IS IT better to have a go and fail, or do nothing at all?
It is a question being asked in the wake of the Australian Year of the Farmer in 2012.
The year was to be a celebration of farming. Instead, it turned into a fizzer that failed to live up to expectations, marred by failed promises and cancellations.
Like all these ventures, it started with the best of intentions.
It was the idea of two NSW men, well known in rural circles, who signed some heavy sponsors, Elders, Woolworths and Suncorp, and won endorsement from Governor-General Quentin Bryce as patron.
They also received funding from state and federal governments.
But by mid-year, the wheels began to fall off. The centrepiece of the year was a roadshow, which was to visit 400 rural events across 58,000km to highlight farming. But by the end of September it had travelled 160,000km and attended 300 shows.
There appeared to be a serious miscalculation and the money dried up. Staff were laid off and the rest of the planned roadshows cancelled.
It left a bitter taste in the mouths of country shows and field days who had allocated space to the roadshow -- space they couldn't then sell at short notice. Balls to be held in capital cities were cancelled, with only Sydney's staged.
``There was a clash with harvesting or something like that and we haven't had time to get the message out,'' a spokesman for promoter Markson Sparks said at the time of the failed events in the other capital cities. (Yep, that response fills you with confidence.)
An Innovation and Technology Expo in Melbourne in December was cancelled, as was a Food of Origin Extravaganza, supposed to float down the Yarra as a ``living farm'' display.
An independent analysis of the Year of the Farmer was released this week.
While praising the organisers' aims and endeavours, the Australian Farm Institute doubted the year had benefited farmers.
It concluded, ``it is likely a government analysis of the AYOF promotion would conclude that the benefits to the wider community were at best marginal and short-lived . . .''.
The report said focusing on product -- food and fibre -- would bring greater benefits by creating demand and price premiums for our food domestically and internationally: ``Neither of these will occur unless the . . . agriculture sector focuses on promoting the benefits of its produce, rather than merits of its farmers.''
The program was beset with problems; it didn't get everyone on board; it preached to the converted through visiting country shows; its media strategy didn't reach middle Australia and its events, such as B&S balls, would likely appeal to people already supportive of farming.
But the fundamental problem with the Year of the Farmer was that we were encouraged to love farmers for a year -then go off and love something else this year.
These ``year'' things have whiskers on them. Anyone know what 2013 is the year of? It's the UN International Year of Water Co-operation (I didn't realise water was being unco-operative), as well as the Year of Statistics (sharpen your pencils for that one) and the Year of the Snake (which may have something to do with our federal election).
And that doesn't count the many ``year ofs,'' private organisations stage themselves.
They are all pretty pointless. And if you need a year dedicated to you, then you have more problems than 12 months of speeches and media stunts will fix.
I am loath to criticise the people at the head of the Year of the Farmer. But good intentions don't always equal good outcomes.
A caravan at a country show is not the sort of PR a multi-billion-dollar industry needs. The best way to support Australian farmers is to buy their products.
And do that for more than one year.
Ed Gannon is editor of The Weekly Times