Why should farmers and ranchers invest time in advocacy?

blog-content-creationLast week, I posted an article from Forbes that is very accusatory of modern global agriculture. It’s like a laundry list of activist claims used demonize modern agriculture practices. We could spend time angrily responding to articles like this, but defensively reacting to accusations like this aren’t getting us very far. Hence my emphasis on the importance of being PROactive in reaching out, answering questions, and sharing our story with audiences willing to listen.

Part of that proactive response includes farmers, ranchers and members of the agriculture community investing time in reaching out and engaging. Often when I propose this investment to various ranchers groups across the country, I get either a blank stare or a response similar to this:

“I think the biggest challenge is how do we reach out without suddenly being put under a microscope by groups who don’t intend to learn from us. As a dairyman, I have to deal with groups like PETA and HSUS that could care less how “right” I am doing things. It’s all noble and good to teach our urban brethren what goes on out here but in the end, I have a business to run. We’ve had tour after tour of school kids over the years and they always love it. But there has to be a way to tell our side of the story to a broad base of consumers that don’t normally think of where their food comes from. And in the process, not demonize practices like tillage and rBST.” — Jacob, Young Colorado Dairy Farmer

So how do we reach out and deal with being under a microscope? How do we find those who are actually interested in learning more about agriculture? How do we balance this time investment while running our own businesses? For this, I thought it would be good to ask for perspectives from a few engaged farmers and ranchers across the country.

Carrie Mess, a.k.a. Dairy Carrie, has a Wisconsin dairy farm with her husband and in-laws. This was her response:

We are under a microscope. That has nothing to do with us sharing our story. However, how the public responds to the information and propaganda put out by these groups is very much a result of how we share our story. You have a business to run because you have customers. PETA and HSUS want to take away your customers. When they do that, you’ll no longer have your business and then you’ll find yourself with plenty of time to explain what you used to do.  Having tours out to your farm is a great way to advocate for our industry. We don’t all have to reach all of the people. But if we all do something to reach out, via whatever means we are comfortable with we’ll reach those large groups of people. Share your story. Answer those questions. Make those connections. Stay in business. — Carrie Mess

Will Gilmer, dairy farms with his parents in Alabama. This is his response:

In my experience, as long as you are following best management practices and industry standards (and can explain why you use those prices/standards), you should be fine. The pushback I’ve personally seen from the “anti-_______” crowd has been very minimal, to the point that I tend to simply ignore it because: 1) I know our management practices are ethical and up to standards, and 2) I can explain what we do in such a way that most “neutral” info seekers are comfortable with the way manage our farm. — Will Gilmer

73% of online adults in the U.S. are on social media (71% on Facebook, most checking in daily). If you’re going to reach your potential customers and audience, there’s a good bet they’re online. Social Media makes this audience accessible, even from remote farms and ranches.

Why is social media a worthwhile time investment for you?

The answer is probably different for everyone. What would be your response? Let me know in the comments section below.

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  1. To be honest, there are days when I want to give up. Yet, I know if I’m not telling my story, someone is going to try telling it for me, in a way that may not be very accurate. Even if my audience is small, I think taking the time to tell my story is worthwhile if they come away with a positive view of agriculture.

  2. I enjoy your website. I am not an active farmer, but am familiar with some ag issues. I was raised on a cattle farm. I have a couple thoughts on how to communicate to nonfarm people. A sometimes effective way for me to communicate ideas is to first listen by asking simple questions. People want to talk and not be lectured. I might ask a question like “what does the antibiotic-free meat label mean to you?” They answer. I then might make a statement and ask another question. You can just see the light bulb come on in their eyes and then they hesitate in silence for a couple seconds before answering. Some people have just never thought through the nuance before. Most people aren’t farm kids. And I am careful to make sure they feel there is nothing wrong with not being a farm kid. They just don’t know things that I grew up around. They always know things about other topics that I don’t know. It may even be good to change the subject to something they know a lot about. Then they really start talking. I just nod my head smiling that I know I got through to someone.

