As activist groups continually protest and new anti-agriculture videos are released, our industry is commonly on the defensive about our farms and management practices. While important and useful, defensive tactics should retire as our primary advocacy strategy. Instead, we must take an offensive stance on promoting agriculture to our consumers. Through educating and communicating with the public, we can advance agriculture in a newer light. Advocacy discussions can be uncomfortable and difficult, but positive outcomes are certainly achievable as long as you respect both sides of the conversation.
Recognition: In order to set the stage for these discussions, an understanding of each side’s background is paramount in moving forward. As members of the agricultural community, we need to recognize that society has a growing desire to learn about where their food comes from, what their food contains, and how it is produced. With less than 2% of the population involved in some aspect of agriculture, society has moved into an era where the overwhelming majorities have little to no connection to their food supplier and most likely have a limited knowledge base concerning agriculture. This presents a great opportunity to reach out to the community. However, we must present our background, goals and aims as well. Farms represent our history and economic livelihood. As with any other business enterprise, we focus on production, efficiency, and sales. But unlike many other businesses, we must achieve these goals while maintaining the best care possible for our animals and the environment. By understanding each other’s backgrounds and concerns, it is easier to move forward in our discussions over the importance of agriculture.
Education: Seek out opportunities to further the education of your staff. Attending conferences or seminars may present alternative management practices that can increase production while optimizing welfare and sustainability. Our industry rapidly moves forward, searching for higher production and more humane practices. Not only can these opportunities improve your operation, but they provide excellent discussion points when educating the public. Discuss with them where you see your farm heading, goals you would like to achieve, and how you will use the latest research and education to improve your farm and the well-being of your animals.
Self-Evaluation: Following education, the next step is doing an internal overview of your farm and management practices. Do you have easily attainable protocols throughout your facility? Have you adapted your management practices as new research becomes available? Does management allow the farm staff to voice opinions and concerns? Evaluating your current operation ensures that your animals are receiving the best care possible, your staff have unanimous goals and standards, and your farm has the best management practices available. In order to advocate the importance of agriculture, our farms should serve as ideal representatives.
Participation: Develop opportunities to get the public involved on your farm. Hold open house days or farm tours to allow people to view our work in person. A large stigma is associated with modern agriculture due to the misrepresentation by anti-agricultural/welfare advocacy groups to the public who haven’t visited or researched our practices. Use these opportunities to educate, rather than re-educate.
Extension: There are numerous resources to assist you in promoting your farm and the agricultural industry. Search for advocacy groups, research facilities, and university extension support. These service providers can offer you the necessary advocacy background, talking points, and assistance to educate your community and get them involved in support of your goals.
Communication: Reach out to your community members and keep them informed of events happening on the farm. Try using social media, newsletters, or list-serves to announce open house days or tours as well as the current on-goings of your farm. Many times your surrounding community will appreciate being informed of current events such as building projects or spreading manure. This allows opportunity to plan ahead as well as educate those who are unaware of the reasoning behind preforming these practices.
Transparency: While this section is likely the hardest and most uncomfortable to perform, advocating for agriculture requires transparency. We need to be open about our management practices with positive justifications for their use. By avoiding topics or being uncomfortable talking about certain practices, the public can easily lose trust in our messages and education. Use this section as a check and balance for all values mentioned earlier. Do you understand why they may have concern with this practice? Have you researched and educated them on the importance of the practice? Have you allowed opportunity for them to see the practice performed and communicated to them of how this allows you to reach your goals? And most importantly, should you continue to use this practice?
Advocating and promoting our industry will certainly have its eases and challenges. While some will never approve of our practices and goals, work towards educating those willing to listen. Start now with your community and work outwards. After all, promoting our industry today will preserve our industry tomorrow.