Get to know your local cattle farmer

Alice Greenup


Before Husband I was pretty clueless about where my food came from and how it was produced. I rarely gave thought to the hardworking people responsible for growing the lettuce for my salad, breeding the beef for my bolognaise sauce or the chook farmers behind my constant supply of eggs.

After Husband, I can’t help but think about food production. Much of our livelihood relies on his success and many of our friends spend their days toiling to grow food for city customers.

When you live in the city it’s so easy to forget about the journey food has made to your table. That’s never been more evident to me than during the ongoing live cattle export debate and the ensuing Australian cattle crisis.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the footage shown on 4Corners of cattle being cruelly treated in foreign abbatoirs was awful. Well what I could watch of it. But there’s always two sides to the story and the sudden decision by the federal government to halt live export has had massive ramifications for the cattle industry. Particularly now that it’s been coupled with the ‘perfect storm’ of conditions – decreased markets, high Australian dollar and drought.

Then I read letters to the editor like this and it makes my blood boil.


How can people be so ignorant to the issues facing farmers? And how can they assume that because they own lots of farms they must be rich? Married to the bank more like.

I don’t know a lot  about beef production but I recently spent some time talking to another Alice – Alice Greenup – also a former city girl who met and married her own farmer Richard.

Alice and Rick Greenup breed Santa Gertrudis cattle at their property near Kingaroy. Alice admits that before meeting Rick she didn’t know the difference between a cow and bull.

She’s had a steep learning curve and has recently released a book about her journey. It’s called Educating Alice and you can buy it here.

While most of Alice and Rick’s cattle are bred for domestic markets, their business has certainly been hit by the decline in demand for cattle and the resulting fall in returns.

Clearly, Alice spends a lot of time thinking about the ethics of their business and their industry and about the welfare of their cattle. She says their cows are better cared for than many domestic animals. And I’d believe it.

In recent times, Alice and many other Australian farmers have taken to social media to tell their own story and to right some of the misinformation being put out there about farmers and food production. Alice explained it to me like this:

“People were having conversations at their dinner tables about our industry and we weren’t involved. There is much misinformation being pedalled by well-financed activists with an agenda that extends well beyond the welfare of animals. Social media technology is finally enabling us to share our stories and tell what’s real and what’s propaganda and untrue. SM and ag-advocacy have become part of our job and we try to allocate half an hour to an hour a day to it.

“There are those people who are never going to listen to your message and there are some people who seem to hate farmers which really shocks me. I think of the city as a human feedlot, all the food gets trucked there and yet some people sit in complete judgment of farming and denial of their dependence on it. Urban communities and the business and trade that sustains the bulk of Australian families wouldn’t function without food and fibre, so I can’t fathom the hostility. Fortunately the majority of Australians value the crucial role of agriculture and understand we passionately share the same ethics in terms of the environment, animal welfare and safe, healthy food and fibre production.”

I wrote about Alice for my Sunday Mail Ask a Farmer column last week. Read the article

Alice also introduced me to the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson. She says the secret to her family’s success can be summed up by this quote:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

  • Maria

    Love the Emerson quote – thanks for the reminder.

    I too am city (Sydney) born and bred – who married my cowboy farmer. I have stepped the steep learning curve. I have taken my place in the family – not always where I have thought I should be farm, cows, vehicles, cows, wife – but I learned how very gentle and caring my cowboy is.

    We have 2 wonderful primary aged boys who want to follow in their fathers footsteps (they do distance education and love it). They are happy healthy and appreciative of every thing that they have. What more could a mum ask for.

    Our new best friend is our bank manager and our accountant comes a close 2nd.

    I dont blog about it all but love reading others struggles and triumphs on the land and I wouldn’t change a moments of mine.

  • Gen

    I’ve followed this issue with interest. People do care about how animals are treated and there was a need for change. That is why the governments reaction to this issue was so odd and ill informed. If, as a provider of beef, we wanted to affect the way our customers were using our products, why did our politicians stop the conversation and stop supplying our product. All that happened was
    A) we withdrew an important food source from one of our closest and most important asian neighbours.
    B) we created a huge opening for other countries to supply Indonesia at our expense with no actual change in the conditions for the cattle slaughtered there
    C) we threw our own cattle industry (with some of the best standards in the world) in to disarray in the middle of the financial crisis.

    I hope the (hopefully) new government in September looks at this and sees this as a case study in how not to govern the country. The twitter sphere and the media were a great place to raise this important issue but decisions like this require a considered approach. there was (is) an opportunity to change the way animals are slaughtered through a sharing of information and best practice. We also need to not be ignorant and realise that unlike us our Indonesian neighbours don’t have the same access to refrigeration so live export is important for health and cultural reasons.

    I just hope next time an issue like this arises we consider all the animals involved – not just the four legged ones.