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Data Dork: How Consumers View Farmers and Farming

08:00AM Mar 07, 2015

Have you ever meet a person who enjoys listening to punk rock and Conway Twitty? Neither have I. When two groups or classes of people greatly vary in lifestyle or shared experience, communication often breaks down. 

Today, the average consumer has more in common with a Wall Street investment banker than a farmer. Perhaps not financially, but certainly in terms of lifestyle and cultural experiences. Only 1% of the population is tied to agriculture, and those exposed to rural life are decreasing. Knowing these details, it’s surprising that agriculture is “bringing out the farmer” to convince consumers to be receptive to agricultural technology and practices.  

Scouring digital signals suggests this approach could be detrimental, at least until perceptions can be changed. While I don’t personally share these thoughts, consumers have relayed the following perceptions about modern-day farming and agriculture:  

  • They love the idea of farming (and know it is necessary) but have little sense of what a farmers does and how they farm. 
  • Money is made from government intervention and lobbying, not necessarily hard work.  
  • Land is acquired by birthright.
  • The farmer they want is Charles Ingalls, which is why organic is compelling. They love nostalgia.  
  • Consumers find farmers are unable to relate to their needs and desires because farmers are too old, too rural, have too little cultural, ethnic, racial or religious diversity and/or are way out of touch with technology, communication or lifestyle tools (digital, mobile, social media, etc.) 
  • Farming is what their parents and grandparents wanted to leave behind, so they went to school for a better life.
  • Consumers don’t think the farmer has the education to be an expert. 
  • They are frustrated farmers make more money than they do and farmers don’t even have to have a degree.  
  •  Farmers aren’t healthcare advisers, and consumers increasingly associate food and health. They would rather hear from a doctor, personal trainer or friend than a farmer, even if they do trust a farmer’s neutrality. 
  • Consumers are more interested in getting to know their food server than someone in another state. Relationships are personal, and since they will likely never meet a farmer they aren’t interested in hearing from them on what should/shouldn’t be done for policy, ag technology, etc.  
  • American farming is fundamentally unfair, and consumers hate economic unfairness.    

Knowing consumers don’t relate well with farmers, what is the value of farmers serving as industry spokespeople? It is a painful question to ask, but one that deserves deep consideration. Would agriculture rebuild confidence by working through consumers’ trusted advisers?  

In my next column, we’ll explore how farmers and agribusiness can reintroduce the consumer to the reality of production agriculture while leveraging consumer concerns.