By Matt Reese
Lisa O’Brien, United Soybean Board executive director, talked about the importance of communicating positive agricultural messages to consumers at the recent Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium.
“We want to turn the war on agriculture into a conversation. We need to engage consumers in conversations about food,” she said. “It is not what you say, it is what they hear. When you say ‘safe,’ they hear ‘we don’t know if pesticides antibiotics or hormones are safe in the long term.’ When you say, ‘affordable,’ they hear ‘at what expense to quality.’ Abundant – that is part of America’s health problem. Because of this, a lot of the old arguments fail. We need to open the door for conversations and acknowledge that there is always room for improvement.”
While they are wary of agricultural practices and terminology, consumers have a very positive feeing about farmers.
“Audiences are very favorable toward individual farmers or ranchers. You guys are right up there with apple pie with a75% approval rating, but only 42% like they way you produce food,” O’Brien said. “They think farming is about big business and profits. They think 70% of farms are owned by corporations. Farmers are well respected, but the food they feed their families is more important to them.”
With more means of communicating with consumers than ever before, there are both challenges and benefits.
“There are so many social media outlets out there for you to start the conversation right now. Consumers want to know where their food comes from but they are being bombarded with messages,” O’Brien said. “Consumers worry about the effects of food on their long term health, animal care and the environment. Talk to the consumer, not at them. It is important to not be defensive and to avoid language landmines like ‘technology,’ ‘innovation,’ ‘hormones,’ ‘pesticides,’ ‘GMO,’ ‘nitrogen,’ and ‘antibiotics.’ Instead, talk about why they are used with natural words that don’t scare the consumer.”
For example, O’Brien said that instead of the term pesticides talk about how it is important to control pests in crops that cause yield loss and hurt crop quality. Instead of GMO or technology, tell consumers how crops are better for the environment and the consumer because they require the use of few resources.
O’Brien also highlighted the Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and the CommonGround program as programs seeking to reach consumers with more positive messages about agriculture. Other topics at the symposium included farmland values, the farm bill, and water quality.