From the Field: Agriculture’s Message in a Sound Bite Culture

From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.

For several years the agriculture community has worked on educating the general public about the production of food and fiber. This educational effort has received an increased emphasis from agribusinesses, food retailers, commodity groups, and agriculture organizations in the past two decades, but especially the most recent decade. The Internet and social media have facilitated the ability of anyone to put out information, pictures, and videos to the world in a matter of minutes.

Through social media, the information expands to readers and viewers exponentially. Information is great, but the crux of it is how to decipher the legitimate information from rumors, myths, or just plain made-up information. I am happy to say that many people in our community have really stepped up to the challenge of being an agriculture advocate.

So how do we get our message out amongst all of the other messages out there, and how do we counter misinformation that can be easily believable to a public that has much to learn about agriculture? The good news is that I believe the public is more informed about agriculture than they used to be. We have great advocates for agriculture that are doing a great job. Being an effective advocate means reaching outside of our community, being genuine, trustworthy, and transparent, and relatable. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance has developed methods to help agriculturalists work on these things. I’m not saying that we are not trustworthy, genuine, or transparent; we have just had a hard time expressing it. We must remember that we are one of the steps in getting food on the plate. People want to know where their food comes from and how it was raised. So if you think of yourself as a food producer; it gives you a different perspective.

This year, two agricultural messages on video have created quite a buzz. One is a YouTube video called “I’m Farming and I Grow It.” Check it out below. It has had over 7 million views. It’s not chocked full of statistics, but it is entertaining. It puts a personal face to people in agriculture, and it is relatable to people. We often are uncomfortable talking to a nonagricultural audience. Well, nonfarmers aren’t sure how to relate to us either. Sharing your personal story helps both groups understand each other.

The other video is done by Dr. Temple Grandin and the American Meat Institute. The video can be found at http://www.animalhandling.org under the “video” link. Temple Grandin’s video is a transparent and factual view of how cattle are humanely treated at a large beef packing plant. Temple Grandin has credibility, and her message is accepted as legitimate among nonagricultural people. I think people see her as an unbiased authority on animal welfare, and she is the world’s most prominent authority on the subject. In the video, she comments about all of the false stuff on the Internet about animal welfare, and the lack of factual and accurate information. The video may be too graphic for some. But I hope the video done by the world’s most prominent authority on animal welfare will dispel some misinformation and misconceived thoughts of people about animal welfare in meat packing plants, even those in the agriculture community. I have attended a couple of presentations of Temple Grandin and they have always been very informative. She doesn’t mince words and means what she says. Her Autism helps her think and see in pictures. This unique perspective and ability has helped the livestock community immensely. She has designed livestock handling facilities such as corrals, unloading docks, packing plant designs, etc. to create the best environment for animals and people. Several agribusinesses, ranches, and feedyards have used her services, and some have redesigned their whole operation.

One message that Grandin had two years ago still sticks in my mind as baffling, but it was true. She said that she was speaking at a college class about animal welfare and the topic of grass fed beef vs. conventional beef came up. She said that the college students actually thought that conventional fed cattle spent their entire life in a feedyard. They thought that the cow lived in the feedyard, had her calf there and the calf lived the remainder of its life in the feedyard. She quickly corrected them by saying that ultimately all cattle are grass fed. They are ruminants. Cattle that do get fed in a feedyard are typically there for only 150 days of their life. All of the other time, they were on grass. This information blew their minds. What we may take for granted as being commonly known information might surprise us that the general public may have a different idea.

If you have a specialty, share it with the world. For example, the beef industry is my main interest. I completed a Masters of Beef Advocacy curriculum two years ago. I can speak on beef cattle and beef as it relates to the environment, nutrition, feeding practices, antibiotics, or animal welfare. Feel free to contact me with questions at mark.campbell@vafb.com.

So don’t be afraid to share your messages about agriculture. You don’t have to have a big presentation or do a lot of research. Just share what you do as your part in putting safe, wholesome, and nutritious food on the plate of so many people. Your message might just be the sound bite that someone needed to hear. With today’s technology, your testimony may reach more people than you ever imagined.

Until next time,
Mark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s