The most recent example was the American Society of Agricultural Consultants annual meeting held in Washington, D.C. Three main speakers spoke about educating the public either as their main focus or as portions of their presentation—Mace Thornton, executive director of communications for the American Farm Bureau Federation; Jay Vroom, executive director of CropLife America; and Damian Mason, agricultural and business comedian keynote speaker. Thornton’s presentation was centered around the findings of the U. S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) on how to speak to consumers with messages that don’t upset or turn consumers off to the truth about U.S. agriculture.
Thornton gets involved in some of the USFRA communications because his boss, Bob Stallman, president of the AFBF, is also chairman of USFRA.
The old messages are broken. They don’t work anymore,” Thornton explained. Consumers have become very cynical. Many consumers have thoughts different than expected when they hear food is safe (Is it actually proven healthy without long-term effects?), affordable (Is it low cost from destroying our environment?) and abundant supply (Is that code for corporations to have free rein to produce more for bigger profits?).
The term “language of food” has come into the discussion on how to talk to consumers, although no one really seems to have a solid answer on what that completely entails. But having real farmers and ranchers tell the story of their life, what they produce and how they do it is one of the main thrusts of the USFRA.
Being as transparent as possible about every aspect of U.S. agriculture is expected to win over consumers so they don’t fear their food and do not support legislative and regulatory overreach.
Vroom noted that those of us in agriculturerelated jobs don’t have the full understanding of every aspect of what goes on in the manufacture of agriculture crop and livestock inputs, retailing of fertilizers and feed supplements or the local use of all the various inputs in raising livestock or growing crops.
The few of us involved with businesses associated with agriculture are specialized, Vroom explained. We cannot answer every consumer’s question about agriculture. “The jobs that we do are so specialized that we have trouble understanding what the person in the cubicle next to us is doing, let alone understanding those in crop or livestock production,” he said.
What has to be conveyed to everyone, those in agriculture and outside, is that people involved in agriculture are ethical. The ethics of selling and ag consulting perfectly “wraps together a lot of the things we are trying to do at CropLife America in communicating about the benefits of modern agriculture and how much we are about overall outcomes, in addition to how much we know about the science of modern crop protection and biotechnology.”
Mason put his comedic angle to dealing with the groups who are “vehemently against” modern farming and ranching. Without suggesting a plan of action, he said agriculture has to “fight back” and not be so nice. He said PETA members have been known to throw red paint on women walking down the street wearing a fur coat. But, for good reason, they haven’t gone into a biker bar and thrown paint on a guy wearing a leather coat. He asked, “Are we bikers or rich women in fur coats?”