Farmers and Ranchers Must Raise Their Voices Louder Than Ever Before
by Randy Krotz, CEO, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance
For too long, farmers and ranchers have been missing from the conversation about food and how it is grown and raised. The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) was founded in part to raise the profile of farmers and ranchers, and inspire them to lead the discussion by answering consumers’ toughest questions about agricultural practices.
As an organization, USFRA has conducted a variety of research since 2011 to better understand the consumer mindset when it comes to food and agriculture. The earliest USFRA messaging research demonstrated that consumers love farmers and ranchers, but not farming and ranching. This research also found that the go-to messages outlining how we raise our food to be “safe, affordable and abundant,” fell flat. Farmers and ranchers should address consumers’ new concerns – the impact the food they eat may have on their long-term health and concerns about environmental sustainability.
Yet, while more farmers and ranchers are engaging in real dialogues about food and agriculture, more must, and can, be done. Consumers are demanding more transparency, and are often given this information – not by the people who grow and raise their food – but by special interest groups and organizations that are using fear-mongering that plays to emotional heartstrings and concerns of the average consumer. This perpetuation of myths and misinformation includes attempts at pitting one type of agriculture practice against another, thus impacting the reputation of our industry and ultimately, making consumers’ ability to make informed food choices more difficult than ever before.
Google is considered the world’s largest online library, and as such is likely the first place the average consumer turns to when seeking information about food and any concerns they might have about agriculture production practices. For example, a simple search on “animal antibiotics” nets more than 43 million results, while searches on “farms and pesticides” nets more than 21 million.
Until recently, these results did not always reflect the point of view of agriculture, and more is being done every single day to present perspectives on agriculture issues that are making national news headlines from real farmers and ranchers. Although the agriculture industry as a whole has worked to develop more effective and sustainable practices, we have not spent enough time telling consumers about our efforts.
By not telling our stories, we inadvertently created the white space needed for others, including activists and other special interest groups with anti-agriculture agendas, to share their perspectives on today’s farming and ranching practices. Unfortunately, their depiction is not a true representation of agriculture. The messengers who are capturing the interest and attention of today’s consumer are not farmers and ranchers, but individuals and groups who have agendas and big budgets to create marketing campaigns that use consumers’ fear as the creative insight and myths about farming and ranching as the message.
USFRA actively monitors news headlines as well as the online conversations that are capturing the attention of millions on social media. These activities range from simple Tweets and Facebook posts to YouTube videos and advertising campaigns that are being discussed and shared online. Since the first televised Presidential debate in 1960 to the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge viral video campaign, video continues to be the single most powerful tool to capture the attention and communicate a story to the masses. USFRA has first-hand experience of the power of visual storytelling – the documentary, FARMLAND, for example, is a powerful way of telling the story of farming and ranching in a visual and compelling format.
Yet, the FARMLAND documentary is only one example of a positive story about American agriculture, versus the thousands of videos created by anti-agriculture groups that are not founded in truth, thus causing further confusion to the consumer. Through our monitoring process, USFRA has identified multiple examples, in the past six months alone, that demonstrate how special interest groups are targeting consumers, including the coveted millennial group of 18 to 34-year-olds, with splashy events and highly-targeted online video campaigns. A few examples:
- Only Organic’s #NewMacdonald campaign: March 2015 campaign featured a viral video featuring school children singing a twisted version of “Old McDonald.” The video sparked a heated debate on social media with farmers and ranchers of all types and sizes responding in real-time to correct the campaign’s inaccurate video content.
- Mercy for Animal’s Farm to Fridge tour: The 2011 tour visited 40 different U.S. cities and featured lectures and screenings of MFA's documentary Farm to Fridge at college campuses, festivals and busy downtown locations.
- Chipotle’s Cultivate event: The free, multi-city event brings together Chipotle food, micro beers, live music from well-known bands and “interactive experiences focusing on sustainable food practices” in an effort to reach the millennial audience.
We live in a world where video is the most powerful tool for communicating a story short of witnessing an event first-hand. Anti-agriculture videos that demonize farming and ranching practices and pit one production practice against another are gaining traction with consumers. The extensive and coordinated anti-agriculture movement reinforces the need for all of the agriculture industry to collaborate and be present in places and participate in activities that at times may seem unexpected, and even uncomfortable.
Last year, USFRA had the opportunity to sponsor a panel discussion at The New York Times “Food for Tomorrow” event. The event featured a number of influential speakers, many of whom do not believe large-scale, production agriculture should exist. However, by not participating in the event, farmers and ranchers would have been notably absent from one of the year’s biggest conversations about food. One particular quote that captured the essence of why USFRA became involved in that event came from Nebraska cattle feeder, Joan Ruskamp, who implored the event’s participants to, “PLEASE let us (farmers and ranchers) be involved in your conversation about our food for tomorrow!”
USFRA will continue to look for new opportunities to involve farmers and ranchers in the conversations about food and food production taking place at events across the country, in popular culture, in media and online. We often describe our work as a movement, and to be successful and combat the misinformation being shared by anti-agriculture groups we must work together to encourage all farmers and ranchers to raise their voices. Both the industry and consumers need this now more than ever before.
Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Trends Analyses, Winter 2015
December 21, 2015