These days it seems there is a negative campaign going on, one that says agriculture is bad — bad for the environment, animals and people. It’s a matter of attitudes, and from these attitudinal roadblocks come unreasonable regulatory ones.
This is why we need to create a common message for agriculture. Unfortunately, we’re in danger of getting in our own way. Ag groups are duking it out over tight resources and market pressures. And while we’re fighting each other, who’s communicating with the public?
It’s time for ag interests to put their differences aside and work out a clear, comprehensive message of what today’s agriculture really is. Here are three steps:
1. Find the message. What we need first is a clear, positive message about agriculture that counteracts the negatives and myths that are out there. As our older generation of farmers passes away, the public’s connection to animal production and farming is disappearing quickly. People who aren’t connected to agriculture need to see the face of farming. But it needs to be one or a few clear, unifying messages that all (or most) ag groups can get behind.
For example, one of the top concerns today about agriculture is food safety. With the disconnect from the farm, today’s shopping public has almost no control over where their food comes from, and they need to be reassured that their food is safe. Showing the public how farmers are stewards of the land and of their food can go a long way toward creating a positive message.
2. Get the word out. There are numerous ways to do this. Farmers Feed Us and the California Dairies campaigns are good examples. And social media is a powerful new tool. One statement on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter can be forwarded along until it reaches thousands, even millions. Once you have your message, figure out its best use in the social media sphere. It’s not just for kids.
3. Be involved. It’s easy to stay busy and not take time to get involved in promoting the positives of agriculture. But as the saying goes, the world is run by those who show up. If no one from agriculture steps up to speak up, guess whose voice will be heard? Policy makers, including members of Congress and state legislators, thrive on information, and they would rather hear from you than from lobbyists.
Remember, the best antidote for misinformation is real information.
Brad Finstad is president/CEO of the Center for Rural Policy and Development in St. Peter, MN. Previously, Finstad served as a three-term member of the Minnesota State Legislature. Finstad is involved in numerous ag organizations and received a degree in Agricultural Education from the University of Minnesota.