Our First Step: Listening to Consumers

My amazing grandparents were in town this weekend and my Grandfather had brought down a copy of Future Farmers from September of 2011. He had read an article within the magazine that sparked his interest because it was right up the alley I’ve been paving for myself. His opinions were that of an agricultural background and I could hear some frustration and exhaustion in his voice when he explained his fear for the agriculture industry. Those are included in this piece.

Farmers are talking; will consumers listen?
Mike Wilson

The opinions that critics of agriculture present to the public are rarely from an agriculturalist’s point of view, in turn, providing an inaccurate portrayal of the industry and those within it. The critics create propaganda aimed at consumers that has been carefully thought out to scare consumers and provide falsified information about food. The necessity of food for survival is a fantastic way that critics play on consumer’s fear to manipulate choices and opinions.The fear of food being dangerous is a terrifying thought to all, but the actuality of these claims is not reliable. Informing consumers about food by the people who produce it is as obvious as consulting a doctor for chest pain. Becoming “transparent and gain consumer trust” will be the most important factor agriculture can have in this world, aside from feeding it.

Enter the U.S. Farm and Ranch Alliance, an alliance of diverse food producers and agricultural partners that are spending time and resources to understand and listen to American’s questions about food production. The alliance does not excel because their main concern is making a better profit, but they succeed because for the first time a concern had been make so blatantly obvious, their views on productivity were set aside to allow the big picture to be first priority . The cruciality of informing consumers about the actuality of food and agriculture was brought into the light and quickly made the focus of the industry as a whole. Spreading the message in agriculture doesn’t require a marketing or advertising degree, it takes a heart that has a passion for agriculture that completely outweighs yearly profit.

Social media works wonderfully as the starting point in communicating to consumers. In Wilson’s article he brings up a statistic, “277,000 online conversations about food and agriculture in May, but the ag industry barely joined the discussion.” My own Grandfather asked, “Well Shelby, when do agriculturalists have time to blog or time to use Twitter?” The honest truth is that each individual uses social media in their own way and and present their honest opinion so differently and diversely that it’s hard to say. What can be said about keeping up with the media and putting informative information out there is a time consuming activity on top of their tireless careers. To be as active in the social media community as most are by spending any free time checking Twitter or WordPress updates, speak volumes about those farmer’s and rancher’s priorities.

The pivotal point in this movement is to educate consumers on food, however the key is to ask the consumer to ask the questions they are curious about. Agriculture is a supply and demand industry, not a “If you build it, they will come” industry. The consumer ultimately calls the shots and thus proves the incredible importance for clearing up any misinformation. The need to be professional and talk down to consumers should be evaded indefinitely, no question about it. Speaking from the heart and allowing the passion of agriculture to come out in your tone and your words can do more for a conversation than a flip chart and a graph ever could. Remembering that the consumer is the focus is crucial, because taking this strategy and attempting to fight the critics will place both parties where they stood before hand. The ultimate motive here is to gain the public’s trust by being completely open and honest and then continue that honesty once the questions have been satisfied.

A huge problem agriculturalists face is the public’s perception on motives a producer might have. For instance, a producer that uses hormones on cows and heifers in feedlots might think they can profit more than grass-fed beef in the end, or the input costs to raise dairy cows could be cheaper than allowing a free-range environment. That perception is rarely true and really allows “rumors” to be spread that can ultimately put a farmer or rancher out of business. What consumers need to know is passion, heart, and love of what agriculturalists do for a living. There has been an untrue assumption made towards farmers and ranchers thanks to a tactic critics use that throws a cape over the women in dirty jeans and cowboy boots and the women wearing muddy muck boots and Carhartt bibs. The people who make up the agriculture population have love and passion in what they do, or they simply wouldn’t do it.

The most valuable opinion agriculture needs to hear, is that of those who buy the food.

More information about U.S. Food and Ranch Alliance Here.

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