Business Perspectives

September 27, 2012

Food producers must tell consumers their story

As of Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau’s website estimated that 314,446,599 people live in the United States.

As of Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau’s website estimated that 314,446,599 people live in the United States.

Of those 314 million, 1.8 percent are involved in production agriculture – roughly 6 million people.

Let’s put that in some sort of perspective. Consider that if you took every American involved in producing food, fiber and bio energy, all together they wouldn’t outnumber the population of New York City.

It’s no wonder then that if you were to grab a handful of random schoolchildren, they would tell you that milk comes from the store. Ask them where flour comes from and you should expect blank stares.

It is that fundamental disconnect between the producers and the consumers of food that has led to an increasingly dangerous disconnect between the consumer majority and the producer minority.

The agricultural world has done a lackluster job telling their story to those who consume their products. As a client once told me while discussing the increasing need for social media presence on the farm: “I guess I was so busy feeding the people I never really thought to tell them exactly what I do.”

And in that vacuum of information, misinformation is allowed to spread.

Grossly exaggerated and even downright fabricated information began to spread about the use of genetically modified crops.

Animal agriculture faced increasing numbers of attacks. The sins of the few who were poor stewards of the environment and their livestock were placed upon the heads of the many.

The majority are ethical, dedicated and remain in the industry out of love not only for the work but for the lifestyle as well.

It’s also a group that has finally begun to recognize the need to stop allowing others to tell their story.

Heaps of words have been written about the fundamentally jarring and transformational power of the social media revolution. In the past, information came from a small set of media. Now, the social revolution has allowed anyone with an Internet connection the chance to influence public opinion.

This is a double-edged sword. This tool has been used to attack modern agriculture and spread a surprising fear of modern science and technology.

However, it also offers farmers and ranchers the chance to connect directly with a suburban soccer mom in New Jersey and her counterparts in every other corner of the country.

More and more people want to know where their food comes from.

Producers now have the means and the opportunity to let people know just that – and to connect on a personal level.

This can only happen when all sectors of agriculture work together.

Agricultural interests aren’t served by internal fights between segments. We need to recognize that all areas of agriculture are working toward the same goal – providing safe, reliable, affordable food and materials to not just the U.S. but also the world.

It’s a good story, one best told by the producers themselves.

As the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote: “Nothing is worse than active ignorance.”

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