Agriculture Must Focus and Personalize Its Message

Fodder for Thought

We need to make more personal contact with consumers and also thank them for their business.

Published on: September 6, 2012

"Farmers and ranchers feed the world."

"Thank a farmer."

These are common sayings among agricultural organizations and commodity groups. Many individuals in agriculture-advocacy circles also use these phrases from time to time for various purposes.

While I believe the intentions behind these statements mean well, I question whether it really does any good when it comes to customer relations. In the end, it likely does more to boost farmers’ egos than it does to engage our customers and build meaningful relationships.

Beef Producer blogger Andy Vance once said that it’s the middle 80% that matters most. The point of his observations was that we need to be mindful of what that 80%, those who are our customers, thinks of us and our industry.

At the same time we must also strive to not beat each other up over how we convey our story to that critical 80%.

It is not my intent to beat anyone up over the use of these phrases. Instead, I am just trying to understand how and if they hold real value and effectiveness in our efforts to share our stories and foster communication with the 80% of people who matter most to us.

So I ask, what does "feeding the world"’ and "thanking a farmer" really mean to our customers? Is this really something they can relate to?

They are indeed noble ideas but they are also broad and very general ideas. To make these ideas relatable, perhaps a more personal touch is needed.

Putting names with the faces of the farmers and ranchers ‘feeding the world’ and adding individual perspectives to these concepts through shared stories and experiences brings things to a level others can more easily relate to.

Efforts such as donating to local food banks, assisting with food in disaster-relief efforts and volunteering time or donating food for charitable causes are great examples of how farmers are ‘feeding the world’ right here at home.

I realize many are already doing just that through blogs and other social-media outlets. However, it is important we continue to encourage these efforts. It’s also important we do not lose sight of the real purpose of why we are doing all this -- meaning all of agriculture -- in the first place: for our customers.

While, we hope that our customers will "thank a farmer" for the hard work, blood, sweat and tears that are put into the food, fiber and fuel they produce, it is also important we take the time to thank a customer.

You see, without the customers agriculture has no incentive to continue on.

Agriculture was made possible from the very beginning because of trade. This exchange of goods provided incentive for individuals to specialize in farmed goods and generate surplus food. This in turn allowed further specialization in other areas by those who no longer needed to dedicate time to growing their own food.

From gate to plate, plate to gate, and all avenues in between, all are equally needed and equally just as important. Let us not forget that.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    People much smarter than you or I suggested this what seems like a long time ago (in social media time) and I even wrote a blog post about it last summer. At the time, I got a great deal of nodding and agreeing, but saw little reaction or change. It's funny (actually, frustrating) how people can agree with what someone says, yet be guilty of breaking the rules that they say they agree with. I'm learning not to take it personally, but it's still an issue in agriculture. And if farmers and ranchers want to continue doing advocacy, and in essence running PR for agriculture as a whole, they've got to learn. So do many of the communicators.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank a Teacher. Educating the World. Thank a Doctor. Healing the World. Thank a Cow. Literally Feeding the World. My first thought is, sounds nice, but why shouldnt many professions get thanked in the same fashion. As far as effectiveness goes, it sounds like the campaign was from the same marketing agency as the ones who came up with the "Got Milk?" slogan (gag) I could complain from high a top my soapbox all day on what terrible ideas these all are, but instead lets try and think this through. Some questions that come to mind are: What is our purpose in these types of campaigns? -currently it sounds like the answers are awareness, and making people feel as though they need to remember to be polite and "thank a farmer" "Billy, did you remember to thank the farmer?" "Dangit mom!" Millions of dollars to send a message to people who could easily think that their own profession is just as worthy. Thank a farmer? Why not thank ME? Im a firefighter or a janitor or an engineer or a truck driver. Additionally, its not like consumers really have an alternative when it comes to who produces their food. So they can't be like, "Great Commercial! Im going to be sure to stop buying that food that doesnt come from a farm............" So, IF, million dollar marketing campaigns are going to be made on behalf of farming and agriculture, what SHOULD the purpose be? I have some thoughts, but I Dont wanna hi-jack your blog :) GREAT TOPIC! Thanks!

  3. Anthony of www.ilovefarmers.org says:

    Very insightful, Ms. Bussard. So good to know I'm not alone in my thinking the same thing. Will be cool to read other peoples' comments about what "Feed the World" means beyond the cliche definition I so often see floating through social media and events across the country. WTF?