    But a few nonfarm people will just argue about agriculture. It’s going to happen. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that all these conversations will be ideal. The best response is to just be knowledgeable. In the words of Bob Dylan: ” I’ll know my song well before I start singing “

  3. I keep wanting to give up too, as Carolyn commented, as we are grain farmers and I blog too about the myths (and quite frankly lies) spreading about “evil” GMOs…especially when these lies are spread among my (mommy) blogging community. We also get criticized within the industry that it’s “not worth it” and we should be spending more time thanking our consumers rather than harassing them with info. It’s not a fight I’m willing to give up yet, as I don’t think it needs to be a battle. I think we need to maintain our professionalism and treat the fearful consumer with respect. I really don’t like it when these people assume that they know everything about farming and ‘come to my house’ and tell me that we’re doing it wrong. We’re stewards of our land, we care about what we do, and people assuming that we don’t is really hurtful.

    Nice post, thanks!

  4. Ryan, I appreciate you taking the time to address this. I believe that most people, in general, support that ag community. They like farmers and trust them (especially when they talk to them in person – can’t tell you how important it is for farmers to continue to do the one-on-one chats and farm tours) – it’s just when the average customer gets online do they see an overwhelming amount of activity against modern farming practices.

    Why is this?

    Because a vocal minority is very good at activating their followers who are mostly online. They understand the tools and encourage their use. These types of practices can easily manipulate the search engines and social media – which then in turn activates the media. It’s a vicious cycle.

    But this cycle can be stopped and even overtaken if we are proactively answering common questions, sharing our stories and providing insights into farm life through social media tools like blogs, facebook, twitter, linkedin, youtube, etc…

    Farmers have the trust already now it’s time to take that trust and put it online. Answering questions that people have like Sven says is a great way to start. The best thing about online is this information can last forever and can influence multiple generations.

  5. I think that to share the gospel of agriculture we need to come to people in a way that educates, not discriminates. There are many people who have no knowledge of agriculture and find it easy to believe the horrible things that some groups have to say about farming and ranching. While this maybe very frustrating, I believe that it’s important for agriculturists to refrain from using playground insults and telling people that what they believe is stupid. Instead come to people, whether it be through social media or something else, and educate them about what you do, why you do it and how it impacts their everyday life. Be polite, informative and also remember that sometimes you might be the only voice for at those people will ever hear so make sure you represent well.
    And even if it seems what you are saying might not be getting through, you never really know where your words will go or how they might influence someone else.

  6. I agree with everything that has been said here. I think that while there is that vocal minority, that Don mentioned in his comment, who may be very set on their own agenda and may never be willing to really listen or consider another side, there is also, I think, a silent majority who is just sitting back listening and taking it all in. And I think they do hear us when we tell our story, especially if we do it in a way that they feel comfortable asking questions and are not looked down on because they aren’t “farm kids” as Sven talks about in his comment.

    I recently shared Carrie’s post “Sometimes We Are Mean to Our Cows” on my Facebook page. A few days later I ran into one of my neighbors. She said “I read that article about the cows that you shared on Facebook. It was really interesting and I learned a lot! It definitely made me think about some of the other videos I’ve seen, that there might be more to the story.” Then we went on to have a conversation about how hard it is to know if you’re getting the whole story on the internet these days, about anything, unless you do a little extra digging.

    My point in sharing that is this – my neighbor never commented on the article or even hit the “like” button on Facebook but it still made a difference for her. It still got her thinking about things differently, it still gave her information that she wouldn’t have had access to before and now if she has a question in the future about the Dairy industry at least she knows that Dairy Carrie is a place she might be able to go to look for answers. I think here are a lot of people like my neighbor out there, they just aren’t vocal so we forget about them but they are taking it all in. So, I just want to encourage you all. I think you are making a much bigger impact than you can even know. And your efforts are very appreciated.


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