Growing up on a farm I have always been very aware of where my food comes. I have been known to freak out my “non-farm” friends by bringing up subjects that were part of the normal conversation around my household. I distinctly remember my freshman year in college when I asked my suite-mate if she wanted to ride with me to my parents’ house to drop off a semen tank. Her eyebrows raised and her mouth dropped open hearing the word “semen” coming from my mouth, but to me, that was just another farm chore. She asked me “Rossie, what in the world is a semen tank and why do you have one in your car?” I proceeded to inform her all about artificial insemination in cattle and how our bull’s semen was collected at a veterinarian’s office near our school. She was absolutely amazed and said that she had no idea that farmers used artificial breeding. I really blew her mind when I told her about flushing cow eggs (AKA invitro fertilization)!
After that she came to me with any questions she had about agriculture. I loved that she felt comfortable asking me questions instead of believing what she heard in the news or from animal rights clubs on campus. A lot of other friends asked me questions so that they could understand both sides of the argument. I had the training to answer questions effectively mainly by being on the National Beef Ambassador Team and by having a first-hand farm background. After a while I realized that there was a lot of information that was readily available coming from the opposing side and they had the money to put it on television and on billboards. On the other hand, the information coming from the agriculture industry was only found if the consumer took the time to search for it online. The sad truth is, most consumers won’t take the time search for the other side of the story.
So, what can we do in the agriculture community to get our message across and make information about ag more easily accessible? For starters, we can answer questions that come to us through media outlets or from the neighbor that lives down the road. Believe it or not the average consumer trusts farmers. Now they might say that they only trust family farmers, but to me that’s just the perfect example of misinformed consumers, when we in ag know that nearly 90% of farms are family-owned operations. Most of the questions asked of me as a beef ambassador were about all of the beef choices (grassfed, natural, organic, etc.). I explained what each term meant and how the cattle were raised, to help them understand the difference.
There are many groups against animal agriculture that are trying to push legislation to make our lives as farmers and ranchers more difficult. These groups are also the ones that are filling consumers’ minds with questions about animal agriculture. And as I have mentioned many times before, plenty of our state and national legislators are three or four generations removed from the farm. The legislators and their staff have questions about farming and we need to be their point of contact, that’s why building strong relationships with your elected officials is so important. You want them to feel comfortable calling you with the hard questions so that you can tell them the honest answers.
So to all of you ag guys and gals out there, I challenge you to be honest, be transparent. Don’t avoid the consumer’s question. If a consumer asks why you castrate, or why you dehorn, tell them! Farmers are practical people and do things for a reason. Consumers just want permission to trust agriculture. They hear all of these terrible things about farming and ranching but when they ask questions and learn why we do what we do they are reassured in their protein selection. At the Alliance, we’re trying to correct misinformation about animal ag every day, but we need your help. Together, let’s give consumers permission to eat meat, milk and eggs.
For more information on animal agriculture visit the Alliance Website.