News - “Farmers Care” program surfaces ag advocates
- March 15, 2012
A small Army of people devoted to agriculture is mounting throughout the nation to engage in the communications battle over the merits of farming practices and food production. Several organizations have been established to unite farmers and other agriculture interests and provide the training and resources necessary to get the job done.
On the national level, KFB is supporting the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, which is developing a network of advocates to connect to consumers.
In Kentucky, KFB endorses the “Kentucky Farmers Care” project administered by the Kentucky Agriculture Council and the Kentucky Livestock Coalition. This initiative is well underway in establishing local contacts to educate Kentuckians about farming and food, particularly by providing accurate and timely information about such hot topics as food safety, animal welfare and environmental stewardship.
Kentucky Farmers Care held a summit last month at the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association office in Lexington. A group of about 20 agriculture interests – including farmers and representatives from extension, 4-H, agribusinesses, government and commodity groups – participated in a day-long workshop The focus was to gain knowledge about controversial issues, advice on effective messages and communications techniques plus some media relations training.
“This is all about the need to engage with the public,” explained Brent Burchett, a program director for the Kentucky Soybean Board. “Our message is that Kentucky farmers of all different sizes, commodities and production practices care about what’s right for people, animals and the environment.
“At the end of the day, this is about freedom to operate.”
The Soybean Board was a major force in organizing the Kentucky Livestock Coalition as an organization to defend the interests of animal agriculture. KFB also was among the founding members.
Burchett, who is the son of former KFB Director Mike Burchett of Marshall County, played host to the summit. Handling the bulk of the agenda were Beth Anne Mumford and Jana McGuire from the Center for Food Integrity, a five-year-old organization formed to build public trust in the food system. AFBF is a member of that Kansas City-based organization.
Ms. Mumford framed a primary objective by stressing the importance of communicating a commitment to values.
“If you want to talk about practices on the farm, you have to start with the values behind those practices,” she said. “Most consumers don’t understand what you do, how you do it and why you do it. They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Ms. McGuire outlined “six best practices for communicating shared values. They are: (1) Be principle-driven. (2) Listen – Don’t Judge. (3) Ask questions and invite dialogue. (4) Identify common values. (6) Define the conversation outcome; how do you want it to end?
She encouraged the participants to develop “value statements” on such issues as food safety, animal welfare, chemical use, etc.
To illustrate the disconnect between farms and most Americans, a video was played showing people from the Midwest farm belt cities of Kansas City, Omaha and Des Moines fielding basic questions about agriculture. Most of their responses were way off base.
To further illustrate the need for capable spokespersons, graphics were displayed of negative newspaper and magazine headlines, along with a rapidly-streamed lengthy list of organizations such as PETA, HSUS and Greenpeace that have attacked agriculture.
Among the summit participants were Becky Thomas of Hardin County, who has long been active with Hardin County FB and the KFB Women’s program, and Sierra Enlow of LaRue County, a UK student who won KFB’s 2011 Discussion Meet.
Mrs. Thomas, who attended at the request of the Soybean Board, told the group she deals with agricultural public relations every day in her job as the produce manager at a Kroger store in Elizabethtown.
“I’m constantly asked about organics and about chemicals,” she said. “I try to explain the cost of pesticides and other inputs; that we don’t use any more than necessary to protect the crop. I have to tell them that they have to wash the organic produce, as well.
“More people are wanting to know how produce is raised and where it comes from. The country of origin labeling really helps.”
Her husband, KFB Director Larry Thomas, has been an active spokesman on environmental issues. He is chairman of KFB’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee.