Agriculture Advocate: Talking Cows and Sows

milking parlor

Have you noticed the questions swirling around these days about where our food comes from and how it is produced? It really shouldn’t come as a surprise given 80 percent of Americans live outside of rural areas. Many of these consumers have probably never set foot on a farm, which makes them increasingly hungry for information to better understand modern agriculture practices.

Me?, you’re probably asking. Yes, you! Each and every student who takes agricultural education classes has access to information that can help answer questions about animal agriculture. And when you put on your blue and gold jacket, you become an advocate for agriculture.

“There is a giant educational gap between farm and fork,” says Emily Meredith, communications director at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an advocacy organization. “FFA members have the unique opportunity to positively contribute to the conversations about agriculture by answering consumer questions. Actually, I think it’s their responsibility to share agriculture’s story and help dispel myths when they hear them.”

Speaking up can be intimidating though, so here are some tips:

1. Focus on your audience

Identify your audience. What do they care about and why?

Businessman Dale Carnegie once said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Start conversations by acknowledging where your audience is coming from.

2. Tell a story

Studies show that stories stick better in people’s minds than numbers. Think about a personal story that is relevant to your audience and the issue.

Can’t think of a good one? You can always default to talking generally about your experience in FFA. Then use stats and facts you know for supporting evidence.

3. Stay positive

So they don’t agree with you? Yep, that’ll happen, and it’s okay. We learn and grow through challenging situations, which may even challenge our own perspective! Staying positive through these experiences makes a good impression that will last long after a conversation ends.

Also remember to avoid defensive language and don’t try to answer something you don’t know. Offer to follow up with them later once you’ve gotten the right information to share.

4. Arm yourself with information

Remember: Knowledge is power. Be proactive to learn more about the industry of agriculture so you can be prepared to answer consumers’ questions. Some great places to start are the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance consumer-facing website and the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has great talking points about multiple topics. Search the National Chicken Council, National Cattleman’s Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council for industry-specific information.

Follow these organizations on Facebook or subscribe to their newsletters, so you can keep learning and answer others’ questions. Have confidence in your ability to be an ambassador for agriculture. FFA has helped you hone some great skills – get out there and use them!

 – Anne Knapke