The right words help farmers put a face on farming

businessOne of the biggest challenges for modern agriculture is negative public opinion. The best way to combat that is for farmers to put a human face on farming, explained Jesse Martin, CEO of MACRA Business Insights. Speaking at the 2018 American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention in mid-January, Martin shared that there’s a large communication and credibility gap between farmers and consumers today. And farmers must translate modern agricultural methods to a skeptical public that is often three or four generations removed from any farming experience.

“We’re having to communicate with consumers in a way that we’ve never been asked to before in the history of agriculture,” he said. “It’s a real challenge, because we’re not a multi-billion dollar organization, and we don’t have a ton of extra resources and a marketing team with VPs and experts we can pull in.”

As a farmer and a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Martin said one of his favorite pastimes during travel is to talk to fellow passengers about agriculture. “One of the things I’ll immediately notice is that family farms are not part of the conversation. We’re seen as large corporations, or factory farms. And in a digital world, it’s very easy to hide behind a keyboard” and take shots at farmers and modern agriculture from a safe distance, he noted.

In general, “we farm because we’re passionate about it; because we want to provide a quality of life for ourselves and our families,” he continued. “And as I was sharing this viewpoint with fellow travelers, I realized that really what I was doing was taking farming and trying to humanize it in a way that really gets blocked in today’s society on social media and on websites.”

To better translate modern agriculture to consumers, Martin said, farmers need to start viewing them as direct customers, not just people who will buy their products down the road. That includes thinking about how to explain genetically modified organisms or conventional agriculture in terms anyone would understand. And it’s much easier to do one-on-one than on social media. He noted that it’s very difficult to change a person’s attitude online because most people cluster together in like-minded “tribes” and only look at posts that share their fixed attitudes.

Farmers should seek out conversations with family, friends and neighbors about how modern agriculture works and why farmers do things the way they do, he said. Putting a human face on agriculture is vital, and using facts from sources that both sides respect is helpful. “And don’t be confrontational; that just shuts them down,” he said.

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