OPINION: Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover, acting Graham Centre director

Many farmers have a driver licence, a water licence, a ticket for chemical use or permit for driving the tractor on the road. But agriculture’s ‘social licence’ has become a talking point.

Put simply ‘social licence’ refers to the ongoing acceptance that an industry’s activities are consistent with social expectations and the values of stakeholders and the community at large.

INNOVATION: The acting director of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover. Picture: Contributed

INNOVATION: The acting director of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Associate Professor Marta Hernandez-Jover. Picture: Contributed

You don’t need to look very far to see that agriculture is increasingly being asked to defend its social licence and to meet changing community expectations about how our food and fibre is produced.

The images of dead fish at Menindee have re-ignited the public debate about water use in the Murray Darling Basin with calls for the end to cotton and rice production. In recent years animal welfare has become a flashpoint, from mulesing in the wool industry, to caged-egg production and the live export trade.

The farmers I work with care deeply about the welfare of their livestock and the health of their environment. Over the years they’ve introduced new technology and practices to achieve huge advances in water-use efficiency, soil conservation, environmental sustainability and animal welfare.

Research has an important role to play in helping our primary industries to become even more sustainable – to maintain the trust of our stakeholders and community. Research at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation focuses on the grain and red meat industries. This includes research investigating integrated weed management to support conservation farming, biological control of pests and disease to reduce chemical use, biosecurity, and improving animal health and welfare.

We’re also working to boost the productivity and profitability of our primary industries knowing that profitable and sustainable farming enterprises underpin our rural communities.

Once most people had a direct connection to a farm and as a result understood and trusted how food and fibre was produced.

That’s not the case now and the challenge for all of us in agriculture, farmers and researchers alike, is to continue to adopt best practice, strive for improvement and to share our story so the community can have trust in our industry.