Food Economist: Consumers Are Not the Enemy

Farmers need to be aware of the culture in which they operate, and know all is not lost.

Published on: Jan 14, 2014

Above all, Lusk says agriculture would do well to not consider consumers as their enemy. "It's not helpful to bemoan lack of knowledge or connection to agriculture," he said. "Be sympathetic that they don't know much."

What else can a farmer do? Lusk says:

  - Get in the game: tell your story. "It's all find and good for somebody like me to get up and talk about the benefits of ag but it's a bit more powerful for you to get up and talk about why you use GMO soybeans. Stories matter."

  - Talk about tangible benefits of technology to you. Conflate benefits and risks. Technologies are coming on the market with obvious benefit to consumers: apples that don't brown. Florida citrus to avoid virus/disease.

  - Make tradeoffs are salient and available: less technology equals higher prices, more hunger, more imports

  - Develop technologies that directly benefit the consumer. Don't be dogmatic

  - Offer choice, be transparent, give consumers control


Lusk reminded farmers of a variety of factual food changes, too.

  - Consumers spend 40% less time in food preparation, compared to 1950, and 81% less time on meal clean up.

  - Less than 10% of disposable income is spent on food today in the U.S. Food doesn't consume our budget like it once did. "Now we can spend money taking kids to ballgames, and doing other fun things."

  - Consumption of fruits and vegetables are up 20% since 1970.

"It's not a perfect system; I've never argued that. There are problems. But agricultural technology has led to the greatest time in history. Think about it: at one point, our goal was not starving," Lusk explained.

"My hope lies in the innovation of farmers, food processors and more in creating products we don't even know yet that we want. And I say, let's get out of their way."