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Focus on Agriculture

January 9, 2012

Look Who’s Talking Now

By Julie Murphree

Someone has convinced farmers and ranchers to start talking. That’s kind of a crazy proposition, especially since sometimes they really don’t care to get into the communication thing too much.

Warning: Once they do start talking, you really can’t get farmers and ranchers to shut up. They have lots to say. Maybe they’ve kept it bottled up for so long and now that they have popped the cork, they’re just bubbling over.

The trouble is, new research shows “a different approach may be needed for farmers and ranchers to more effectively communicate with consumers.” Remember…most of them really don’t like to talk in the first place. They are good listeners, but they really just want to farm and ranch.

Maslansky Luntz & Partners studied the messages we use in agriculture and concluded what we say and what consumers hear are often two different things.

The study, which was funded by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, revealed that agriculture’s (farming and ranching’s) standard go-to messages about sound science aren’t providing peace of mind for consumers. To put it another way, countering emotion with facts does not convey all that’s good about today’s farms and ranches.

Today’s food producers have used science and research to improve the way they farm and ranch and they get excited about explaining that to others. But based on what Maslansky Luntz & Partners discovered, farmers and ranchers are using too many technical terms, too much science talk and too many big, sterile words.

One good thing: research shows farmers and ranchers are trusted, although consumers still have lots of questions about farming and everyday practices. And words like mass production, pesticides, big business, subsidies, ag chemicals and “best management practices” just make non-farmers scratch their heads.

So is the answer for farmers and ranchers to adopt a “touchy, feely” style of communicating? Let’s hope not. That would be kind of tough for most of them. They’ve seen a lot, gone through a lot and their mammas raised them not to complain or cry, and certainly not in public.

But, farmers and ranchers get it. Many have committed to being more succinct and understandable in response to consumer questions.

Further, farmers and ranchers across the nation share common interests with consumers. Food, health and their futures – especially their families’ futures – are subjects farmers and consumers care about.

Most farmers and ranchers hope to continually improve the way they grow food for America. But they’re already doing a lot right and they want consumers to know about it.

Julie Murphree is the public relations director for the Arizona Farm Bureau, and previously farmed cotton, wheat and alfalfa with her parents.