Michele Payn, food and farm speaker and author, will be speaking at the upcoming Lely Farm Management Support (FMS) Conference. In this blog, she offers some thoughts on educating consumers about dairy production.
Are you frustrated by the lack of understanding about agriculture? Consumers don’t appreciate where their food comes from. Politicians can’t fully grasp what’s needed to help the milk market. The media seems to add to the onslaught with sensationalism from activist groups.
The reality in 2017 is that we have to make time to champion agriculture now because we are losing in the courtroom of public opinion. From hormones to antibiotics to animal welfare, issues are driving consumer acceptance of food production practices. The same consumers who stand in line for the latest iPhone complain about technology in food production – and certainly don’t understand why robots are milking cows.
HSUS, Greenpeace, PETA, Sierra Club, and other activists are actively “telling agriculture’s story.” Consider gestation stalls, rBST acceptance, GMO labeling and poultry housing. We respond defensively with science and data, rather than relying on our best tool – the people involved in agriculture. If we were to lead with authentic human connections, we would be having a very different conversation around farm and food.
YOU can change consumer perception by proactively championing the dairy business. Here are 6 easy-to-remember steps to help you, which we’ll be talking about at the Lely FMS Conference in May:
- “Who: Identify your target audience. Who can make a difference as an influencer? Look at it the same way as you do hunting or playing a game of darts; you want to hit the bull’s eye. Who do you need to help understand where their food comes from in your local area? Teachers, kids, media, consumers, and elected officials are all examples of groups with key influence.
- What: Find your target audience’s hot buttons. What’s important to them? A hot button is an area of personal passion or pursuit – something that will really get them excited! Don’t assume that you know; ask some questions to find out what they really care about. A hot button may seem unrelated to the dairy business and you may not agree with what you hear, but listen carefully.
- Why: Determine how agriculture connects with the target audience’s hot buttons. Consider ideas and programs to connect to consumers on their terms, instead of ours. Food safety, sustainability, animal care, technology allowing for more affordable food, food waste, and other critical issues allow us to bridge to hot buttons of people very different than us.
- Where: Strategize where you can reach your target audience. It may be at the county fair, your grocery store, on a farm, or simply having a discussion at church. For example, you’re targeting local media and decide to host a press tour that includes stops at your facilities and a local farm. Focus on having a conversation about food production/processing techniques, give them facts and a hands-on experience. You’ll generate positive press and become a source of expertise for future stories.
- When: 15 minutes/day. Add “championing agriculture” to your checklist for each season. Whether through personal conversation with the producers you work with, sharing photos of technology in use on dairy farms or a tweet – proactiveness requires a time investment.
- How: Follow a proven process to develop long-lasting relationships. Do you “buy” an idea from somebody you don’t trust? Don’t expect food consumers to trust the dairy business or agriculture if we don’t make the time to have a conversation with them.
Helping people understand where their milk comes from and why we have the practices we do doesn’t have to be complicated. The good news is that farming consistently ranks as one of the top three most highly respected occupations in the country. We need to leverage that respect into an understanding of what happens from the farm gate to the consumer plate. Turn your frustration into positive energy by using these six steps to champion dairy.
Michele Payn lives on a small farm in west central Indiana, where she and her daughter enjoy working with their Holsteins. Michele speaks from the intersection of farm and food, helping thousands of people around the world through her keynotes, books and training programs. Visit www.causematters.com or connect with @mpaynspeaker on social media channels.
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