Today’s livestock producers must consider their vocation a noble profession. By continuing to care for, and nurture their animals, while telling this story, farmers and ranchers can preserve their freedom to operate and maintain successful animal agriculture in the United States.
So how do farmers and ranchers do this?
To begin with, livestock producers must understand how consumers think and feel. Get inside their heads if you will. Get inside their hearts.
Today’s consumers consider farmers and ranchers responsible for the humane treatment of their animals.
In a recent consumer survey, people rated animal well-being higher than the care and well-being of workers in the food system. It did not rank as high as food safety however.
It is not science, technical capacity or ability that drives trust, instead, it is whether consumers believe agriculture shares their ethics and values.
Farmers and ranchers must talk about their commitment to doing the right thing – their commitment to values and ethics – not just science. While agriculture has plenty of evidence to demonstrate this profession is doing the right thing, it relies too much on that language. It is more important to engage the public on a value’s basis.
The most important job moving forward, is to communicate in a way that helps people trust in what farmers and ranchers say and do. Too often livestock producers take for granted that rural neighbors know and understand who they are and what they do.
Farming and ranching can no longer take this for granted. Agriculture continues to change and evolve and still most of the people in the United States today are not involved in farming and ranching.
At no time in the history of this country have Americans know so little about where their food comes from. What they want is “permission to believe” that what farmers and ranchers are doing is consistent with their values and ethics.
In some instances, telling the story of food production to consumers may move to the point where farmers and ranchers show people what is taking place on this nation’s farms and ranches.
Unfortunately, the perception is that when we don’t show them – we’re hiding something. That said, there clearly remain legitimate reasons, from disease prevention to biosecurity, not to allow unfettered access to farms and ranches.
Livestock production or animal agriculture in the most affluent country in the world is faced with special challenges and opportunities. Among those challenges is that Americans spend such a small percentage of their income on food that they can demand food where they want it, when they want it, in the proportion they want it and produced in a humane way.
Still, there’s no doubt agriculture will win this battle for the hearts and minds of consumers.
Farmers and ranchers must remember whom they are trying to influence. Customers and consumers need to hear from livestock producers.
It is not productive for the agriculture community to attack activist ag groups. Instead, agriculture must retake its rightful position as the people in charge of ensuring the humane treatment of animals.
Farmers and ranchers must continue to tell people they share their concerns and will work hard every day to make sure animals are treated fairly and humanely. Agriculture must also share with consumers how they meet their obligations to humanely treat animals on the farms and ranches across the United States.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.