In our recent online poll, “How do you believe consumers feel about agriculture?” 78 percent of respondents feel “consumers like agriculture but don’t understand best-management practices.” No one agreed that consumers “like agriculture and understand best-management practices, and 22 percent of respondents answered that consumers “are negative about agriculture in general.”

Obviously, there is work to do in terms of helping the public understand livestock production and the practices associated with it. Research shows farmers themselves are highly respected and admired by consumers, so capitalizing on this positive image seems like a logical step forward.

What’s being done
Several groups are already actively engaged in helping consumers understand agriculture. The Animal Agriculture Alliance was formed in 1987 to help consumers better understand the role animal agriculture plays in providing a safe, abundant food supply to a hungry world. It is a broad-based coalition of farmers, ranchers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer-processors, scientists, veterinarian and retailers. Its purpose it to:

  • Educate consumers, teachers and the media
  • Serve as a resource for those who seek information about animal production
  • Monitor emerging issues
  • Mobilize emergency response if a member requests assistance
  • Promote the development of animal care guidelines and third-party verification programs that are consistent with the Alliance Animal Care Principles
  • Conduct media and crisis management workshops upon request.

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) has developed the Food Dialogues as a way to answer Americans’ questions about how food is grown and raised. It consists of more than 80 farmer- and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners representing virtually all aspects of agriculture working to engage in dialogues with consumers who have questions about how today’s food is grown and raised. USFRA is committed to continuous improvement and supporting U.S. farmers and ranchers efforts to increase confidence and trust in today’s agriculture.  Through The Food Dialogues, USFRA hopes to bring together different viewpoints on farming and ranching and the future of food to solve our most challenging problems.

The USFRA connects with consumers through its website, Facebook, Twitter, radio and television. As an example of what USFRA is doing, here is a blog post by Will Gilmar, a dairy producer (and one of the winners of the Faces of Farming & Ranching program), commenting on the media frenzy after the Super Bowl ad, “So God made a farmer:”

“As I've thought about this through the day, it's really driven home the point that I may really be the "Face of Farming" for some folks. Whether we've ever actually met or have only conversed via social media, their perception of modern agriculture is shaped at least in part by my willingness to share and discuss what happens on my family's dairy farm. That realization gives me both enthusiasm and a heightened sense of responsibility to continue doing what I love: farming and telling you about it!”

It’s all warm and fuzzy, and makes us feel good about what we do, but how do we use this as a starting point to move forward? How do we take that emotional good-will from earlier this year and use it to connect with consumers about modern-day practices related to how food is grown and raised?

Tell me what you think, and let’s develop our own dialogue to see how we can further the effort.