Consumers are more confused than ever. In a world that lives for the next buzz word, "factory farms" are evil, while "family farms" are the backbone of rural America.
In a discussion on Facebook last week, a consumer proved my suspicion that these words are little more than a marketing ploy to advance certain agendas. As I pondered our discussion, a reader/farmer best summed it up in a letter to me. He pointed out that the general public love the idea of a family farming the land. What they don't like is the technology that's been adopted over the years to farm more acres (or raise more animals) with fewer inputs.
In the letter, the reader says agriculture needs to do a better job educating folks on the technology, rather than skirting the issue. I completely agree. A good starting point would be simple economics.
One of the first lessons I learned from Mike Wilson, Farm Futures executive editor, is that the farmer is a price taker. Aside from maybe the small business owners, I doubt the vast majority of consumers understand what it means to sell something. Not only that, I'm sure they don't understand the inherent risk in paying for a crop that hasn't been harvested. Even the consumers who have worked in retail have never experienced the feeling of owning the merchandise they are trying to sell.
Employing the best technology available to ensure an efficient means of production seems like a no-brainer to the farmer. Since you're not selling intellectual property, the only way to make more money is to be more efficient on the production side, or a better guesser on the marketing side.
But wait, the consumers say. I'm willing to pay to have my cow raised in a humane manner. For the farmers who have found that niche, good for you.
Otherwise, folks need to realize that the vast majority of consumers are only imitating the efficiency of farmers when making purchase decisions at the grocery store. The consumer wants to feed his/her family in a cost effective, nutritious manner.
As you engage public perceptions, don't hesitate to point out the efficiencies that come with modern production technology. Rather than folks associating CAFO with evil factory farm, let's get them to associate it with more abundant/efficient production and lower price points in the grocery store.
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