When advocating for agriculture, sticking to what you know is key
By Jackie Clark
Canada’s Agriculture Day is on Tuesday, February 11 this year. It’s a day for farmers and other stakeholders in the ag industry to share their passion for agriculture with others. Farms.com checked in with Madeline Rodrigue, communications manager at Farm and Food Care Ontario, to learn how best to communicate the Canadian ag message to consumers and the general public.
First, a farmer should decide which platform is best for them to share their ag experiences.
“Not every setting is going to be suitable for every farmer – they’re all going to have unique strengths,” Rodrigue told Farms.com. Social media is often the first outlet that comes to mind.
“There’s been a huge surge in the number of farmers who are using social media to connect with consumers and the average Canadian,” but it’s not the only way to share information, Rodrigue said.
Producers “can also host tours on their own farm, present to local classes in the school districts that surround them or invite different community clubs to come to their farm,” she suggested.
Community organizations like the Lions Clubs or city council can be great audiences for learning about agriculture, she said.
Advocating for agriculture can also be “something as simple as writing a letter to the editor or writing a letter to their local MP or MPP,” Rodrigue explained. “The farmer should choose what they know best.”
That includes not only where you choose to spread your message, but also what you’re saying. Farm and Food Care Ontario’s main piece of advice is to speak to the parts of the industry you are most familiar with.
“Talk about your experience on your farm. You don’t always need to speak for the whole of agriculture. Any of us who work in agriculture know that farms are very complex, and no two farms are the same,” Rodrigue said.
When speaking with the general public or Canadian consumers, it’s important to remember to use appropriate language.
“You want to avoid industry jargon or acronyms,” that may be unclear to someone not involved in agriculture, Rodrigue said. “Use language or comparisons that are relatable to that person.”
It is important to “not underestimate what might be really interesting or important to” your audience, Rodrigue explained.
“There are a lot of things we do day-to-day on farms that might seem mundane, but when you start talking to the average Canadian or consumer about that, it might be really exciting and the first time they’re hearing about it,” she added.
When advocating for agriculture, always stick to the facts.
“If you don’t know the answer to (a question), never guess,” Rodrigue said.
It is important to state that you’re not sure, and then follow up or connect the consumer to someone else in the industry who is familiar with the topic.
Some conversations about agriculture can be difficult. Remember that “most people out there are genuinely interested in learning more,” Rodrigue said.
“You might get to the point where you’re not really getting anywhere with someone and, at that point, it’s OK to agree to disagree. Everyone has a right to their own opinion,” she explained.
“It’s perfectly acceptable to end a conversation that you feel isn’t making any good progress,” she added.
But it’s important to not immediately discount a conversation with someone because they don’t share your perspective. Sometimes, speaking out about agriculture also requires you to take a step back and be a good listener to the consumer’s perspective or concerns.
Discourse with consumers is about “always trying to listen really carefully to the root of the problem” and “trying to find the shared value,” Rodrigue said.
For example, even if you disagree about specific livestock management practices, you can connect through the shared value of caring about the welfare of animals.
“The end goal is to not change their mind,” Rodrigue said.
In discussions about agriculture “you’re not trying to convince (consumers) of anything. You’re trying to give them the tools to make informed decisions or form informed thoughts on their own,” she explained.