Each day, farmers and ranchers pull on their boots, roll up their sleeves and go to work outside rural communities across Kansas. They perform a litany of chores – feeding and doctoring livestock, cultivating crops, pulling maintenance on machinery, paying bills – you name it and farmers and ranchers do it.
While all of these activities are necessary, agricultural advocacy has become farmers’ and ranchers’ most important chore. Today, they have an obligation to offer the public an understanding of their profession.
Helping consumers understand agriculture is vital to the future of the industry and the high-quality, low-cost food Americans enjoy.
How do farmers help consumers understand their profession?
It begins with the commitment to tell your side of the story whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself. Whether you talk to grade-schoolers, members of service clubs or state legislators – practice the art of relationship building between rural and urban, between agricultural producers and consumers of agricultural products.
When you have an opportunity to talk about production agriculture, do just that – talk about agriculture. Leave the other so-called “hot” topics of the day alone. Let someone else talk about them.
With less than 2 percent of our population engaged in food production, do not miss an opportunity to tell your story. If you are asked to comment about a recent election, talk about it with an agricultural flavor. Talk about how you believe your elected
official will be able to work with you to ensure our state makes rural transportation one of its top priorities.
Give people a glimpse into your profession – a subject that affects your bottom line and one that impacts the well-being of your family, their families – everyone. It’s easier than you might think to initiate a conversation about farming with your urban cousins.
Begin with a common denominator. You can start by noting that the fertilizer they buy for their gardens is no different from what you, as a farmer, put on your crops. The rose dust, herbicide or insecticide used to control scab, dandelions or mosquitoes is similar to the plant protection chemicals you use.
Sometimes the common denominator revolves around nutrition. A good analogy could be the parallel between a person’s need for healthy food and a plant’s need for a well-balanced diet.
It’s easy to move from nutrition to some of the more difficult challenges facing agriculture. One such hot topic is groundwater contamination.
Today, many people are concerned about chemical run off into lakes and streams. As a farmer, you cannot afford to overuse these expensive crop inputs. Let them know that. More than anyone else, you are concerned about the land where you and your family live and work.
Public understanding of how a modern farmer manages his operation is only half the challenge. Perhaps equally important is the need to be sensitive to the concerns of the community.
Remember that people – most of them living in towns or cities – are the ones who call for regulations and new laws. It is this same public that will enforce them. In the end, ironically, it is the public that will suffer if the laws have a negative effect on our food production and consumption system.
Tell your story – the story of agriculture. No one else is going to. Someone who works at Boeing or Frito Lay is not going to talk about farming and ranching when they speak to the public or press.
Let consumers know the value of the food they eat. Tell them how you go about producing the healthiest, best tasting food in the world. It’s a story only you can tell and tell well. After all, this is your livelihood. You are food producing specialists. You must tell your story.
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.