It was like looking in a mirror

It was an all-too-familiar tune and one that most in the international audience could strongly relate to.

The President of the Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry for Styria (one of Austria’s nine provinces), Gerhard Wlodkowski, talked to us about his organization’s activities last night – and chief among them was raising public awareness about how food is produced.

“It is important that we bring the public closer to farming,” he said in his German remarks to open the 2008 gathering of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) in Graz last night. “Our most important role is to represent the real image of farmers – responsible, modern farmers that need modern tools and not just their hands to grow food.”

He called on all agricultural journalists to work together with farmers to break down the old stereotypes about agriculture and to build bridges of understanding to consumers and urban media. This is particularly important on current and upcoming issues like food prices and biofuels.

Boy, did that sound familiar. Just as farmers in Ontario – and Canada as a whole – have been frustrated by the lack of accurate information in the biofuels debate, the same has been happening to farmers in this tiny mountain state of eight million people.

“Austria’s biggest issue right now is the price of food and energy and it is linked to the production of biofuels,” he says. “But this can hardly be the case when Austrians used to spend 33% of their income on food in 1970 and now only have to spend 13%.”

Change can come fast especially when wrong information is being used, like in the ethanol debate. The price of grain has been coming down lately, but food prices have stayed the same in Austria.

The chamber’s other main area of work is extension service for its members. It is mandatory for all Austrian farmers and those involved in the forestry industry to be members of the chamber. There are 44,000 farms in Styria, and just under 190,000 in Austria as a whole.

“As farmers, our main responsibility is to produce food. Then it is to grow feed for our livestock and only then do we turn to energy production,” he concluded last night. “Our goal is to keep farmers in business, to keep them in rural areas that are healthy and vital, and to make sure they can earn a reasonable income this way.”

Amen to that.

Lilian’s participation in the 2008 IFAJ Congress is funded in part by the IFAJ 2011 Development Initiative, supported by Pioneer Hi-bred and Syngenta

IFAJ 2008 congress photo album

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