Fiona Hall, APAL award recipient of a Nuffield Scholarship, shares her experiences travelling abroad to learn from global thought leaders in agriculture on communication and leadership.
By Fiona Hall
On 25th March I departed Orange, NSW, to arrive in France for the Contemporary Scholar Conference 2015 in Reims (located in the Champagne Region). Throughout the week I had the opportunity to meet over 75 scholars and farmers coming from countries around the world including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, China, Mozambique, India, England, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, France and the Netherlands. We exchanged and shared experiences and knowledge around the theme of ‘Farming ahead: towards an innovative and dynamic agricultural sector’.
Each day we covered various topics delivered by high level experts. The content was varied and covered topics such as genetic modification (GMO technology), international agriculture policy, global agricultural organisations, effective communication, big data in agriculture, innovation and leadership.
Nuffield Australia awards scholarships each year to farmers in Australia. The objective is to increase practical farming knowledge and management skills and techniques. These scholarships give Australian citizens the opportunity to study farming practices in New Zealand, Europe, Asia and America and those countries best suited to the scholar. They also promote a closer understanding between farmers in the countries visited. Upon returning to Australia it is expected that scholars will be able to actively spread the knowledge and understanding they have gained among their fellow farmers and others.
An entire day of the conference was dedicated to communication and leadership. The first speaker was Jean Pierre Beaudoin, who has served as a consultant to multinational companies and is an Associate Professor at Paris Sorbonne University School for Communication. His presentation was titled: Why do we need to communicate and how to have accurate communication? Jean proved an excellent insight into the relationship between farmers and non-farmers and the resultant issues and opportunities. He described the relationship between desire, obligation, duty and requirement between farmers and the public and explained that farmers must have social acceptability and a licence to operate.
The most common expectations the public has are laws to protect health, safety and the environment. On the farmers’ side are issues of food, quantity and quality.
There is an ever increasing disconnect between the general public and farmers. The disconnect is two-way and based on perception. The general public see farmers as a cliché, absent and subsidised (at least in the European Union), whereas farmers see the public as multiple, urban and spoiled. Having shown that, he then went on to identify the general public as being romantic, trendy and nostalgic, while we are authentic, producers and farmers.
With a general understanding of this relationship, farmers need to improve communication with the general public. So we use keywords like season, green, nature, choice, personal and modern. We must focus on these and NOT on economics or we are (in Jeans Pierre’s words) “dead”.
The general public will not communicate well when we discuss issues around money. But, although the general public may not be rational, they are reasonable. So they will understand issues if they are reasonable.
Jean gave some good and bad real life examples of communications that were relevant to the information he discussed. In the question period he made reference to how farmers address pesticide use with the general public. He said we should communicate that we do not want pesticides (because we really don’t!). We need to publicly communicate that we need to grow food and we want to do so with less pesticides (because we really want to!). He went on to say that we have spent the last 60 years communicating for the agri-chemical companies and need to stop. We have an obligation to produce food and we have to use pesticides, but we want to use less.
The lessons learnt from this presentation made me think of the importance of effectively communicating to the general public not only about pesticides, but every year there is public outcry as they discover their apples have been cold stored for sometimes months. This is another typical example of the disconnect between the public and farmers.
The Nuffield group visited the Paris International Agricultural Show (Salon International de l’Agriculture). Tens of thousands of French attend this annual event which was similar to our Royal Show in Sydney however there is only produce and livestock. It was very apparent how important the French value their farmers and that they like to know where their produce comes from.
The topic of leadership was presented by Michael Ehmann and was titled: Leading agriculture through a new product, through farmers. Michael has a popcorn growing business that has grown significantly over the past 25 years. It is apparent that this has occurred with a strong culture of innovation, sustainability and leadership.
After giving an overview of his business and history, Michael discussed leadership and what he thought were some of the more important aspects. He focused on being open to ideas, honesty and the importance of networking. He also talked about the importance of excellent communication, delegation, making decisions and how to inspire people.
‘Leadership through people skills’ was presented by Pierre Martin, Fanny Mingam and Geraldine Weber-Budd from Bio 3G. Their presentation was from a corporate view. They provided an excellent overview of several key points of good leadership through people skills. These included doing what you say, being very involved in good and bad times, taking risks, knowing employees well, succession planning and paying attention to employees. They also shared the corporate values and the importance of them to the company.
The next stage of the Nuffield Scholarship will commence on 1 June and is a six week intensive travel itinerary to India, Qatar, Turkey, France, Singapore and the United States of America to experience agriculture in developed and emerging countries. I have already gained enormous value and networks from the Nuffield experience and encourage any interested parties to apply. Applications are now open for 2016 scholars, more information is available on the Nuffield website.
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