The keys to good community relations may seem simple, but they are not always practiced. Don’t let a lapse in community relations become a stumbling block to your dairy-expansion plans.
To help you improve, follow these steps offered by Greg Blonde, University of Wisconsin extension agricultural agent:
1. Practice proactive communication
If you are planning to expand, give details to community leaders and decision-makers before they hear about it from a neighbor. It’s nearly impossible to communicate effectively when you have to react to what others have said.
2. Practice direct communication
Direct communication means that you don’t let third-party communication, also known as the rumor mill, complicate your business. If you do hear a rumor about your dairy, go directly to the people impacted and make sure that they hear the truth.
3. Maintain a neat appearance at your dairy
Keep lawns mowed, retired equipment out of the yard and buildings painted. This sends the message that you operate a professional business, and take pride in it.
4. Make little gestures count
A cheese tray, fruit basket, or some other token of appreciation goes a long way to cement relationships for your business. And, consider providing services for certain people in the community, such as disking a neighbor’s garden, sharing equipment and plowing snow.
5. Be open and honest with neighbors
Let your community know what your family business is all about. Communicate the economic realities of the dairy industry, and also share your family values. Point out the positive economic impact that an expanded dairy will have — for every dollar of income or job generated by agriculture, additional income and jobs are created for the local economy.
According to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, for every $1 in sales, a dairy boosts the local economy by $2.69.
6. Get involved in the community
Sponsor a local sports team, offer a scholarship program for teens, get a milk machine installed at a local school, or donate milk or cheese for a church picnic. Your community needs to know that you are involved. And, it will certainly help your reputation when you go public with an expansion plan.
7. Offer public tours
Give people a chance to learn more about your business and why you practice the management activities you do. This puts a “face” on your business, and also helps educate the non-farming public on farming issues.
8. Participate in your local land-use process
Get to know your local government and groups — township, city and county — that impact land-use decisions in your community. And serve on these boards whenever possible.
9. Follow the “golden rule”
Treat others like you would like them to treat you. And be sure to include the phrase “thank you” in your vocabulary. Use it sincerely and often.