Farmers Need To Be Seen More And Heard

Northstar Notes

After listening to the Farmfest media panel, Minnesota agriculture needs ties to the Vikings to get more coverage.

Published on: August 14, 2013

Given that all of our state commodity groups and farm organizations have had hundreds of farmers go through their respective media training programs, I find this hard to believe that the general media still does not know who to contact.

With little effort, these reporters could add a dozen or more farmers to their cell phone contacts by contacting dairy, beef, pork, corn, soybean, Farm Bureau and Farmers Union organizations. These groups have lists of farmers who have volunteered to serve as media spokespeople.

Reporters on the panel also said they do not receive press releases from various farm groups and organizations. Really? As a fellow journalist, I receive regular information from ag sources. I had to request that my name and contact information be added to all these media lists. That's part of my job as I strive to stay on top of news in the state. They need to make similar contacts to get on those lists.

And on the flip side, the farming community really does need to make a better effort at "being at the table," especially when that table is surrounded by folks who know nothing about today's agriculture. It's a tough seat to be in, enjoying a medium rare steak with a glass of Minnesota Marquette, while your tablemates express dismay about farm chemicals polluting our waters and animals raised in crates, pens and stalls.

When that happens, it's important to simply listen. After the talk and commentary dies down, then start asking some simple questions, such as inquiring about the source of their information. As conversation continues, farmers could explain what they do on their family farm.

The toughest challenge in all this, however, is getting more farmers comfortable with interacting with the media and trusting the reporter and editor. Generally, most farmers tend to be modest, private, introverted individuals, who prefer to avoid any limelight at all. And if they have been interviewed by the media, they may have had a souring experience with being misquoted or having their comments taken out of context. When that happens, trust with that media outlet takes time to rebuild, if at all.

To start the media panel discussion at Farmfest, the panel moderator asked the first question: What does it take for agriculture to become a story? One panelist quipped, "If you can tie ag to a new [Minnesota Vikings] stadium, that's page one."

His response was not far off the mark.

Agriculture will get its press as more farmers talk and tell journalists how they raise livestock and crops.

Heck, with all the foods served by vendors at stadiums, there is a farm link.

Get going on that one, Star Tribune.