A successful farmer said it best when he talked to me recently about his obligation to give the public an understanding of his profession.
This western Kansas producer has always known how important it is to help consumers understand agriculture. He said he believes if the people who buy his products have a better appreciation for the food produced on his farm, the future of his business will remain bright while he continues to provide high quality, low cost food we Americans all 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 farmers talk to grade-schoolers, members of service clubs or state legislators, they should practice the art of relationship building between rural and urban, between agricultural producers and consumers of agricultural products.
Today, most consumers are at least two, three or four generations removed from the farm. But just about everyone has a lawn, garden, flowers, plants or shrubbery. These same consumers enjoy, and most cherish, their ties to a father, grandfather or great grandfather who tilled the soil.
It’s easy to find a common denominator with your urban cousins. You can begin by noting that the fertilizer they buy for their garden or lawn is no different from what you use—as a farmer—to put on your wheat, corn or milo.
The rose dust, herbicide or insecticide used to control scab, dandelions or mosquitoes is similar to the plant protection chemicals you use to prevent damage and disease on your crops.
Sometimes the common ground revolves around nutrition. A good analogy could be the parallel between a person’s need for healthy food and a cow’s need for a well-balanced diet.
It’s easy to move from nutrition to some of the more difficult challenges facing agriculture today—topics such as access, availability and conservation of water, groundwater contamination, food safety, animal care and even health care affordability.
Take the groundwater contamination issue for example; begin by telling them your shared concerns for chemical run off into lakes and streams. As a farmer, you cannot afford to overuse these expensive products.
You can also explain to them that with minimum and no till farming practices the residue helps keep the herbicides and insecticides in the field where it controls weeds and pests.
Let them know that you, more than anyone else, are concerned about the land where you and your family live and work. Public understanding of how today’s farmer runs his/her 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 the public who will suffer if these laws have a negative effect on this nation’s food producers and our food system.
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.