Young farmers voice concerns over the future of Australian agriculture amid policy shifts

12 June 2024
Taite O'Neill (right) at the 'Keep the Sheep' rally last month in Perth, attended by more than 3000 people. Pic: Supplied.
An article by  Alex McLaughlin

Young Australian farmers are resorting to social media to have their say on changes being made to the sheep industry which they claim will impact their future and that of their communities.

Taite O’Neill is amongst many young industry members grappling with the prospect of a live export phase-out, currently before the Federal Parliament and she’s seen first-hand the ripples it has sent through the agricultural community.

The eldest of three sisters who are fourth generation of farmers, Ms O’Neill is in her third year of studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Murdoch University in Perth.

The O’Neill family runs a mixed farming operation in Ongerup, WA, producing crops and Merino sheep.

Ms O’Neill said her family has a long history with the sheep industry in WA and she had grown up with a passion for animals and agriculture.

She said the prospect of major changes to the WA sheep industry were “overwhelming” for the next generation of Australian farmers.

“It feels like an attack on Australian animal agriculture. It's not just about live export, it’s a multifaceted issue that is rippling through the rest of the industry.”

Ms O’Neill said mainstream media was to blame for the poor opinion some of the general public had towards the live export of animals, by continually broadcasting distressing footage which was now out of date and did not represent the modern standards.

Meanwhile Ms O’Neill said she preferred to listen to those with professional knowledge of the sector, such as veterinarian Dr Holly Ludeman from the not-for-profit organisation, The Livestock Collective, which provided a balanced and transparent representation of the live-export industry.

“There was a need and demand for information on the live export trade in general. If we didn't fill that void of information, someone else did. Often that information was pushing confronting and scarring videos and images that didn’t reflect the industry,” she said was a key learning from Dr Ludeman.

“It’s a battle to counteract what people have already seen. It feels like a battle being fought through social media. Our generation has the tools to fight back against it. It feels as though we are growing up in an industry that’s constantly undercut by bigger pressures.

The 'Keep the Sheep' rally attracted over 1700 vehicles with messages of support. Pic: Supplied.

Ms O’Neill said the state of animal agriculture was a “different ball game” than that played by the generations before.

Last month Ms O’Neill joined 1700 vehicles and more than 3000 other people at the ‘Keep the Sheep’ campaign rally in Perth to protest the Federal government’s live sheep ban.

It was amazing to see how many kids were at the rally. They’re the ones growing up and asking the questions, holding up signs and riding in trucks with their parents. It’s the responsibility of our generation to keep it present in the media.”

It's also the flow on effect to the next generation, people don't want to get into an unstable industry, people want to know they're supported and that they've got a future in the career.”

Ms O’Neill believes if live export is banned, there will be a “mass exodus” of people from industry because the compensation will not be sufficient.

“The opportunity to get back into the industry will be near impossible.”

“There is a massive demand for our product. The consumer on the other end knows what they’re getting. They know how its treated, and they know the quality they receive is respectful to their consumers,” she said.

“We can’t pick and choose what we want to participate in because of emotion. If we want to have better animal welfare, we’ll prove that we are doing the best we can, and it’s getting better every time. We are lifting the standards for other countries.”

Ms O’Neill has initial experience in feedlots where sheep in prime condition, are then trucked from and boarded onto ships, commonly referred to in the industry as “floating feedlots.

It’s a job where young people often meet others in the industry.

It feels like they are taking away an industry that welcomes young people in,” she said.

“WA is only a small population, but what’s happening here is representative of what could happen everywhere else.”

Ms O’Neill said it was important to “be loud, speak up and fill the gaps in information while we can.”

The ‘Keep the Sheep’ campaign petition surpassed its goal of 50,000 signatures on Tuesday, June 11.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture launched an inquiry last week, however it gave the public less than a week to provide feedback or comment.

As part of the inquiry, a session will be held at Muresk, WA, on Friday, where another protest against the ban is expected to take place.


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