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April 2011

Communicating in a Whole New Way

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

We are all familiar with the saying, “preaching to the choir.” Yet, many times we fall into that old, familiar trap of talking among our farming and ranching friends, using agriculture lingo mixed with complaints about bad weather and falling prices, instead of having a real conversation with consumers in a language they understand. I’m also guilty of this.

But, times are changing. Consumers have not only grown more interested – but have greater influence – in the type of food they consume and how it is produced. Many see farmers as the bad guys because of what they read in the news and hear from anti-ag groups. We need to better counter this misinformation by having our own two-way conversation with consumers.

It’s time we stop preaching to the choir and engage the congregation.

Everyone has a Bottom Line

Many times we paint ourselves as downtrodden because of increased government regulations and falling commodity prices. While these are all legitimate concerns for the agriculture industry and something we should certainly talk about with each other, consumers, understandably, don’t want to hear about it. They don’t really care about OUR bottom lines – they care about theirs.

With a staggering economy, people want to know that we think about them and the food choices they are making for their families. A recent study shows that people don’t care so much about our ability to grow enough food to feed the world, a message we too often rely on. Consumers care about being able to feed their families in this difficult time.

Consumers are also concerned about food safety and the environment. As farmers, we share their concerns and work hard toward conservation improvement and ensuring a safe food supply. So, let’s talk about what we’re doing to achieve these goals. People would rather listen to a positive message. So, let’s tell consumers what we’re for, instead of just what we’re against.

Lost in Translation

Not all audiences are the same, so we need to adapt our message depending on who we’re talking to, whether it is the PTA, the local Chamber or a shopper at the supermarket. Further, if people don’t understand what we’re talking about, they will tune us out. When we talk with consumers about food production, we need to check our agriculture-wonk at the door. Acronyms like CAFOs, FTAs and NPDES should be left on the farm.

Many times we get so caught up in our operations and day-to-day work that we don’t take the opportunity to talk with consumers. They want to engage with us in a meaningful conversation about concerns and priorities that we all share as Americans. Preaching to the choir is okay once in awhile, but talking more often with the congregation will get far better results.