Row over anti-farming rant a lesson in selling ag's message better

Farming struggles to return fire when under attack

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FAKE NEWS: Australian Financial Review columnist, Aaron Patrick, got up the nose of the National Farmers Federation president, Fiona Simson, with this inflammatory column on February 17.

FAKE NEWS: Australian Financial Review columnist, Aaron Patrick, got up the nose of the National Farmers Federation president, Fiona Simson, with this inflammatory column on February 17.

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The National Farmers Federation has been enraged by two columns in the Australian Financial Review which claimed the drought had been a fake crisis.

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Angry farm leaders usually struggle to get their response heard when an opinionated commentator from a major city media organisation decides to offer some "helpful" advice on what agriculture is doing wrong.

The latest to get up their noses is Aaron Patrick, a senior correspondent with the Australian Financial Review, who has had two separate pops at agriculture in the past few weeks.

On February 17 he wrote a bizarre column in the Fin in which he suggested the drought had been a fake crisis.

The media had created a sense of doom which had been validated by politicians and encouraged by the Bureau of Meteorology, he wrote.

Despite the "sob stories", most farms were doing fine, he said. Why else would there be still $5.7 billion sitting in Farm Management Deposits, he asked.

Individual farm incomes are usually a feast or famine and FMDs were designed to allow farmers to average out their tax bills by shifting income (and tax liability) in good years for withdrawal during tough times.

UNDER FIRE: Aaron Patrick has been criticised for two recent columns in the Australian Financial Review which the NFF claimed were misleading..

UNDER FIRE: Aaron Patrick has been criticised for two recent columns in the Australian Financial Review which the NFF claimed were misleading..

Patrick then aimed his keyboard at drought welfare payments to farmers saying this type of aid was just delaying the necessary process of the good farmers buying out those who had to be regularly propped up.

While much more discussion is needed about whether taxpayer money would be better spent on drought preparedness rather than drought aid, that point was lost in Patrick's silly rant about the drought being a fake crisis.

The National Farmers Federation huffed and puffed on Twitter about the unfairness of the column but it was left to Paul Barry on the ABC's Media Watch to excoriate Patrick.

Barry said Patrick's claim the drought had been a fake crisis was "breathtakingly stupid".

No doubt this left Patrick fuming and "senior correspondents" don't usually take criticism that well.

Patrick followed up with another inflammatory dig at agriculture in a column on March 5 in which he claimed farmers had been taught how to play the victim by populist rural politicians.

POLITICAL JUNKIE: One of Aaron Patrick's books about recent political turmoil in Canberra.

POLITICAL JUNKIE: One of Aaron Patrick's books about recent political turmoil in Canberra.

He argued again that farming was performing well despite the drought, drawing on ABARES' latest estimates of average Australian farm cash income in 2019-20 of $153,000.

Never mind that around a third of farms, particularly in drought-hit NSW, will have negative cash incomes this year.

Patrick said the drought hadn't been a crisis but an opportunity to accelerate the consolidation of farms into bigger holdings by pulling the rug from under farm welfare payments and other aid measures.

The amalgamation of farms has been going on for decades, a fact which seems to have escaped Patrick's attention and no doubt will gather pace.

And there are plenty of smaller farms that are profitable while larger farms aren't immune from financial disaster.

The NFF again tried to respond but Patrick has blocked them on Twitter.

Which begs the wider question of how agriculture should respond to the daily bombardment of anti-farm comments on Twitter and the rest of social media.

Livestock producers cop a shellacking every day for being cruel and environmental vandals. Most would be unaware of these attacks because they are too busy looking after their stock.

Social media has a large army of vegans, animal activists and anti-farming trolls who "work" hard every day trying to hurt agriculture.

Perhaps it's time agriculture and its leaders made a better fist at fighting back.

As for Aaron Patrick? Well, he is a political junkie, a big fan of former Labor leader, Bill Shorten, and an author of three books about federal politics.

Perhaps he could go and work on a farm for six months and write a book about his experiences.

  • The writer is the national sheep and wool writer for Australian Community Media's farm publications and websites.
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