Instead of sitting back and watching its image take a hit, the Ontario Pork Producers took some action.
In March 2002, the group launched a three-year promotion program entitled “Farm to Fork.” The goal is to promote the entire pork chain from producers to processors to allied industry.
The beauty of the campaign is that all entities of the pork chain are sponsoring the effort. The industry coalition came up with half of the money for the campaign. The other half came from the Ontario government to assist one of “its most viable industries.” The program cost is $1 million (U.S . $750,000) per year for three years. Each year, the pork supply chain pumps $800 million (U.S. $600 million) in farm gate receipts into the Ontario economy.
Producers are the starting point in building a positive image with the public. There is a “Faces of Farming” calendar, that features pork producers and their families from across Ontario.
Another element is getting producers to be proactive by having them get out positive messages about their business practices. One specific area of focus is manure management. The program designed ads that focus on small communities versus large cities, and delivers a Farm-to-Fork media kit to all of Ontario’s pork producers.
A Web site offers perspectives on research such as nutrient management and animal husbandry that ties into the Prairie Swine Center’s database.
The program includes on-going research to evaluate local and national attitudes toward farming in Ontario. “Originally, the public’s attitudes weren’t bad, but they were declining,” says Jim Vidoczy, OPP’s consumer marketing director.
“We needed to develop a communications plan because we had gotten a lot of bad press,” he adds. “If we don’t tell people who we are and what we stand for, negative stories will continue to grow.”
Vidoczy attributes much of the image challenges to significant changes in the pork industry. The industry is more concentrated, so things like manure handling get noticed a bit more. There’s also increased migration from city to country living, leaving only 2 percent of today’s rural Ontario population involved in farming.
Like in the United States, it means that more of the general public has no idea what’s required to run a pork operation.
“One of the things producers don’t do is tell their story,” explains Vidoczy. “They assume the public thinks they’re good guys, but sometimes you need to remind people. You need a communication strategy, telling people who you are and what you stand for.”
Okay, but is the campaign working? “It’s having a very positive influence on how our pork producers feel about themselves,” says Vidoczy. “Producers are supporting producers, and so is the rest of the supply chain.”
The U.S. pork industry should take note of how its neighbors to the north are illustrating a positive side of pork production.
To learn more about OPP’s program, go to www.farmtofork.ca.
Ontario Pork Producers have worked with the polling firm Ipsos Reid for nearly five years to track attitudes toward pork production in the province. A national attitudes’ study was done in 1999, with a specific Ontario component, followed by an Ontario-wide update in 2002, and testing of southwestern Ontario in 2003.
The latest test in June 2003 showed:
In 1999, 45 percent of Ontario residents had positive impressions of pork production; in 2002, 46 percent had positive impressions; in the June 2003 study, 58 percent (southwest Ontario only) carried positive thoughts.
In the 2002 study, 32 percent of respondents were “somewhat friendly” toward pork production’s environmental management. This increased to 38 percent in June 2003.
Concerns about odor and water contamination remain high. But most people believe producers are committed to improving the environment. Nearly 80 percent of respondents believe pork producers are committed to improving the environment. This compares to 66 percent in 2002, and 75 percent in 1999.
Currently, 40 percent believe “large family farms” are environmentally responsible, compared to 34 percent who had that perception in 2002.
In 2003, 72 percent agreed that fresh pork was “very safe.” In 1999 and 2002, only 47 percent and 46 percent respectively felt that way.