I have a dream……where producers and consumers have an equal passion, respect and understanding for food production in our country. Following my participation in the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award this year and the resultant formation of the company Influential Women, I now have a conduit to spread the amazing stories we have in agriculture. My name is Catherine Marriott and I am so excited to share some thoughts for you to think about…. You may think I am mad, but that is the joys of a blog, you can have your own opinion.
My journey started on our family farm over in Victoria where we have mostly sheep and had some opportunity cattle and crops. We all hopped in and helped on the farm as unfortunately our sensational six turned to a fabulous five when dad left us to cancer. We are all still involved in the family farm and are a very close family which I believe stems from the fact that we were all passionate about agriculture and we knew that if we wanted to keep the farm, we had to all get on a work together.
My passion for Ag has always been in my bones, I studied a Bachelor or Rural Science at UNW. Following my degree, I went and sat in a saddle for 12 months in the northern beef industry. I am a big believer that if you want to be involved in an industry, you should understand it from the ground up. Coming from a sheep farm in Victoria didn’t very well equip me for consulting in the northern beef industry, which is where I wanted to be.
Some people ask me “How does a Victorian sheep farmer end up in the northern beef industry?” My answer to this is I actually don’t know, I had a passion from somewhere in the bottom of my soul for the Northern Beef Industry and I decided that I wanted to chase that dream. Something about the wide-open spaces and freedom to operate up there was a romantic dream that I had. I wasn’t disappointed.
The lesson here is such a powerful one, if you have a dream, go at it as hard as you can. Don’t listen to what other people tell you as you can never live someone else’s life. You will also never please everyone and how can you control what someone else thinks of you….. that is another thing you can’t control and where controlling your own attitude really comes into it’s own! If you have a passion, aim for the clouds and shoot for the stars…. You will get there with the right attitude.
Following my year Jillarooing, I worked as a nutritionist in Queensland for three years before commencing work for myself as a nutrition and beef management consultant to a few different companies, however my main contract was with Meat and Livestock Australia as part of their Live Export Program.
I have always been a bit of an adventurer and always pushed boundaries, I have lived in England, America and Malaysia, worked in Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, India and obviously Australia. My passion and drive for Agriculture and the people in it come from having a first hand global perspective of issues, challenges and opportunities in feeding a world population that is far greater than what we have here on our shores.
My main role was in the feedlots over in Indonesia and the Philippines as a feedlot nutritionist and trainer in the areas of animal handling, breeding and general feedlot management. I am still working in Asia but in a slightly different capacity. I am more involved with people capacity building, training and supply chain. I am also looking at alternative projects such as cattle under palms projects to decrease herbicide use and produce protein in land that is otherwise wasted.
My career has now taken me in yet another direction….. one where I am lucky enough to work with women across all industries in agriculture and across Australia. I believe we are coming into a time where we need to communicate more effectively with our consumer before a crisis hits. We are so often defensive in Agriculture which is not a good place to start a conversation; I feel we need to be far more proactive in our communication and engagement with people that aren’t as full bottle on agriculture as we all are.
The live trade ban and watching the goings on around that, as well as the completion of the Australian Rural Leadership Program and participating in the WA RIRDC Rural Women’s Award have been very pivotal moments and events in my life and have lead me in a different direction and one that I am just so excited about. I have always been passionate about people and agriculture and am now driven to build capacity of the amazing people that we have in Agriculture and celebrate and share their stories.
Influential Women is a company that Elizabeth Brennan and I have formed to celebrate the roles that women play in agriculture, collaborate more effectively across industries and communicate more effectively with our consumers. Celebrate, collaborate and communicate, how is that for a mission!!!
Women and men play equally important roles in agriculture, however their strengths are very different and I would like to celebrate the different strengths that we have rather than be threatened by them. We are different so lets get excited about that. I believe that women are very good communicators and naturally are able to talk about feelings emotions and the caring nurturing side of what we do. We are also more readily going to ask questions which is where the collaboration comes in.
One of the main goals of the Influential Women’s forums is to give women confidence and celebrate different peoples strengths with the aim of sharing our stories with the media and be a part of the positive story telling on behalf of agriculture.
At Influential Women, we put together forums that allow women to understand their strengths and weaknesses through the Myers Briggs Personality type Indicator. This tool is used to help people understand more about themselves and appreciate the fact that people operate differently and we need to understand and appreciate all people to achieve the best outcomes.
