It's vital to promote agriculture today, both nationally and in your community, says Donna Moenning, director of industry relations for the Midwest Dairy Association.
All sorts of national and local policies - from farm program payments to livestock zoning - depend upon winning support from nonfarming neighbors and townspeople, she says. Livestock producers especially face challenges from environmentalists, animal-rights activists and others.
At the Central Plains Dairy Expo held in Sioux Falls, S.D., earlier this year, Moenning offered several tips on how to more effectively promote your farm in your community:
Develop a simple message. The Midwest Dairy Association emphasizes that a dairy producer's jobs are "to produce safe, high-quality milk and dairy products while caring for the land and animals."
Repeat the message. "Our critics pound at the same message all the time. We should, too. It's effective," she says.
Keep it simple. When being interviewed or talking at a public forum, make clear, simple points. "Simplicity is not an option," she says. "It is essential. A confused mind will say, 'no.'"
When answering questions from neighbors, the media or people at a public meeting, don't get defensive. "There are no negative questions, only defensive answers," Moenning says.
Inspire trust. "The first person who wins trust wins," she says.
Tackle tough issues, such as feedlot odor, head on. When Moenning hosts a dairy-farm tour for school children, she either goes to the school ahead of time or gets on the bus before the kids get off and welcomes them. "I tell them, 'We are going to the farm and it is not going to smell like your school, your home or your mom's hair salon. It's going to have another interesting smell. It's going to smell like a farm,'" Moenning says.
Do more for neighbors. Clearing snow from driveways in winter is a good first step, but consider doing more. You could host a summer picnic for neighbors and your employees and their families at your farm. One dairy producer she knows presents employee awards during its picnic. That helps neighbors see that the employees are an important part of the farm and the community. Another producer gives neighbors a May Day basket of dairy products. It doesn't hurt that the farm distributes the basket shortly before notifying neighbors that it will soon be spreading manure, she says.
Be creative about building support. An anti-livestock activist in Moenning's community teaches a
community-education cooking class in her home. Though her politics aren't the topic of the class, she gains credibility through her community-education exposure. Why couldn't a farm family hold classes on Christmas-cookie baking, making jerky or other topics?
Be assertive with the media. Reporters are usually as nervous about meeting you as you are about meeting them, Moenning says. Set ground rules when they ask for interviews. If you don't want them to photograph the feedlot because it is muddy from a recent rain, tell them so. Talk to the person behind the camera who chooses what to photograph.
"There's a lot more we can do to promote agriculture and plenty of ways to be more effective," Moenning concludes.
For more information, contact Moenning at (800) 642-3895 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site at www.midwestdairy.com.