By Tracey Erickson
How many times have you heard this? In regards to our communities and agricultural development we all need to remember that we are all under public scrutiny. Our actions whether a small or large producer can have monumental impact as we move forward with agriculture being the forefront of an economic base within communities and the state.
The public desires transparency whether it is an issue of how government functions or how food is gotten from farms to the dinner table. So how does transparency weave into advocating for your agricultural livelihood? Simply stated before pointing the finger at others… “Ask yourself are you being a good citizen steward and taking care of business at your operation by not giving the public something to scrutinize?” For example: Are you disposing of all waste and garbage (paper, plastic, oil, batteries, etc.) appropriately? Are you limiting access to lakes and streams with minimal defecating in water sources that serve as livestock water sources? Are you preventing runoff from contaminating water sources by using grass waterways, conservation tillage methods, manure containment facilities, appropriate manure application, and appropriate fertilizer pesticide application rates? What are you doing to minimize odor, dust and noise? Are you storing and using medicated feed and medications appropriately? Are you disposing of dead animals appropriately and in a timely manner? Are your facilities esthetically pleasing, and viewed as a business who maintains its facilities? Are you a viewed as a good business person in the community? All of these areas are critical to being a good neighbor and a good agricultural steward within the community.
Creating a culture of agricultural awareness
According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture there are presently 3.2 million producers in production agriculture. This means that only one percent of the American population is directly involved in production agriculture. As you go about your daily life ask yourself how many people do you know that are involved in any form of production agriculture versus those that are not? Then ask yourself, of those involved in production
agriculture how many raise livestock?
We can no longer assume that people understand what a farm or ranch is. Additionally, we cannot assume that people understand what is involved in modern agriculture. Many consumers however, believe that “farms must have the old, red barn and that all farmers wear bib overalls”. These are not realistic images of what modern agriculture is about.
In today’s society people do not always believe what science knows to be true. How do you adequately, tell the story of agriculture and advocate for agriculture? In answering consumer questions, transparency helps establish confidence (known as shared values) and helps build trust with the consumer, especially when it comes to safe food, quality nutrition, appropriate animal care, environmental stewardship and others (Center for Food Integrity, 2014). These personal values are the same things that you as a producer care about, and want to do well as you raise your livestock and crops and consume the food you produce.
Be united in representing agriculture, speak with one voice
It is important to remember that we are all in the business of producing food for the consumer. Therefore, it is important that one industry or industry practice not be pitted against another. In the end neither wins, the consumer becomes confused and doubtful of agriculture production practices. This can result in an overall reduction in the total consumption of an agricultural product, and the pressure to change normal production practices, either through government regulations or consumer demands.
Become an advocate for agriculture
Advocacy is the act of showing support for a particular cause, group or policy. An advocate is someone who actively supports a cause, group or policy by building relationships with those who exert influence such as an elected official. It is important to remember that everyone involved in agriculture should attempt to serve as advocate. Why should you be involved and what kind of outcomes are desirable when we advocate for agriculture? Ask yourself the following questions: Do you want to possibly change or influence a regulation, public policy, or law? Do you want to change someone’s attitude or behavior? Do you want to change a political process or system? Do you want to increase power or influence for a less powerful group? Do you want to have input into how you produce your agricultural commodity? If you answered yes, to any of these questions, you should consider a role in advocating for agriculture.
Advocating through communication
When choosing to serve as an advocate make note of the following ways in which you can advocate for agriculture:
- Begin by developing a short story about you and your involvement in agriculture. Keep your message to one minute or less. This brief message is known as an “elevator speech”
- Stick to the facts. Explain what you know about your livestock or crops operation and why it is important to properly care for your crops or livestock in a succinct manner.
- Be knowledgeable about your livestock or crop production and agriculture in general.
- Be prepared to explain basic terminology associated with production agriculture such as the difference between a cow, bull, heifer and a steer or a rooster, hen and a pullet. Or even more difficult terminology such as GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). Provide examples and be understanding of others and their personal agricultural knowledge level.
- Listen to the questions and concerns of others’. Think through your answer, carefully using fact-based information as you respond. Directly answer their actual question and ask for clarification if you are unsure of their question before giving your response. Don’t become defensive.
- Base your responses on personal experiences and facts.
- Consider in advance how you would answer a tough question from your peers. For example, be prepared to explain why you would use an animal health product such as a de-wormer. A possible response might be… “The product helps to keep my animal healthy and productive, while providing a safe, high quality product to eat.”
- Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something, always be honest and transparent with your answer. Be willing to find the answer and respond to their question.
- Invite a more knowledgeable person into the conversation to help explain topics you are less familiar with. You may both learn something new.
- Engage people who attend fairs, livestock shows and exhibitions or even people in daily life in conversations about modern livestock production.
- Attend county development and zoning meetings when possible.