Thirty seconds. That's all it takes for an elevator to move between floors. With anti-agriculture hype mounting, you need to be ready to tell the real story—your story—in half a minute.
From personal communication to social media, there are many ways to reach consumers with the facts. South Dakota ranchers Troy and Stacy Hadrick are doing just that. Their blog, www.advocatesforag.blogspot.com, has grown into an ag education business venture.
The couple speaks to farm groups across the country, encouraging them to start telling their story. "We've learned a lot that we now share,” Stacy says.
In 2002, the Hadricks were visited by Michael Pollan, who was writing about the beef industry for the New York Times. "He said he wanted to write a positive story, and as it turned out, it wasn't,” Troy says.
The couple decided they could not afford to let anyone else explain their livelihood for them. "This is a responsibility we needed to take on ourselves,” Troy says.
The Hadricks tell farmers to start local. "Schools are happy to let you explain what you do, and the kids want to hear your story,” Troy says.
Many people, even in rural areas, have never met a farmer or rancher, he says. "Agriculturists and farmers are less than 2% of the population. People are interested in what happens on a farm or ranch. Every one of us is an expert on our own operation, so you are not going to have any questions you can't answer.”
Give out your business card or e-mail address to establish a relationship, Troy says. "I tell consumers, ‘If you have a question about ranching, ask me, not a search engine.'”
With online tools, farmers can speak to people all over the world without leaving the farm or ranch.
"We are never going to have the dollars to compete against anti-ag, but we do have good people with good stories,” Troy says. "You can't put a dollar figure on that.”
Dealing with the Media
If you are contacted by media outlets, it is best to be prepared with short sound bites, says Troy Hadrick, a rancher and agricultural spokesperson who has experience dealing with the media. Ask what the reporter's story is about and the types of questions that will be asked, he says.
"It's important to know what you want to accomplish in the interview. Focus on one message you want to get across and have a seven-second sound bite prepared,” he says.
If you anticipate that the reporter will ask questions you aren't comfortable with, get in touch with one of the many ag organizations, such as the Farm Bureau, that are willing to help form messages for interviews, Hadrick adds.
"Most farmers know what they want to say, but they may not have enough practice to say it smoothly,” he says.
Top Producer, January 2010