The greatest challenge that I see that faces agriculture is the loss of trust of our consumers. As we get consumers that are generations removed from agriculture, the harder it is for agriculture to bridge the gap.
A couple of generations ago, when children were leaving the farms to go to college and start a new career that didn’t require the 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year of hard work, is when the change in agriculture started. This generation left farms and moved away and as they did they had images of little red barns and pastures. With new education, there became a gap between those that stayed on the farm and those that left. Often times this gap was illustrated by condescending and social status. Farmers at this time were often considered “the dumb farmers”.
As the next generation came, they still had some connection to agriculture as they spent weekends with Grandma and Grandpa on the farm. There was still the gap and farmers were either the Grandmas and Grandpas of the world, or they were not motivated or smart enough to move away from the farm.
It was at this time that agriculture wanted change the message. We weren’t the dumb farmers. We wanted to consumers to realize that we were running a business. That we were intelligent and motivated to better than those that came before us. Part was out of necessity as more and more consumers were demand products from a declining population of farmers. Farmers had to embrace the future and modernize their operations for efficiencies. I personally believe that the larger part was a sense of pride. Farmers love what they do and take great pride in what they can accomplish. So farmers started using business terms: instead of farming it became industry; instead of barns it was facilities. Agriculture detached itself from the emotion of farming to prove that we were not the “Dumb farmers”.
This was our down fall. As we strived to become equals with our town counterparts, we portrayed the image that we didn’t care like Grandma and Grandpa did and our consumers started to not trust large farms. The more that consumers started questioning us, the more that it appeared that they didn’t trust us. The more that they didn’t trust us, the more that we didn’t want to share what we were doing. It became a vicious cycle. The more consumers questioned, the more we shut down communication.
Over the last couple of decades, farmers have realized that the majority of consumers just wanted to know that we still cared about our land and our animals. We have since started to share our story and put the emotion back into our story. We will never be able to change those that are opposed to specific aspects of agriculture. We will never change the mind of those that think all animals should be running free. We will never change the mind of those that believe the fear marketing that many have started. What we can do is tell our story to those that just want to know that we care like Grandma and Grandpa did.
There have been many people before me that have told their story successfully and have helped many other farmers learn how communicate with consumers. Over the last couple of decades there have been several organizations that have developed courses and online tools that can help farmers tell their story. Many farmers are self-teaching Social Media and using it as a tool to share their story.
Agriculture in general still have many hurdles to overcome to build our consumers’ trust again. There is still a large group of individuals that are using Fear Marketing to tell their story and convince the general public that farmers do not care about anything but their profit. Farmers are resilient. They still are “willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.” They are still “strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild.” They are “willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die.” They will “finish a forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain ‘n from ‘tractor back’, put in another seventy-two hours” the only difference from when Paul Harvey said these words in 1978 to today, is there is also countless other hours put in telling their story and proving to our consumers that we still do care! We are still the ones “who’s bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son (or daughter) says he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does’.”