People are talking about food, and farmers and ranchers need to take the lead in the conversation, Melissa Kinch and Keith Yazmir, members of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance’s communications team, told attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 93rd Annual Meeting.
Opening a dialogue with consumers is an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to restore and build on the public’s trust in how food is grown and raised.
“You can’t build trust if you can’t have a conversation,” according to Kinch, senior vice president of Ketchum Communications.
Kinch and Yazmir outlined four steps that will help farmers and ranchers move out of combat mode and have a constructive conversation about what they do and why they do it. The four steps are engage, acknowledge, share and earn trust, or E.A.S.E.
Growers should start by engaging the people around them. Ask a fellow traveler at the airport, “Where are you headed?” Tread lightly, find common ground and steer the conversation toward food.
Next, acknowledge peoples’ worries about the food they’re feeding their families, but don’t take on the persona of a professor whose task it is to educate.
“A farmer’s and rancher’s job is to answer those legitimate questions with truthful, transparent answers,” Kinch explained. One of the best ways growers can do that is by sharing what they do on their farms and ranches. Addressing consumers’ real concerns will go a long way in earning their trust.
In talking about what they do, farmers and ranchers need to recognize that there is always room for improvement, stressed Yazmir, a partner at maslansky luntz + partners. Discussing the future creates a space of shared interest, he said.
More than being willing to have a conversation, growers need to be ready and able to use words consumers can embrace. The typical agriculture vocabulary is full of landmines, Yazmir and Kinch cautioned.
“We need to move away from the language of our industry and toward the language of the benefits of what we’re doing,” Yazmir said. For example, rather than using the term “GMOs,” talk about seeds that grow stronger, and are more resilient, and better tasting crops.