I have spent the last four years learning how to effectively tell agriculture’s story, with a special concentration on the animal agriculture industry. During these four years, I have witnessed the passing of Prop 2 in California, the introduction of HR 3798 which would make Prop 2 federal, the rise of HSUS and a gradual loss of consumer trust in the animal agriculture industry. At times, I wondered if my plan to educate the public on the animal agriculture industry would even be an option when I graduated, or if agricultural communicators would have moved on by this point. Fortunately, agricultural communicators haven’t given up, and neither have I.
These past couple of months, I have begun to realize that we need to utilize more tactics when sharing our message with consumers. When farmers and ranchers are asked why they raise their animals or produce their crops the way they do, they tend to get defensive and respond with statements beginning with “The science says” or “This method is proven.” We will talk for hours about how the methods we use are the best because of the research behind them, assuming the public will respect the science because it is proven. But, as Theodore Roosevelt once stated, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
All the consumer really wants to know is that the way the products they are buying in the store was actually safe and, in the case of animal agriculture, that the animal was not treated poorly at any point throughout its life. As agriculturalists, we know that the majority of producers are good people and that their personal values would not allow them to do anything unsafe or abusive. We know this to be true, but organizations such as HSUS and PETA have convinced the public that all American agriculturalists are trying to do is make a quick dollar without an regard for the safety of the product or the consumers.
How do we fix this huge misconception? We let the public know how much we care.
Instead of farmers and ranchers throwing the science to the public, we need to convince them to share their values and their personal stories. Values drive every decision agriculturalists make each day and if the public understood this, their decisions at the grocery store and voting booths might be different. Consumers tend to forget that farmers and ranchers are feeding their families the same food they are producing for the consumer. If we can simply remind the public of these values, they will be able to put their trust back in American Agriculture.