Our Halloween edition carries a storytelling theme from our druid cover to Katherine’s comment which reads: “Everyone has a story and a unique identity... It might even be suppressed by others forcing you to hide behind a façade of bravery or competence.”
The last two weeks have brought a lot of unsettling information to farmers’ doors.
The new CAP arrangements will offer support to some but will be devastating for others. The carbon budgets will mean massive disruption to Irish farming. Disruption can be a catalyst for change and beneficial in terms of innovation, but the pace of that change, in the absence of supports, will bring huge consequences.
We have a really good story to tell
In the main, Irish agriculture has historically benefitted from public support. Here-to-fore, there was no scepticism surrounding the credentials of Irish farming. We have a really good story to tell.
But over the last decade consumer trust has been eroded in lots of areas; fake news, banks, politicians, corporate power and marketing designed to manipulate us. Irish farming fared reasonably well through this evolution into a sceptic’s world. However, our positive story has taken a hit in relation to the environment. Family farms are still seen in a positive light but there is a growing disconnect between what consumers view as a family farm and what they perceive as a corporate farm. The latter is often viewed as industrial, profit driven, polluting and therefore bad. The size of the operation is actually more the precursor of this confusion, than that of the ownership.
What does every good story have? A credible nemesis
The story has not changed, the reality is that most Irish farms are family-owned and size should not be a litmus test for defining a system as good or bad. There seems to be no allowance for profitability or scaling as is acceptable, and lauded, in other sectors. The public do not want to hear that story when it comes to farming.
What does every good story have? A credible nemesis. Sherlock Holmes had Moriarty and Superman had Lex Luthor. Irish farming has the environmental NGOs (eNGOs). Although our story is credible, so is theirs. Their spokespeople are well informed and in interviews they appear positively disposed toward a new agricultural system in Ireland, extensive and organic that yields higher profits. To the non-farming consumer, this new system sounds like a wonderful story. To farmers, it sounds like a return to the subsistence farming model that pre-dates most active farmers today. With a credible adversary, the best results come from mutual respect for the others point of view and sticking to facts. However, the difficulty is that this restraint is not always shown [by either side], particularly on social media.
The result leaves many farmers shying away from telling their story, fearing that there is too much risk in being transparent. The real loss here is that when farmers are not confident to tell their positive stories, that space will be filled by other voices who are more than willing to tell their version of Irish farming.
Credibility is a function of the perceived gap between what you say and what you do. Irish agriculture has a compelling story. Going back to Katherine’s comment on stories being suppressed, we need the confidence to tell them again. The Government can still turn the narrative around by supporting farmers.