Should farmers be embarrassed to talk about money?

A very thought-provoking piece by Terry Etherton deserves some discussion in dairy circles, I think.

Is it considered a little shabby for dairy farmers to be concerned with profit? Certainly, animal activists are quick to label farmers as greedy at the expense of their animals and the environment. Their web sites and advertisements paint “profit” and “money” as very dirty words indeed.

In contrast, Terry Etherton makes the point very well that:

“My perspective is that sustainable should first be viewed through the ‘lens’ of economic sustainability. Farms are businesses. If they don’t make money they close…pretty simple.”

“However, sustainable gets used in a myriad of confusing ways. For example, some in society talk about sustainable in the context of this being the ‘best’ food production practice to embrace. I am sure many readers have seen the marketing message: organic food production is more sustainable than other agricultural production practices and, therefore, better.”

Mr Etherton is right and Australian dairy farms are even more precariously balanced than their US counterparts, receiving no taxpayer-funded subsidies at all. We do have to be keenly focussed on the almighty dollar to survive. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we cut corners when it comes to animal wellbeing.

A dairy farmer with a dislike of animals would soon quit. We work with them all day, 365 days of the year. They’d also quite likely get “sacked by the bank” because being mean is not profitable. Our livestock, our land and our people are our greatest assets – generations of farmers and cows know that.

So, how do we respond when we are labelled as “greedy farmers who exploit animals”? The US experience is that it’s best to say little about the link between profitability and animal welfare, preferring instead to focus on the values that we as farmers hold.

I agree because it’s true that values are much more powerful than profit. When the chips are down during drought, fire or pestilence (so to speak), it is the farm family that goes without, not the cows.