By: Robin Salverson and Adele Harty, South Dakota State University Extension
Two speakers at the Range Beef Cow Symposium addressed today’s issue of disconnect between consumers and producers. Dr. Ronnie Green addressed why this disconnect is occurring while Michele Payn-Knoper discussed how to fix the problem. With the majority of the population being at least three generations removed from the family farm, it is important for farmers and ranchers to tell their story and help the consumer understand how their food is produced. Because our population is changing it has become more critical to understand what consumers want and why to help build a stronger relationship.
As a Vice-Chancellor at the University of Nebraska, Dr. Green has spent time understanding “why does consumer opinion trump science?” According to Dr. Green, our world is going to look different in 2050. An increase in urbanization of developing regions of the world will result in the population being more affluent and having the income to purchase animal protein. By 2050 there will be over 3 billion more people consuming animal protein and this provides a great opportunity for the beef industry.
However, this change is already occurring. There is a transition in today’s consumers from using “facts to clearly prove” to “I believe”. Additionally, many consumers are disconnected from nature. Nature is being replaced by electronics and smart phones. This disconnect in part, leads to a lack of understanding of animal well-being and health. There is great concern about the effect of livestock on the environment and specifically the use of water. These are just a few of the points that Dr. Green discusses on what is driving the anti-ag or anti-beef movement.
It is critical to understand what drives the consumer’s beliefs of beef production. However, due to the pressure from advocacy groups, misinformation, and fear; beef producers need to step up and become advocates for their own industry. Michele Payn-Knoper shared information about how producers need to connect with consumers and build a relationship for a greater understanding of why beef producers do what they do. It is important that this connection happens on a personal level. It doesn’t work to provide facts and science, the consumer wants to be able to connect with us as people. It is critical to share our passion for the business and the animals we care for. Payn-Knoper stated that the reference point for most Americans is their cat or dog, therefore when their pet gets to sleep on the sofa, they think cattle should get the same treatment and they cannot separate these species from one another.
Within her book “No More Food Fights” Payn-Knoper provides information on both sides of the food story, one for the consumer and one for the farmer. Within the side for the farmer, she addresses 6 steps to starting the conversation with the consumer to relate to them on a personal level. She challenges everyone to spend 15 minutes per day advocating for the beef industry, whether this is through social media or a conversation with someone in the grocery store. With the changing needs of the consumer it is critical that beef producers are involved in the conversation.
Change is inevitable, so we need to act now for the future and be advocates for the next generation.
You can learn more about “Why Does Consumer Opinion Trump Science” by Dr. Ronnie Green, and about Michele Payn-Knoper’s advocacy and steps for starting the conversation with consumers “No More Food Fights: Preparing for the Beef Industry's Future” by going to the Range Beef Cow Symposium website.