Consumers have two images of farmers, and one of these images will go away, Linda Basse Wenck told attendees at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Annual Business Conference in Madison, Wis., this week. Wenck is director of corporate social responsibility for Morgan & Myers, a communications firm.
One image is a farmer who is hardworking, honest, nurturing and caring, and important to the economy. The other image is less positive, with consumers not always believing and trusting that farmers will do the right thing on their farms.
“That’s the disconnect,” Wenck says. It is rare for consumers to have two images or perceptions of one thing (like you) for long. The question is which one will they choose.
It’s your responsibility to help them make the right choice.
To move the more positive image to the forefront, Wenck urges farmers to listen to and understand consumers and their perceptions of farmers.
Citing information gleaned from the Illinois Coalition study that focused on consumer perceptions of and trust in farmers, Wenck stresses that today’s consumers are not about trade-offs, want the “real deal” and value authenticity. The Coalition also shows that trust is eroding and that “health and wellness will always win.”
The powerful consumers today, according to the survey, are moms. And, Wenck notes that moms tend to trust other moms like themselves.
“We also must remember that trust is built person to person — not person to farm,” she says. To that end, she urges farmers to engage in conversations with neighbors in the community, on a personal level.
Wenck adds that people tend to give more leeway to someone they trust and less leeway to someone they don’t trust.
Sharing additional information for the Illinois Coalition, Wenck pointed out that only about one out of three consumers say that they are somewhat knowledgeable of farming practices. Their key source of information, however, is limited to that obtained at farm markets and driving by farms.
Asked about family farms and corporate farms, Wenck said survey participants defined corporate farms as ones whose owners live in the city, operate a calculator and are involved in the business from a purely financial standpoint rather than a lifestyle or a passion. Family farms, however, were defined as being owned by those who make a living from it and love their job.
Interestingly, farm size didn’t really seem to matter to consumers.