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New ag lexicon not the answer (commentary)

New ag lexicon not the answer (commentary)

EVERY industry has its own jargon, vernacular and sayings; agriculture is no different.

I may be biased, but I believe agriculture has the best of these industry-specific lexicons, from funny, old-timey sayings like "Don't squat with your spurs on" to highly scientific terms and sometimes "scary" terms such as lean finely textured beef, pesticides or genetically modified organisms.

Recently, I have heard several well-known agricultural advocates calling for a change in our industry's vernacular. They are concerned that tech-savvy, educated, younger generations are damaging agriculture's relationship with the public because of the specialized lexicon we use.

Our industry is starting to become more vocal and transparent, especially via social media and the internet.

For many of us, social media is more than a passing fad. We are constantly connected to the web and to thousands of people who are curious about farming and ranching.

We often take for granted the information that's available right at our fingertips; we simply expect to be able to learn anything we want whenever we want.

This newfound avenue of communication with the same public that buys and consumes our goods seems to make some people in agriculture uncomfortable.

They are warning us that words hurt and that we must be careful about how we speak to the public.

I will agree that words do hurt. For example, look how the term "pink slime" took over as a pejorative when the public learned about lean finely textured beef, a technology that had been in use for years.

Typically, instead of being totally transparent and explaining the new technology we use to increase our industry's sustainability and growth, we tend to hide it away. We do this because, often, before we can talk about and share it, the media or activists do it for us.

Instead of opening our barn doors, we tend to shut and lock them tightly because the public has already formed an opinion — usually one that does not agree with or accept our practices, forever forcing us to play defense instead of offense.

It is a bad idea to change our industry's lexicon.

Just as agriculture hates to be perceived as a bunch of illiterate hicks, the general public does not like to be thought of as incapable of understanding the "how" and "where" of their food.

For example, when I started using the term "harvest" to describe the slaughtering and butchering of my beef animals, most consumers had no idea what I was talking about. They told me they felt like I was trying to hide something by using different terminology than they were accustomed to hearing and preferred that I use industry jargon instead.

We cannot blame consumers for not understanding our vernacular because it is our job to demonstrate and share it. Instead of changing our choice of words, we need to do a better job of explaining what the words mean.

We need to own these practices and explain them, not simply change their names.

As an industry, we must realize that the public is like a mule, and to use another one of our sayings, "When a mule realizes that he's being pushed, expect to be kicked."

*Megan Brown is a blogger and sixth-generation rancher who raises Black Angus cattle in northern California. From 4-H as a child to FFA as a teen to receiving her bachelor's degree in agricultural business from California State University-Chico, agriculture has been Brown's lifelong passion. Read more on her website at www.thebeefjar.com, or contact her at [email protected]

Volume:85 Issue:19

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