‘Agvocating’ now part of farming

There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld joke about public speaking. Most people rank it above death as their No. 1 fear. Seinfeld says that means statistically, more funeral-goers would want to be in the casket than giving the eulogy.

‘Agvocating’ now part of farming

There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld joke about public speaking. Most people rank it above death as their No. 1 fear. Seinfeld says that means statistically, more funeral-goers would want to be in the casket than giving the eulogy.

Most farmers would probably rather do any number of unsavory chores over speaking to a group of consumers. The good news is, not everyone has to champion agriculture on a scale like Katie Pratt, who toured for two years speaking with consumers as part of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance’s Faces of Farming and Ranching.

Still, being willing and able to speak up on behalf of agriculture is becoming an increasingly necessary skill. It seems everyone has an opinion on food production these days. Farmers must be able to express their views clearly and concisely.

Key Points

Speaking out on behalf of agriculture is becoming a necessary part of farming.

Facebook is a great place to start advocating for ag.

You are the expert on your farm; don’t get too bogged down in the science.

“ ‘Agvocacy’ is something every farmer should have in their business plan,” says Jenny Schweigert, executive director of the AgChat Foundation.

How to begin may be a stumbling block. For many people, Facebook is a familiar channel. Schweigert suggests farmers start by making a page for their farm. It’s as easy as uploading a few photos and writing a simple summary of the farm’s focus.

For those feeling a little more adventurous, consider starting a blog. “Remember that a lot of consumers are several generations removed from the farm,” Schweigert says. “So your mundane chores may be highly interesting for someone who’s never set foot on a farm.”

Numerous websites will provide the tools for creating, editing and hosting a blog free of charge. Wordpress.com is one place to start. Don’t forget to cross-promote content on all the various channels — i.e., post a link to your recent blog on the farm’s Facebook page.

For some, speaking out on social media isn’t going to happen. And that’s OK. Pratt notes another place farmers need to be telling ag’s story is within the political sphere. Taking the time to meet with elected officials can be extremely beneficial. Such a setting usually allows for a more technical discussion. Also, remember to stay alert for calls to action from Illinois Farm Bureau.

Still not sure about speaking out for agriculture? Pratt says some folks just aren’t comfortable discussing agriculture with consumers.

“I know it sounds corny, but if you just cannot speak out for ag, make sure you are being the best darn farmer you can,” Pratt adds. “We can’t afford to cut corners anymore.”

You’re the expert

In speaking with farmers about the importance of advocating for agriculture, Pratt has noticed many worry their scientific understanding of hot topics like GMOs isn’t sufficient.

First off, Pratt says these discussions are not highly technical. When she was selected by USFRA, Pratt spent significant time studying the science behind these hot-button issues. Since she has rarely used that knowledge, she recommends folks familiarize themselves with a brief list of talking points on the science.

“These discussions are rarely scientific in nature,” Pratt notes. “In fact, most of the time, the science behind an issue will only further confuse the issue.”

Rather than making science the top priority, the farm should be the No. 1 concern. “Your farm is your area of expertise,” Pratt says. “We grow corn and soybeans, so that’s what I stick with.”

Pratt notes the “pink slime” debacle irritated her as much as the next person. However, they don’t have any livestock on their Dixon, Ill., farm. She sat that one out.

Explaining the economics

Until now, growing corn has been extremely profitable for a number of years.

For some reason, consumers do not want to hear that. Pratt and Schweigert have both noticed consumers want to equate farming with a hardscrabble lifestyle. This can lead to some sticky situations if approached callously.

Schweigert notes the goal should never be to shock the consumer with the price tag of a new combine.

“On the one hand, consumers need to understand that farming is a business,” Pratt says. “But you shouldn’t approach this as, ‘I have a right to make this much per year.’ Instead, link it back to your family. Say, ‘I have a right to be able to pay for medical insurance for my family.’ ”

When describing the economics of farming, Maple Park, Ill., farmer Lynn Martz always tries to give consumers an understanding of the risk involved each year. She also wants them to know how cyclical farming is.

“We are price-takers,” she adds. “We’ve never been price-makers.”

How to tell your farm story

Part of successful “agvocacy” means sharing your farm’s story.

But what is your farm’s story? If you go back to the beginning, it would take a full day to tell it. Along the way, you’ll lose your audience.

Dixon, Ill., farmer Katie Pratt has a little writing exercise to help hone some of these tales. For example, let’s take a fairly common occurrence: We installed autosteer on the tractor last year. Now, back up and ask who, what, when, where and why. Once you start asking these questions, the story starts to take shape.

Let’s say the original version was something like, “We installed autosteer on the tractor so we can plant straighter rows.”

By asking those journalistic questions, maybe you realize that the discussion about autosteer started when your son came back to the farm. His knowledge of technology helped jump-start the decision. This lets the consumer know a multigenerational family team is making the decisions on your farm.

From there, maybe you can explain briefly how GPS location technology works. Remember not to get too technical or bogged down with name brands. Also, don’t use jargon like WAAS without explaining it. In most cases, it is best to avoid it.

Finally, tie it all together with some information on how the new technology has improved productivity by reducing seed overlap. Plus, straighter rows mean more rows per field. All of this means you’re farming that acre of land as efficiently as possible.

Taking a step back to analyze some of these simple farm activities can give consumers a better understanding of why you make certain decisions.

Farmer

Farm or land

Grow or raise

Farm community

Earn a living

Wise use of time

Wise use of land or water

Best practices and ethical standards

Healthy or wholesome food

I grow food for my family and yours

Words to Use
Words to Lose

Words
to use

Producer

Operation

Produce

Ag industry

Profit

Efficient

Sustainable

Self-policing

Affordable or abundant food

We feed the world

Words
to Lose

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2-YEAR TOUR: Katie Pratt spent two years speaking on behalf of corn and soybean growers with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. She and husband Andy farm near Dixon, Ill.

This article published in the February, 2015 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.

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