July 15 2022 08:00 AM

Engaging with our consumers builds trust as we share the stories of our farms.

Although tradition is important, the stagnation that comes from saying “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way” invites progress to flow around us instead of with us. We hear about this and might see it often in the decisions we make when running our farms and other agricultural businesses.

The same also holds true in how we as farmers relate to our consumers. Especially in a changing world of online marketing and more food choices than ever before, agriculture has had to adjust how positive, accurate information is shared with those looking to buy our products. An obvious example is the advent of social media, but even people who use those platforms have transformed their approaches in recent years.

“Nowadays, I think we’ve really turned the corner in that we’re trying to be more proactive,” said Debbie Lyons Blythe during the Animal Agriculture Alliance Summit. “Let’s make sure there’s a feeling of trust and communication first instead of just reacting.”

Blythe, a Kansas cattle rancher, shares information about her family’s farm as well as U.S. beef production through a blog and her social media channels. She and two other ag advocates, Carrie Mess and Brandi Buzzard, discussed how they’ve had to adapt their style over the years to meet the consumers they’re hoping to influence. Online trends come and go, but what each woman has leaned into is connecting with their audience rather than just looking to “educate” them.

“Whenever I hear the word educate, I think of a teacher standing at the front of a room and talking at me,” said Buzzard, who’s also a Kansas cattle rancher. “I don’t want to talk at people; I want to have conversations with people.”

To Buzzard, influencing her audience’s perceptions about agriculture means engaging them. She said that instead of ending a post or presentation with asking for questions, try starting with questions. See what the group is thinking about and how you can help answer those concerns and interests.

Wisconsin dairy farmer Carrie Mess expanded on the idea of influencing as opposed to educating. “When you say, ‘I want to educate you,’ you’re saying they’re dumb, and that’s not really a great way to start a conversation,” Mess noted. She gave a real-world example of influencing when she described her father-in-law shaking a woman’s hand in the grocery store when the woman bought milk. “Now every time she goes to buy milk, she’s going to remember that handshake,” Mess said.

The agriculture story can seem overwhelming to tell because the industry is so nuanced and there are plenty of other voices trying to do it for us. Mess recognized that agriculture took its end consumers for granted for a long time, and now we are playing catch-up to share the truth — but we are doing it. Using all the voices joining in that movement to truly connect and influence with our consumers will help ensure we stay involved in the conversation for generations to come.

Katelyn Allen

Katelyn Allen joined the Hoard’s Dairyman team as the Publications Editor in August 2019 and is now an associate editor. Katelyn is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech, where she majored in dairy science and minored in communication. Katelyn grew up on her family’s registered Holstein dairy, Glen-Toctin Farm, in Jefferson, Md.