WHILE Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke talked "family" and engagement with the wider community, Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie appeared to be spoiling for a fight at the farming body's 40th anniversary gala dinner.
"Primary production in all its forms is under attack in our nation and in this state on a variety of fronts," Ms McKenzie said early into her dinner address on November 21.
"It is not cool to be a farmer. We have entire organisations set up to stop the livestock industry in this country, a $16 billion industry that is as sustainable as it gets. And yet there are hundreds of thousands of Australians led through social media fed a line by extremists who would seek to shut that industry down."
The urban disconnect
Ms McKenzie went on to defend the forestry industry, saying it was "something we should actually be doing more of" - an apparent reference to the Victorian government's decision to phase out native timber logging by 2030 before saying fishers were expected to "bow our heads and creep around".
Next, she declared city dwellers had little appreciation of the hardships of drought.
"You don't need to tell farming communities how hard it is," she said.
"But, somehow, the disconnect that we find ourselves with here in Australia means that Melbourne doesn't understand what a drought means, Sydney doesn't understand what a drought means.
"I think it's up to all of us to help reconnect and re-engage that conversation so that we can get good policy outcomes and not policy outcomes that are based on emotional responses to things people don't understand."
Despite the drought, Ms McKenzie said the "fundamentals are sound".
"In Victoria, grain production, fodder supplies, livestock prices, machine sales leading the way, record prices for ewes, a more than 50 per cent increase in grain production and, you know, decent prices for land, mean that, as a state, the fundamentals are very good and I think that is because we have an inherent confidence," she said.
Saying it hadn't "always been like that", Ms McKenzie said she wanted to "just touch on some of the VFF's significant achievements" before comparing today's scrutiny of farming with the bitter 1998 Australian waterfront dispute with the Maritime Union.
"I think of the waterfront when you had to get your knuckles and your hands actually dirty to make significant change, that was hard, that was brave, that was that went against the grain, but you had to do it," she said.
"Today, I think we're facing similar challenges, existential challenges, and I mentioned earlier around the disconnect where farming is bad for the environment.
"We've got to fight against that because the reality is, in a democracy, the more people that buy that line, the worse policy decisions are going to be made in a government that will impact your ability to produce safe, nutritious, sustainable food ... so I would ask that you continue to fight the fight.
"Continue to stand up and you might not be marching on Bourke Street, you might be doing what Greens and left-wing people did when they shut down live cattle exports trade.
"They just bombarded politicians' email accounts over a weekend and overnight ... a billion dollar industry, thousands of people employed, were out of business. And we are still dealing with, particularly the financial but the emotional outcomes of that decision ... made on the back of social media."
Water and research
Priorities, she said, were water security and the availability of seasonal workers and, pointing to a new discussion paper, the reform of agricultural research and development bodies.
"Are levy payers getting value for money? Is the governance system something levy payers actually feed into, have a say in, have respect for, and confidence in?" she said.
"We are all doing the same thing and the audience people getting rich are academics because there's 15 of them and they're all doing a climate change piece, they're all doing water, they're all doing soil, they're all doing social licence."
Foreshadowing a rationalisation of the 15 bodies, Ms McKenzie said it was "going to feed into a larger piece throughout this term of government around innovation and research, private sector partnerships and the like because that is where Australia is going to be able to grow".
After mentioning trade discussions with several Asian leaders, Ms McKenzie said she had scheduled a visit to Indonesia.
"I will be heading to Indonesia, the first agriculture minister since that decision on live cattle exports to actually sit down with an Indonesian agriculture minister and try and realise the opportunities that I see quite clearly for both of our countries," she said.
Ms McKenzie also mentioned digital connectivity before pivoting back to connecting with urban Australians.
"Government fundamentally believes that we've got a role in the system and particularly through the education system," she said.
"And our best chance is to get young people who are passionate and want their change and want to have a clean, green environment to really understand that's exactly what we do."
She said farming would benefit from more external communication about its sustainability and animal welfare credentials.
Ms McKenzie said live sheep export was a good example of an industry that had "a bad rap" but had reached out to the wider Australian community.
"Young people in these industries who want to open up and had transparent and exciting conversations with the broader public and demystify what we do, so broader Australia can really embrace and be proud of what we do out there in the regions," she said.