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End the attack on the farmer: It begins with you

Laurie Fischer for Progressive Dairyman Published on 04 May 2018

It is no secret that humans are emotional beings. We naturally are moved by sensational content that pulls at our heart strings or scares us into action. This is the template that animal and environmental activist groups have been using to captivate audiences for years, and they are successfully swaying public perception through emotionally charged material and skewed data.

However, more recently these groups have moved beyond the heavily branded displays of protest and have taken a more subtle, professional approach that is capturing the curiosity of much broader audiences. Only 1 percent of our population farms the nation’s food. The remaining 99 percent is, on average, four generations removed from the farm. With such a massive portion of our population uninvolved in food production, it is easy for a vocal minority to sway the largely unaware masses with fake facts, narrow studies and outright falsehoods.

Water quality, air quality, property values, nutritional values of common grocery staples – these are topics most concerned citizens would be interested in keeping themselves informed about. Who wouldn’t want to ensure their children are drinking clean and untainted water? However, the source of their information has a great deal of influence on the opinion of the consumer. Therefore, it is vital that farmers tell their side of the story.

Our industry has been lecturing farmers to tell their story for years now. Many farmers have done just this by inviting the public to their dairy operations for tours, adding comments on social media and talking to their legislators. But has this helped? Have we moved the needle and improved public perception? It seems we do a really great job patting ourselves on the back and telling others in our industry the great job we do, but it is now time to spread our wings and open up dialogue with others from outside of the dairy industry.

Vocal activists are not who you are trying to win over

Stepping out into the world of those who may outright oppose our industry and what we have dedicated our lives to doing can be uncomfortable. The thought of winning over the most committed vegan seems awfully exhausting – but, thankfully, that isn’t your audience. Those who have already made up their minds about dairy using whatever scientific fact serves their purpose do not care about your story. Furthermore, the negative rhetoric many outspoken activists fall into is not something to be modeled. Name calling or making someone look bad doesn’t make anyone look good. Fortunately for the dairy industry, many consumers have not yet formed their opinion and are highly influenced by the thoughts of others.

Consumer studies show that more respondents rely on family and friends for food safety and nutrition information than dietitians, health care professionals or other scholarly sources. In an age when we all are touched by social media, you are in a unique position, through your perspective, to influence consumers in your social circle without being an expert in nutritional science or marketing. What is your favorite dairy recipe? Why do you choose to serve your family milk? What goes on around your farm day to day? Those same consumer studies show that 80 percent of people trust farmers, but only 37 percent trust the way their food is farmed. This means that as a farmer, the public wants to hear from you and they largely trust what you have to say. Transparency leads to knowledge and knowledge counters fear – the number one tool of activists.

Become an active member of your community

Daily, across the nation, local organizations gather to discuss how to make their communities safer, cleaner and more desirable. These are all noble causes. But, as a busy farmer, it is understandable to feel there are concerns more pressing for your time. However, it is vital to understand what is being discussed in your community. Lake associations and conservation congress groups typically discuss fishing and hunting regulations, but recently water quality has been showing up more and more on these agendas. With no representation from the farming community, it doesn’t take long for local dairy producers to become the scapegoat. Dietitian panels, parenting groups, animal or food hobby groups – you name it – dairy or ag can and does easily pop up in conversation, and without representation to dispel dairy myths, our industry slowly loses the battle.

The bottom line: Get involved

The time is now to share your “why”! Why do you farm? Why do you continue to learn ways to use new technology to improve your practices and to do more by using less of the land around you? Let the world see the passion you have for the land that sustains you and the animals you care for. Don’t wait for others to take up the fight. With nondairy alternative products on the rise and the price of dairy at a continuing low level, our industry doesn’t have time to wait. It is up to all of us to use our voice and any platform we have to stand up and tell the story of the American dairy industry. Built on the legacy of the hardworking folks who care enough to dedicate their lives to feeding the nation, our industry has an amazing story to tell.  end mark

Laurie Fischer is president of the American Dairy Coalition. Email Laurie Fischer.

To learn more about the American Dairy Coalition or how you can get involved visit the American Dairy Coalition website.

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