Ag Tech May Create Consumer Confusion

Economist provides five ways to help consumers understand and assess benefits that come from technology in agriculture at Farm Bureau convention

Published on: Jan 14, 2014

Technology is a key element on today's farms and ranches, but consumers aren't so certain about how it's used, says Dr. Jayson Lusk, regent's professor for the department of agriculture economics at Oklahoma State University.

Lusk spoke to farmers and ranchers about how they can reach those consumers at a Monday conference sponsored by Dow AgroSciences at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 95th Annual Convention in San Antonio, Texas.

Consumers want to know more about food production, Lusk said, creating a desire for "food awareness" that offers consumers more choices and gives farmers opportunities to develop new markets.

UNDERSTANDING CONSUMERS: Ag tech may be confusing to consumers, economist says, but there are ways to help them understand how its agricultural applications.
UNDERSTANDING CONSUMERS: Ag tech may be confusing to consumers, economist says, but there are ways to help them understand how its agricultural applications.

However, this interest, sparked by the modern consumer's separation from farming, also leads to a vacuum of knowledge that can be filled by persons opposed to the modern system of agriculture.

"My fear and concern is that somewhere along the way this positive marketing, trying to sell a higher-quality product, somewhere turned into fear mongering, in some cases downright denigration of modern agriculture," Lusk said. "I really get concerned when these arguments are made on shaky science, or in my case when it is made on poor economics."

While fear may be easier to spread, farmers and ranchers have to explain to consumers what they do, and how they use technology to do it. Further, much of the technology used by modern farmers is both new and often hard to understand, making it difficult for consumers to trust and accurately assess the risks or benefits associated with it.

Lusk has suggestions for famers looking to improve consumer knowledge of ag tech:

1. Get in the conversation; tell agriculture's story by telling your story;

2. Talk about how technologies have made your farm better;

3. Make sure to let consumers know the tradeoffs that will come with using or not using a technology;

4. Develop tech that directly affects the consumer; and

5. Be honest and straight forward.

Even though farmers must get ready for an uphill climb for the support of consumers, Lusk argues that it must happen soon. Many of agriculture's opponents are calling for a return to a more "natural," romanticized version of farming that doesn't take into account food insecurity issues, he said.

"A world that celebrates naturalism in food as a core value will be hostile toward growth and innovation even if it can make food more efficient, portable and safe," Lusk said.

For more on how to listen to and interact with consumers, visit Telling Your Story, a Farm Futures blog.

Source: AFBF