Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Next Generation-Seven of What?

To the crew here at home I’m viewed as kind of a “Ranch Office Seven of Nine” When it comes to technology I get asked the questions. They’re not hard questions,non-the-less,I run the technology side of the “Ranch Voyager”. That feeling was lost this past week when I wound up with a group of high tech ag chatting, social media gurus. I left Oklahoma with Dino, my 35 pound laptop, feeling very tech efficient. I boarded a train and headed north to attend the Ag Chat Foundation 2.0 Training at the Dairy Management Institute in Rosemont, IL.
Arriving at the DMI pulling Dino in a rolling carrier the “Seven of Nine” feeling left and a “Wilma Flintstone loading her record player via a bird” feeling set in. One look at the teeny tiny lap tops, Kindles, the quick fingered texting, tweeting and twittering and I was suddenly embarrassed. I left Dino in his sleek, black leather carrier, pulled him around all the first day…and took notes.

In March of last year, Ag Chat Foundation was founded by Michele Payn-Knoper and 7 other individuals, including 26 board members with a mission to encourage the agriculture family to tell their stories, and share their passion. The core message of this diversified ag group; “It doesn’t matter the size of our operations or the commodities raised, agriculture has a common goal- we provide food, fiber and fuel to the world and we must unite and tell our positive stories instead of allowing anti-ag groups to continue to portray us negatively”.
This past week I met with around 50 other social media agriculture individuals from across the nation in a training session designed to empower us to tell our positive ag stories. On the third Tuesday of each month Ag Chat meets online to discuss issues facing our ag industry.
Following is just a glimpse into the presentations by a few of the speakers who urged us to create a road map for agriculture’s success.

California beef/equine producer, Jeff Fowle, reminded us that we all have a story, and we need to use that passion to tell our positive ag stories. He reminded us that we are inundated with technology but what keeps us “special” is humanity. Passion for our industry distinguishes us from the anti animal ag sector. Passion and emotion for our industry can’t be bought; activists can’t take that away from us. He encouraged us to indentify our own talents and utilize social media tools we are most comfortable using. Two questions Jeff told us to ask ourselves;
“What are our objectives?” and “What do we want on our road maps?”

Missouri pork producer, Chris Chin’s message: “Our nation’s food security depends on agriculturists telling our own stories.” This was Chris’ message who also stated that we had gathered this week because of agriculture; we’re not all alike but we share a commonality…Survival of Agriculture. She shared personal stories that had affected her family’s life, including death threats when her family began construction of a more humane, efficient confined hog facility in their community. Thinking that the rural ag community understood agriculture, they chose not to confront negative media coverage which ranged from individuals who said they’d witnessed manure being dumped into local water, witnessed it coming out of their faucets and a local individual’s need to wear a mask when going outside of her home because of the stench… these reports being expressed before any hogs were confined on the property. Chris shared the fact that her family had missed the mark by allowing someone else to tell their version of their story. The public was misinformed and continued circulating negative stories; her family had been scared to tell their story. All of that has changed. Today they use social media, T.V. and local tours to portray the image they want portrayed.
Chris explained another wake up call to tell ag’s story sharing other experiences while sitting in on National EPA meetings. These stories included a vegetarian thinking it was O.K. to eat chicken wings because “they grew back” to conversations with a U.S. Ag liaison to the EPA stating that if Chris really cared about her pigs she would have left them in the care of a spa similar to the one she’d arranged for her dog, After Chris asked the ag representative to explain a “puppy spa”, since their were none in her rural community, the woman explained that the spa included a Safari theme room, personalized menus, phone calls to the owner and choices of shampoos.
Today Chris faces more negative ag issues including her school district’s decision to incorporate “meatless Wednesdays” and addressing issues such as the fact that animal activist’s videos are contributing to young “ tween” (ages 10-12) girl’s decision to become vegetarians.
Below is a small summary from my notes. Each speaker shared abundant knowledge, great ideas and informative messages.

