Are We Doing Enough?
By Leslie Ballentine Ballentine Communication GroupFeatures Business & Policy Farm Business Business/Policy Canada
Generally speaking, agriculture is pretty good at talking among ourselves. We have loads of newsletters, magazines such as Canadian Poultry, videos, symposiums, trade shows and alike where we relay new information on products, initiatives and practices. But how much of that “shop talk” ever gets out to the general public? Do we even know?
Certainly we solicit the public on their attitudes and issues about farming and farming practices. But we don’t seem to gage public knowledge about what we do and why we do it.
In a recent discussion with some of my cohorts, I asked how many of them had ever heard about the Recommended Codes of Practice. None of the group of nine urban dwellers knew such things even existed. Similarly they had never heard of Environmental Farm Plans or on-farm food safety programs. Did they know that the farm and primary production sectors invest substantial money and resources into research or what the findings of such research mean and have led to? The short answer is no. Did they know what the farm sector is doing to alleviate the problems that we have created? Although they assumed these things are “being taken care of” they had no specifics they could draw on to affirm that assumption.
The home cooks in the group knew where to get recipes and cooking techniques and some even had bookmarked commodity group websites. But they didn’t seem to realize the other information such websites contain. When it comes to developments in farming and primary industry they seemed to rely on the mainstream media as their source of our information. Being of an older, and perhaps more skeptical, generation most didn’t rely much on social media. But search engines were well-used when they wanted answers to a question. In all cases they were much more aware of the one-sided sensationalized issues around farming and poorly informed about what we are doing about it.
We all agreed that food is constantly in the news, and the production level news is missing the boat. And the reason, they thought, was because agriculture doesn’t make our news their news.
For example, while all were very aware of antibiotics resistance in our food supply, even the doctor in the group was unaware of the progress being made on probiotics and animal vaccines that would replace much needed antibiotics.
All were oblivious to agriculture’s contributions to sustainable energy, even the visible products such as ethanol didn’t connect to agriculture in their minds. And they were certainly unaware of the findings and applications of industry-backed research by Ag colleges and groups such as the Canadian Poultry Research Council.
While most were aware of “bird flu” and “swine flu” through sensationalized media reports they had no clue about the preventative measures in place such as bio-security and animal health surveillance. Nor were they aware of the successes in addressing these and other crop and livestock diseases.
It has been my observation that even the more significant breakthroughs in agricultural discoveries and practices, which are heralded within the farming community, rarely make it onto the public radar. At best their knowledge is lacking and at worst misinformed.
This got me to thinking about more ways to share our news beyond the farm gate. I now read my daily flood of industry news with one eye on how to let the public know what’s going on. I came up with a list of “show me” ideas to turn our news into news that would hold the attention of the masses. Tapping into the current popularity of “reality shows” and science and history shows is working for other sectors. Specialty channels such as food and life-style networks seems a logical place to expand our “foodie news” efforts to include well packaged (meaning entertaining) information about new developments and successes in agriculture. Weaving farm practices into food safety information would help consumers make the connection. Injecting attention-grabbing accomplishments into producer profile campaigns or even expanding profiles to include innovators, ag researchers, crop advisors and alike are all worthy of consideration. The beauty here is that these are all ways to reach wider audiences and make our news relevant to them. Certainly the public doesn’t want the technologicalise that dominates industry news. Much in the same way most producers don’t want the academic reports that researchers generate. But building in specific “show me” evidence to help supplement our other public outreach activities, can only benefit these efforts.
Here’s the point: Awareness is the first step in informing. And there are ways to distill our shop talk into this awareness.
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