Christopher and Siobhan O'Malley are the current NZ Share Farmers of the Year. Here Siobhan writes about why they decided to put their farming practices out into the digital world.
Lately, we can't go to an event, meeting or even open a rural newspaper without someone asking the question: "What are you doing about the public image of dairy farming? The media hate us. We feel picked on. It is an unfair and inaccurate portrayal. What are you doing about it?"
We sympathise. We feel like the media have created a narrative that vilifies the "dairy industry" while forgetting that behind our corporate co-operative stand literally thousands of families.
And the lament from the farming community is always the same - the urban-rural divide is growing, no one in our towns and cities has contact with the farm like previous generations did, they watch unfair or inaccurate documentaries about overseas farming systems that don't apply in NZ, they don't understand what we do! They highlight a few farmers with bad practices and tar us all with the same brush.
The answer is potentially straightforward. There is only so much the NZ public will listen to PR from Fonterra or DairyNZ promoting a differing, positive view to that of the mainstream media beat up - they will be viewed with suspicion as being 'corporate'.
So how do we start to combat that? If all dairy farmers out there, the real people who work hard and care about their animals and the land, if they invited one urban dwelling 'townie' friend or relative out to their farm, showed them the complexity of what they do, how they feed their cows and look after the calves, and how they are farming with a vision to improve the land for the future, then slowly word would get out that maybe all dairy farmers are not out to pollute and abuse animals. After all, we all know New Zealand is a small place, everyone is surely only two degrees of separation from a dairy farmer.
Putting our farming practices out there into the digital world is our attempt to welcome as many people as we can - albeit virtually - onto our farm.
In today's world, most people spend time absorbing messages on their devices, so we have launched this platform to build a more real dairying presence on social media and on our website. Our blog and our digital space for our farming business is intended to showcase how we run our farm. It might be that other dairy farmers watch us to see what we are up to (take a road trip with a farmer and you will know they love looking over the fence at other people's farming). We would welcome comments and suggestions from fellow farmers as we always love improving what we do.
Mostly, what we hope is that we get some digital visitors to our farm, that our pictures pop up in urban-dwelling Facebook feeds, and those digital encounters can lead to better understanding of what we do!
We want to emphasise that we aren't a faceless corporation to be attacked, that the dairy industry is not demonic and dirty; but a group of hard working kiwi families, doing the best we can with the information that comes to us to actively look after the environment of all New Zealanders and our animals, and improving all the time.
Come with us on our journey to start to repair the urban-rural divide, showcase our farms, our people and our businesses, and display a more balanced narrative of New Zealand dairy farming.
Click here to join Siobhan and Christopher O'Malley on their journey to repair the urban-rural divide.