Summarization of Tips & FYI
• PCRM is the Health and Awareness arm of PETA (A chart exists showing the connection of all animal activists, their names and acronyms)
• We must throw ourselves on stage, someone has to do it (tell ag’s story) no one else will do it for us.
• We need to express ourselves individually with a unified consistent message.
• Before we can tell our story, we must have a message they can trust, consumers must trust the messenger.
• Ways we can increase trust in mainstream Americans: (1) Education (show them we care) (2) Communicate honesty (3) Show transparency- Be Yourself.
• Show consumers that we’re striving to provide safe, affordable food for not only our families but theirs as well.(this isn’t extreme, we’re already doing it)
• We are actually speaking to Middle America; we aren’t going to change the extremist, so we must educate those Americans. Most Americans want to feel good about the food they’re purchasing for their families. We need to work hard on making it O.K. to purchase conventional food that isn’t cage free, grass fed, organic etc. These foods have their place, but we cannot sustain the world on them.
• Once we educate consumers about us, they will not only understand agriculture but they will probably appreciate what we do for them; today they’re just misinformed.
• We must not think of our conversations with them as arguments but as chances for discussions to explain what we do. We want to have conversations not a fight.
• An interesting study has shown consumers weren’t so concerned about feeding the world as they were about feeding the U.S.
• In creating messages that work, positive value based communication works best: Be positive (know what drives your passion), Be genuine.
• In Social Media- listen to understand where the person is coming from, then use a value based commonality to engage with them instead of using an “educating” attempt to get your message across. Ask yourself what do we both “share” in common?
• Build a foundation of Goodwill. Be proactive instead of reactive.
• It’s important to “read’ your audience, talk about your strengths, and measure your response with what they actually know about the subject you are discussing. Listen 80%, talk 20%.
• It’s important to “Connect Ag’s Good” inject it in conversations every chance you get. (example: “I know John Brown and they’re good stewards of their animals.”) Look for opportunities to “Give Ag a Boost.” And don’t throw your neighbor under the bus!
• Use pictures to tell your story. Studies showed consumers loved pictures with family on the farm vs feedlot pictures. In picture taking and in hosting public events make sure your farm, ranch, cars, people, animals are at their “best.”
• Interesting research showed that consumers thought farmers were men, they thought they were nurturing and they thought they were caring.
• They had images that we work hard; they want to trust us and thought we protect our families.
• There’s been a gap in consumer’s perception of what we do, and anti-ag has been filling the gap with how they want to portray us. We must bridge that gap with our positive image of agriculture.

This is just a glimpse of what I learned at the Ag Chat Foundation 2.0 Seminar. I can’t begin to explain it all.. Please tune into Social Media’s Ag Chat on the third Tuesday of each month and engage. You’ll love meeting these great Ag Advocates. Relationships will be made and strong bonds created to move agriculture through these difficult times. I’m back at the ranch, my “Seven” hat’s back on, I’ve penciled my roadmap for social media and my old friend, Dino, is back on my lap.


  1. The problem is that, in spite of all of the technology, we are still preaching to the choir. The Temple Gandin movie was a step in the right direction, but from what I've heard (don't have HBO) it actually focused very little on her work with cattle handling systems. We need someone who can make a big splash with mainstream media in a way which will boggle the collective minds of the general pubic...Now to figure out how to do that!

  2. I'm an ordinary consumer. Actually, let me elaborate. I'm a consumer who has no intention of giving up meat, I am NOT an animal rights activist, I loathe PETA in all its forms, they have no business brainwashing schoolkids - it is the job of PARENTS to teach their kids to choose and eat an healthy balanced diet. Lobbying groups should not be indoctrinating schoolchildren.

    Humans were not designed to be vegetarians. Some Americans eat more meat than is ideal for their health, but that is not your end of the problem.

    Especially in economic times like these, I cringe when I hear politically correct (and usually higher income) people preach that maybe it would be better if meat and dairy andd eggs cost more, because it would motivate families into eating more vegetable and legume based meals. This paternalistic attitude is infuriating, because that kind of cooking takes more planning, more shopping and more cooking time, which for a working parent doesn't exist.

    But the other side of the coin, SAFE meat, dairy and egg products should not be premium products. They should be the norm. If industry practice means it is not safe for me to serve a medium rare hamburger, industry practice needs to change. I don't want any sludge of ammonia and rendered floor-droppings mixed into my ground beef. I want ground beef in my ground beef. Or to paraphrase a book I just read, I shouldn't have to handle my food like it is toxic waste.

    I don't think this is extremism. I am behind you guys and I don't want to go back to the days of buying from little butcher shops with high overhead. I think a lot of middle America wants no more than this.

    Get the word out that you are trying to achieve that goal or something like it and the public will be on your side.

  3. Hey Andy, it was great meeting you last week. Look forward to seeing you again, well i mean in real life cause i can alway catch you here.

    One of your other comments mentioned preaching to the choir. I hope you'll agree we spent an incredible amount of time talking about conversing with non-farm audiences. I think we are wilt be making that shift.

    One note, Michele founded the AgChat convo but there wer four farmers who really created the concept for the foundation. Some of us have been lucky enough to help with the founding. It makes the Foundation a truly grassroots effort.

  4. Thanks, I knew when I wrote this that I'd probably have some mistakes in getting the info right, I welcome any corrections! I want to get with you and have you help me with my blog site. I've been using this as my library to my website, with writings. After this week I want to snaz it up and use it as a main site. I'll direct message you...Thanks!


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