SAN ANTONIO – Although technology has enabled farmers and ranchers to keep up with the demands of a growing world, it is increasingly under attack by consumers. According to Dr. Jayson Lusk, regent’s professor for the department of agriculture economics at Oklahoma State University, the biggest obstacle that agricultural technology must overcome is educating consumers about how it’s used. Lusk spoke to farmers and ranchers about how they can reach those consumers at a conference sponsored by Dow AgroSciences at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 95th Annual Convention.
Lusk discussed both the good and bad that has come with consumers’ growing desire to know more about how food comes to their tables. This new “food awareness” offers consumers more choices and gives farmers opportunities to develop new markets. This sudden interest, sparked by the modern consumer’s separation from farming, also leads to a vacuum of knowledge that has, more often than not, been filled by those opposed to the modern system of agriculture.
“My fear and concern is that somewhere along the way this positive marketing, trying to sell a higher-quality product, somewhere turned into fear mongering, in some cases downright denigration of modern agriculture,” Lusk said. “I really get concerned when these arguments are made on shaky science, or in my case when it is made on poor economics.”
Those competing with agriculture technology for the support of the consumer have human nature on their side. While fear and sensationalism may be easier to spread, farmers and ranchers have to deliver the positive message about what they do, and the technology that allows them to do it. Much of the technology used by modern farmers is both new and often hard to understand, making it difficult for consumers to trust and accurately assess the risks associated with it. Lusk gives farmers suggestions on how to communicate with consumers in ways that endure:
- Get in the conversation;
- Tell agriculture’s story, by telling your story;
- Talk about how technologies have made your farm better;
- Make sure to let consumers know the tradeoffs that will come with using or not using a technology;
- Develop tech that directly affects the consumer; and
- Above all, be honest and straight forward.
Even though farmers must get ready for an uphill climb for the support of consumers, Lusk argues that it must happen soon. Many of agriculture’s opponents are calling for a return to a more “natural,” romanticized version of farming. Those opponents do not take into account that this will have a negative effect on the millions who suffer from food insecurity, not only in the United States but throughout the world.
“A world that celebrates naturalism in food as a core value will be hostile toward growth and innovation even if it can make food more efficient, portable and safe,” exclaimed Lock.
With 9.6 billion mouths to feed by 2050, every technology is vital to today’s farmers and ranchers. It is now up to farmers and ranchers to prove that to consumers so that technology can continue to help feed the world.