Ag Desperataly Needs To Speak To Consumers With a Unified Voice

Prairie Gleanings

The anti-commercial ag sentiment continues to grow in this country. What are we doing to do about it?

Published on: May 17, 2012

It seems my “Consumers Got Exactly What They Asked For” blog has sparked some conversation.

While some agreed with my comments (actually they came primarily from Tyler Cowen), many were outraged that I would pit farmers vs. consumers. And, how dare I cast the blame on consumers?

How dare I? Are you joking? These folks have been blaming farmers for everything from destroying the earth’s atmosphere with animal farts to maliciously abusing every hog, cow and chicken that was ever raised for human consumption.

Granted, it’s a minority that goes so far to actually put all modern farmers on the naughty list. But, here’s the scary thing, that minority is growing. A lot of folks who read this blog don’t believe me. I would wager most of those folks live in rural areas, where folks still have their heads screwed on straight.

I live in St. Clair County, just 15 miles from the St. Louis Arch. In urban areas, middle class (and up) families are starting to turn against mainstream farming. Last week, I saw a billboard attacking Monsanto as I crossed the Poplar Street Bridge over the Mississippi River. That’s about 20 miles from their corporate headquarters. They employ numerous St. Louisans, and they never shy away from supporting the community and its sports teams.

If that’s not enough evidence for you, take a trip to a St. Louis farmer’s market. Stroll around and take in the sights and sounds. Strike up a conversation or two. If you’re a mainstream farmer, you’ll notice folks won’t have a great opinion of you. Oh, and these markets are booming. So much so, the St. Louis grocery stores want them shut down because they’re losing out on produce sales in summer months.

So, yeah, there is a war going on out there. My only question is when will that war start influencing public policy. Our various farmer groups already have a full time job putting out legislative fires on a state and federal level.

We’re at a crossroads here. To date, we’ve primarily employed one of two tactics in discussing food production with consumers. On one hand, we play up the economic efficiencies in today’s food production system. On the other, we present food production in a light we think these consumers want to see. This includes playing up the environmentalism and family farm angles.

Both of these approaches are correct. So what’s the answer then?

Better marketing. But, here’s the problem. If farmers across the U.S. got behind a unified marketing effort, where’s the payoff? Consumers are still going to buy the majority of their meat from the local grocery store, which got it from a major processor, which bought it from the farmer. So, marketing probably won’t boost sales.

However, it may help protect us against the rising consumer tide. If we can get consumers to understand production practices in the short-term, it could eliminate a lot of legislative/regulatory problems in the long-term.

And, yes, it can be done. I’ve been part of an ongoing Facebook conversation on food production for about a month now. Slowly, I’ve been sending her articles that show her the fallacies inherent to being a locavore. The other day, she thanked me for showing her the truth.

We’ve got to work together on this growing image problem. Farming has become so specialized. When HSUS attacked the Ohio hog industry that was either an Ohio problem or a pork problem. In all actuality, it was ag’s problem.