and see just how robust it was.

As an individual, Tim has rocked the boat and created a mood for change. While others are stating Tim used troll like behaviour, the NFF were desperate to make contact and hear his ideas, because, after all, they could not rebut his arguments. At the very same time there’s agreement (in some quarters) that both sides of the debate bordered on troll like behaviour, but there is not the will to name and shame these people. This exposes the double standards in the agricultural community. Majority norms are acceptable, even if they are failing, but anyone who dares to speak out against the norms is labelled. From what has been made public, David Trebeck and David Crombie have highlighted a need for radical change. Even the Director of the Australian Farm Institute, Mick Keogh, has said the Australian farmer representational model is broken. Are they labelled as “trolls” and silenced? According to @Tim_Whiffler, the NFF unfollowed him the very next day. It seems the messenger has been shot.

There are many people out there who owe @Tim_Whiffler an apology.

Don’t hold your breath.

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