We hold sessions on how to use engaging dialogue when talking with producers, hold difficult conversations, work on media training, both main stream as well as social media, strategic development, negotiation and mediation, understanding different behaviours and what is behind them and how to find common ground with someone to form the start of one of those challenging conversations. We are happy to work with any group of people and structure a program that is going to suit your needs…. How’s that for a little promotion.
One of our tangible outcomes is that we have a project development workshop at the end of every forum in which women commit to a project that is going to create positive change in agriculture and also create media attention so they get to use the skills that have been learnt throughout the forum.
The project that is happening from our Broome forum is a trip to Indonesia, for women only, to explore the supply chain from start to finish. We are travelling right through from loading of the ship here in Australia and the holding and processing before the ship, feedlots, discharge in Indonesia, abattoirs, wet markets and are finishing off with a meal with an Indonesian family which will be absolutely fantastic.
One of my favorite things about our Influential Women’s forums is the energy, new ideas and passion that is produced by a group of women. It energises me for weeks and is just fantastic. We had 6 of the 47 women come up to us and tell us that we had changed their lives….. my response of course to that is that they changed their own life by coming and actively participating in what we had to offer.
To shift gears a little and this will give you a little more insight into the thinking and main aim of Influential Women, which is underlying all the skills and fun we have and this is to build relationships between producers and consumers and right along the supply chain.
We are in a time where politics and consumer pressure is unfortunately over riding our social license to freely operate, therefore we need to increase consumers support and trust. 30% of Australians aren’t actually born on our shores so people no longer have an aunty, grandma or friend on the farm. We are becoming not only geographically removed from farming, but also generationally removed from food and fiber production.
So why do we need to engage with our consumer? I believe that producers need to support consumers and consumers need to support producers, however how can you support something that you don’t understand, thus the need to openly communicate and engage with the general public. We have the amazing opportunity to be a part of this change.
Since I was a tiny girl my passion has been agriculture and particularly producing food in a sustainable and ethical way. I think this is the passion of most producers….. so I pose a question. Why is it, when we are talking to our consumers through the media, we talk about science and economics and not about our values or ethics and actually why we do what we do. Social media plays a huge part in getting our stories out there. We have seen today how important utilizing social media is and this is something that we cover in our forums.
It would be like listening to your accountant talk to you about the finer details of taxation legislation. I actually don’t want to know about that, I just want to know that I can trust they are doing the right thing. What if your mechanic started talking about the finer details of pressures in the pistons or the brushes on your alternator. I would prefer to know that my car has been fixed and I can trust that it is going to work.
There is a common theme here and I believe that is; we want permission to be able to trust our service providers …… food producers are no different.
Historically, we have tried communicating with our public and when that hasn’t worked, instead of going back to the drawing board and thinking about what we could do differently, we get louder and more extreme with our data…… it is still data people, with no emotional attachment to it at all.
The consumer needs to know that you are doing the best that you can do to look after the environment, the people and the animals you are looking after.
So why is it that farmers continue to talk to the media (and resulting consumers) about economics and science? Picture this, the live trade ban hits….. headlines are “This ban is costing my business $68,000 dollars a day”. Most people don’t actually make that much money in a year. An even better one, “This ban has cost the industry $400,000,000 dollars” and yet there is no proof, or very little interest in that figure, it doesn’t mean anything to the general public.
How do we do share our stories in a way that will bring people along, we do it by changing our language and topics that we talk about. We need to engage with our consumers on a level that is understandable by them, using a language that is familiar to them, tell stories that share the fun we have.
Something else that is close to my heart is the language we use when we talk about ourselves as an industry and lifestyle. How often have you all heard the term…. “Urban Rural Divide”? This isn’t something that people from the urban areas have come up with, it is language that has come from the rural areas. By using language such as this and worse still…. “Fixing the urban rural divide” we are in fact promoting that there is a divide. We are completely disengaging with our consumer, rather than inviting them on the journey with us. Why not simply change the language we use and say that our goal is to build producer consumer relationships.
We have such an amazing opportunity right now to be a part of positive change in agricultural communication. We are coming into a time where people more and more wanting a relationship with their food and appreciate the stories that are behind the people producing it. We need to change how we have traditionally communicated and believe with the passion, intelligence and drive that we have in our industry, we are well equipped to take our industry and communities forward.
Catherine’s story is number 28 in our quest to bring you 52 farming stories in 52 weeks as a part of our celebration of the Australian Year of the Farmer.
Influential Women Website: www.influentialwomen.com.au