planet earth

Consumers weigh in on how farmers treat the Earth

Consumers still leery about production practices of large farms.

For those who farm, Earth Day is every day, said Terry Fleck, executive director of The Center for Food Integrity (CFI). Still, most consumers aren’t completely convinced that farmers are doing enough to protect Mother Earth, according to the latest CFI trust research.

“The land and its gifts are the lifeblood of agriculture, no matter the size and scale, the crop grown or the livestock raised, but many of those on the outside looking in aren’t so sure,” Fleck said.

For the first time, the latest CFI trust research asked respondents to rate their level of agreement with the following statement: “Do U.S. farmers take good care of the environment?” 

While 42% strongly agreed, more than half – 51%– were ambivalent and only moderately agreed. They’re just not sure farmers are doing enough.

Why? First, the “big is bad” bias is likely at play, Fleck explained. “As the size and scale of farming grows, consumers don’t trust that large farms have their best interests at heart,” he said.

In fact, in the latest research, 51% strongly believe that large farms are likely to put their own interests ahead of consumers' interests, while 36% felt this way about small farms. There’s a perception that profit is the overriding motive and that the use of pesticides and genetically modified (GM) seeds, for example, simply make farmers more money at the expense of the Earth.

“I would also propose that the public has little to no idea what farmers are doing to protect our natural resources, so it’s difficult for them to form a strong opinion one way or another,” Fleck said.

So, how do farmers demonstrate to consumers that they’re continually finding ways to do things better to produce food in a way that sustains the environment for generations to come?

Fleck suggested engaging with consumers. “Consistent, long-term engagement is critical," he said. "Having values-based conversations either in person or online is what will make a meaningful difference. Our research tells us that connecting with consumers on what’s important to them – their values – is three to five times more important to earning trust than simply sharing facts and figures.”

Also, consumers want to see “practices,” according to CFI’s transparency research. This is because practices are values in action.

Show them what you’re doing, Fleck said: “Tackle topics like pesticides and (GM) seeds, precision fertilizer application, tilling methods that prevent erosion, efficient water use and cover crops. Focus on continuous improvement and why it matters to you.”

The steps you take on your farm to keep Mother Earth happy and healthy may seem routine, but they likely are “aha” moments for others, he said. 

Options for engaging include:

  • Take advantage of local public speaking opportunities.
  • Pitch stories to the media about seasonal milestones on the farm (planting, harvest, etc.), and incorporate environmental sustainability messages.
  • Post pictures with great captions and short videos to social media (the simpler the video, the more authentic).
  • Take advantage of the new Facebook Live to give “on-the-spot” reports about what you’re doing on your farm to protect natural resources.
  • Engage in those critical day-to-day conversations to better understand what’s important to your neighbors and community, and have meaningful dialogue.
  • Share good values-based content from others on your social channels.

Millions participate in Earth Day by commemorating environmental successes, highlighting challenges and envisioning solutions, Fleck noted. “As the original stewards of the land, farmers are encouraged to get involved in the conversation, too, not just on Earth Day but every day,” he said.

TAGS: Business
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