Concerned about the public’s lack of knowledge about agriculture? Frustrated by the attacks on GMOs and livestock farming? Worried about how all of this might affect your family farm?
If you’re wondering what you can do, Dr. Cathleen Enright has a few ideas for you.
“We have to tell our story no matter what,” said Enright, the former executive vice president for food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO), speaking to the American Soybean Association on Tuesday in Washington. “Otherwise, other people will do it,” she noted, often with inaccuracies that can go viral, with disastrous results for farmers and ranchers.
- Engage with the public, including the opposition. Speak up about agriculture at town halls and public meetings. Take a booth at a local event and tell people about sustainability and your farm’s operations. “Talk about it,” said Enright, now CEO of the Pet Food Institute. “Nobody knows it better than you do.”
- Be open about your operations. “The days of not opening your doors or not talking about what you do—the good and the bad—are over if you are in a controversial business—and agriculture is a controversial business,” said Enright. Invite people to see your farm. Tell visitors about your challenges and how you are handling them, whether the issue is water quality or animal welfare. “Transparency is our greatest tool,” she explained. “We know from polling that is it is OK for us to be less than perfect, for our businesses to be less than perfect. We’re proud of what we do, and if we think somethings needs to change, we should change it. If we are afraid to share where we are weak, we should make it stronger. But if we’re weak, it’s OK if we do share, because the folks in the middle—not the radical opposition— understand there are vulnerabilities … That actually carries the day—that human face.”
- Share your involvement in your community. You may feel uncomfortable with promoting your own good works, but if you donate your time, money or farm’s products to help others, it’s important to let people know. Why? Because it shows how you and your fellow farmers contribute to their communities and makes it harder for outside critics to attack agriculture. “Make sure people understand you are part of the community,” Enright said.
- Reach out to local and national media. That includes news sites, advertising agencies, and entertainment companies. “If you have the resources, go on a media tour,” Enright said. Visit with newspaper, magazine, broadcast, and digital editors. “They will remember you, and they will call you when there is a crisis.” She recalled telling an ad agency that one of their commercials, which showed a farmer chewing on hay, with a cow in the background and green beans at his feet, was simply not credible. “That’s a food safety nightmare!” she said.
- Take advantage of technology and social media. Blog posts, Instagram, tweets, Facebook, YouTube videos, drone footage, and even just digital photos of your farm on your smartphone can be great tools for educating people that you meet about agriculture. “I think many people who are throwing rocks at us have no idea what we do,” Enright said.
How do you tell your farm’s story? What do you do when you encounter critics with flawed information? Share your strategies in the comments.