Farming education needs to be boosted to avoid further misconceptions about agriculture, writes Federated Farmers Wairarapa provincial president William Beetham.
It is going to fall to farmers to teach our communities about what is involved in farming.
During the recent media storm that descended on Carterton after children were reported ill following exposure to a mystery substance, (probable cause later found to be compost), the unlikely belief it was caused by aerial spraying or drop of fertiliser was floated as a plausible cause – a food production method was blamed.
The facts are that the area where the school is placed, aerial fertiliser drops are rare and aerial spraying from planes is non-existent as far as I know. The plane seen over the school was a Cessna plane which looks nothing like a top dressing plane. Why did such conjecture gain so much traction?
Could this be because people have little to no exposure to local farming practices in the Carterton area? This coupled with negative media about food production practices that is often not true or doesn't even relate to how most food is produced in New Zealand, means people jump to conclusions and the media latch on.
Read more from Federated Farmers here.
The education about what is around people in their day-to day life and how food is produced is either minimal or completely absent.
The media were forced to play the game of, 'be first, facts later', so rather than waiting for facts to be established went with any sound bite. It's not members of the media's fault entirely – they serve a public that claims its hungry for information, but what the public wants to be fed and what they're willing to pay for has changed over the years.
The sound bite the media and public went with was a mysterious plane conducting a farm operation. Minimal facts, grab a tenuous link that will sell, and run with it.
To stop this from happening again we need to boost education. People should know what can be found and what is happening in their community.
If the Ministry of Education is not delivering compulsory practical food production knowledge in the school curriculum, or if teachers are only applying a once over lightly approach, how we achieve food education may have to come down to other techniques.
As farmers we need to engage with our other rural or urban counterparts, let's get people on farms and have conversations about food production.
There are also opportunities for suppliers, including major companies in the agronomy and fertiliser industry, to help find ways to engage the public with what is happening locally and nationally in what is all our food production industry.
When it comes to reaching children we could run sessions at school where farmers share their stories and knowledge with children.
Could the food production industry better embrace social media? The occasional farm dance video featuring my agronomist explaining what we do and why, with some cute animals in the background could go viral.
At worst, those driving around the countryside getting food stories out there improve their cardio. At best we reach new audiences and give them avenues to gain food production knowledge.
Everyone informed, but more so, we embrace the great stories of our food production communities and their invaluable contributions to the Wairarapa and New Zealand.