By Trish Jordan
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’re probably aware that farmers are being asked to share their farm story with the non-farming public. There are countless industry associations, farm commodity groups, agricultural companies, and not-for-profit organizations advocating for the need, providing tools and training, and sharing ideas to help farmers do just that.
Farmers are only 2% of Canada’s population so it will take a collective approach from everyone involved in agriculture to expand our voice and change consumer perceptions. Monsanto has embraced this opportunity over the past few years, engaging in thousands of discussions and interactions with consumers, creating digital content and sharing positive stories to build understanding and correct some of the misconceptions about modern agriculture. We may not be perceived as the best messenger, but we are no longer shying away from conversations with consumers.
Every farmer has a story
Farmers, on the other hand, are well-positioned to contribute to this conversation. We know from consumer research that even though consumers have questions or concerns about how their food is being grown, they still view farmers as among the most trustworthy sources of information about agriculture and their food.
But having conversations with folks outside your own community takes a different approach and a change in the language you speak. Consumers don’t understand the typical jargon you use when talking to your local agronomist or grain company. Nor do they care that you want to increase yields, be profitable, or become more efficient.
To connect with consumers, consider shifting your thinking to consider how what you do on the farm matters to society, how it impacts others or connects with their values. The goal in any conversation about your farm is to show them how the things they care about are the same things you care about – the environment, quality food, sustainability, safety, health, using less (less water, less fuel, less soil, fewer inputs), or caring for your animals.
It’s also important to remember your motivation shouldn’t be about trying to win a debate or inundating your audience with facts, science and research. It’s about listening first, asking questions to better understand how opinions have been formed, finding common ground or a shared value and then engaging in a conversation versus an argument about who is right and who is wrong.
Taking the uncomfortable first step
Once you are ready to share your farm story the next logical question is where? Social media is a critical vehicle to connect with others because this is where conversations about food and farming are happening and where misinformation is rampant. Yes, you are behind a computer or your iPhone but it gives you time to prepare and offers opportunities to share photos or other links to broaden perspective. But social media isn’t for every farmer so what other options could you consider?
If you see a post or comment online that you know is false, do you take the time to respectfully correct it? Can you talk to your child’s teacher; speak to a high school classroom; give a presentation to your local Rotary Club; write a letter to the editor; invite someone to your farm to see what you do? There is no shortage of opportunities out there to share your story.
Taking the first uncomfortable step can seem daunting. You may worry you don’t have all the answers or that you will open yourself to criticism. That may be true but focus on what you do know. You see and live agriculture every day, you know what is happening on your farm and what it means to you, your family, and your community. That, more than anything, is a story worth sharing with others. Finally, be passionate. People sense passion and commitment and it is critical to earning their trust.
Trish Jordan is Public & Industry Affairs Director for Monsanto Canada. She regularly engages with consumers about Monsanto’s business, food and farming and loves to share the story of Canadian agriculture with others.