Speaking to consumers about food can be intimidating to farmers and ranchers. However, it’s essential for those involved in agriculture to bridge the gap that exists between them and consumers. 2018 Farm Bureau Target: Food Consumer Engagement Training held May 1-2, 2018 provided the skills for Farm Bureau members to actively engage consumers. The event, hosted by American Farm Bureau’s Promotion & Education Committee, offered a variety of speakers and consumer panels during the training. Four Montana Farm Bureau members attended including Jennifer Bergin, who serves on the AFBF P&E Committee; Darcia Patten, MFBF P&E Committee; JM Peck, MFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee and Diana Bailey, MFBF staff.

Speakers focused on consumer trust and how farmers and ranchers can lead dialogue with the public. Terri Moore, Center for Food Integrity, addressed closing the trust gap between consumers and farmers.

“She explained that farmers and ranchers not only need to talk about what they do, but why,” said JM Peck, a Melrose rancher. “We need to show consumers our shared values that we care about safe, wholesome food as much as they do. It’s important to humanize the situation and explain that we are ethically grounded and all have the goal of a sustainable food system.  Developing trust can be done by telling your story to someone you meet on the street or in an airplane. It’s speaking at a Rotary lunch and talking to kids. Once you develop that trust you can educate people about farming and ranching.”

Peck said the most valuable tool he learned about was the impact of social media. “I had walked away from social media because of the negativity,” he explained. “However, the speakers provided good tools to use and stressed that agriculture needs to be engaged. Social media is one of the biggest platforms for talking directly to consumers, and it’s important to have a positive message.”

Patten, a Broadus rancher, said the panel with three consumers was eye opening. “We had a cross-section of careers—a teacher, a medical technician and a physical trainer—who knew very little about agriculture,” Patten said. “They had no idea about the technology farmers use and were amazed to learn about tractors having Global Positioning Systems and so much more. I believe after visiting with us, they will do more research on agriculture.”

She echoed Peck regarding the influence of social media. “Tell your stories and be authentic. Make sure you have facts to back up what you say, but don’t get hung up in arguing with trolls. There is a whole host of people who don’t really care much about agriculture, but they could be supportive of farmers and ranchers when they start reading our stories. Stories don’t have to be long and professional, just real.”

The two goals Patten set after attending the conference is to be more proactive on social media and share what she learned with her county Farm Bureau.

During visits to the offices of Senator Jon Tester, Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte, two issues Patten addressed were the importance of broadband and the Electronic Logging Device/Hours of Serve rules which both directly affect farmers and ranchers. Peck visited about passing the farm bill in a timely manner and the importance of crop insurance.

After the trip to the nation’s capital, Peck felt empowered. “To come to Washington, D.C. from Montana and see the American Farm Bureau office where everyone is advocating for agriculture is amazing. Sometimes when you’re sitting at home in Montana, you can feel disconnected from D.C., but after being in the AFBF office and spending time in our Congressmen’s offices where we were well received, I felt very connected.”

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Cutline: JM Peck leads his group, reporting their team’s planning session for  a scenario where they were asked by the Rotary Club to give a “Lunch and Learn” presentation on agriculture and food.

Darcia Patten at the Food Consumer Engagement training learns about promoting ag through social media.

Source: Ag News Wire

 

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