The average consumer today may be three to four generations removed from the farm, but they are far from indifferent when it comes to knowing how their food gets to the table. People want the facts about their food--and being entrusted with those facts can help increase their trust in farmers, ranchers and other suppliers throughout the food chain. A recent survey by the Center for Food Integrity uncovered this key to growing consumer trust in agriculture: transparency. Consumers are eager to learn more, straight from the farm, and the start of a new year is a great time to consider which of the top stories you can bring to the table in 2016.
1. Explain why you grow what you do.
A short post on Facebook or Twitter is a great way to show the pride you take in your brand of agriculture. One of the most direct ways to help consumers understand the value in all types of agriculture is to hear farmers discuss how they choose to grow what's on their land. Do you grow conventional crops? Organic? GMO? Talk about how the type of soil you work on, your local climate and your family's well-being all factor into these choices. Weave your farm story into the larger story of agriculture in your community and state to help consumers understand how all farmers work together to keep healthy and affordable food on the table.
2. Show how you keep your animals safe and healthy.
Many consumers are simply unaware of the in-depth expertise and careful planning that goes into developing nutrition and treatment plans for livestock. Talk about how you work with veterinarians and nutritionists to ensure your animals are getting the best treatment and diet to meet their needs. Explain the housing options you've chosen for keeping your animals safe and healthy. A quick Instagram post can go a long way in showing the clean and safe conditions you work so hard to provide in order to keep your livestock safe from the elements.
3. Describe what goes into keeping food safe.
Food safety is a top concern for consumers, trailing behind concerns for cost of food, healthcare and energy. The Center for Food Integrity polled a sampling of consumers and found 62 percent ranked food safety highest on their list of concerns, ahead of food supply and animal care. Of course, this isn't really surprising: we all want safe food. While you can't control what happens beyond your farm, you can talk about the strict procedures you follow to produce safe and affordable food. Remind consumers that you're feeding what you grow to your family and neighbors, and that safety is your top priority for your family and theirs. The pride you take in producing safe and healthful food can shine through in posts you share from harvest to the dinner table.
4. Discuss how you conserve natural resources.
As those who care for the land and local environment hands-on 24/7, who better to tell the story of the careful work you do to conserve water and protect the soil and native species? Farmers have a great story of success in reducing environmental impact and should share it proudly. Have you developed plans with your local conservation district? Reduced pesticide use through GM seeds? Cut back on water or fertilizer through upgrades in technology? Let it be known that while others are talking about environmental stewardship, you're actually doing something about it.
5. Tell your tale of tradition and sustainability.
Whether you're a sixth-generation farmer or the first in your family, you can share the importance of working together for the good of agriculture. Talk about how the choices you make today are influenced by years of tradition or by your desire to pass the farm legacy on to the next generation.
Consumers are looking for answers, even if they disagree on finer points in the end. Resolve to boost the voice of agriculture by keeping your message simple and straightforward in 2016.
Kari Barbic is a media specialist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.