LANDLINE presenter Pip Courtney opened Hamilton’s Sheepvention Rural Expo yesterday expressing her long-held love for sheep and tips for producers on dealing with animal activism.
At the prompting of interviewer Reid Stockfeeds general manager Nick Reid, the popular journalist regaled a big crowd at the south-west Victorian event about the history of her signature Cattleman’s Akubra hat and her career.
She started with a reminder that Landline started three minutes ago and to catch up with on Iview.
Ms Courtney said the top farmers are always coming to events like Sheepvention to look for that extra one percent in yield increase or cost saving.
“So well done you for you for coming,” she said, complementing the community and volunteers for organizing the event.
“I don’t believe in God, but I do when I see three things – horses, Burmese cats and sheep.”
Ms Courtney said she fell in love with sheep as a six year-old when she visited her step grandfather at Maldon in central Victoria, and joked she might be contacting some of the Sheepvention exhibitors in the future to see if she could be a wool classer.
“Thank you for inviting me, I do love these animals.”
When asked about her view on how agriculture could balance the influence of animal activism, she said it is hard for industries to get their message across considering where people are getting their information from – social media.
“It’s really quite worrying, if Facebook was a country it would be bigger than China.
“So if people are getting their information from Facebook that’s not correct, it is really hard for even the smartest of industry’s best PR people with the best crisis management to get their message across, because complexity is not what Facebook does well,” she said.
“It’s black hat-white hat journalism with two extremes, bang them together, you get sparks, and so a lot of misinformation is running through Facebook and I see lots of industries attempt to try to redress that situation, but it’s really really hard once the horse has bolted……”
“So being first, being first with a good message is really really crucial,” Ms Courtney said.
“But I have not seen an industry challenge effectively the falsehoods related to animal welfare.
“When you think about how important people’s pets are to them, that’s how they (people in cities) relate (to) agriculture in a lot of cases,” she said.
City people also cannot comprehend animals as units of production and relate mortality rates to the loss of their pets, she said.
She said she does see a lot of farm and industry groups trying to come up with campaigns on animal welfare.
“But I do find a lot of it is rural organisations talking to rural people.”
“I’ve yet to see a campaign that cuts that through that’s not just being shared by all your mates working in agriculture.”
Mulesing, feedlotting and shedded sheep … not going away
On the issues of the public’s attitude to things like mulesing, feedlotting, shedding sheep to get ultrafine wool, Ms Courtney sounded a caution.
“If you are not happy with it today, every year what city people ask and expect of you, whether it’s fair or not, will get worse.”
“Get used to it, you can quibble as much as you like, but it is a fact of life and you have to deal with it.”
On mulesing, she said sheep producers had “been through the eye of that storm,” but the issue is not going away.
“And if you don’t think that your industry is moving quick enough or isn’t clever enough with its marketing to counter it put pressure on them … you’ve got to be smarter.”
Ms Courtney said she intended to continue working as a journalist as long as she could, but confessed to a fascination with sheep and a special interest in wool classing.
“If the ABC gave me the bullet that’s what I would love to do.”
The 57 year-old figured she was in that “dodgy’ category at risk if another round of ABC redundancies was to eventuate.
And as for her eye for sheep judging:
“I would just pick the one that gave me a nice look.
“One winked at me before.”