Originally published in the November 2016 issue of Canola Digest
With less than two percent of Canadians living on farms, there is a huge disconnect between food producers and consumers. Surveys show consumers want to learn more. In order to give them credible information, farmers and others in the ag industry need to speak up. Advice and workshops on advocating for agriculture, or ‘agvocating’, has been presented at many farm shows/conferences over the last year.
Dr. Kevin Folta is a professor, Chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida and winner of the 2016 Borlaug CAST Communication Award. “Recipients of CAST’s annual award are science/ag experts who demonstrate an ability to communicate through written material, public presentations, and various forms of media.” Folta does it all, and does it exceptionally well. He speaks across North America and has a strong on-line presence. He offers this advice when discussing agricultural biotechnology with a concerned public.
- Start with shared values and common concerns. “Like you, I want my kids to eat healthy food.” “My family lives on the farm. I care about the farm environment. Here’s what I do…”
- Have honest conversations about what you know; speak to your strengths. If you don’t believe it, don’t say it.
- Disengage when attacks become personal, it is unproductive to continue.
- Talk about ethics, your experience and your priorities. Remember you cannot fight fear with facts.
- Sign up for social media accounts – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Follow other agvocates. Even if you don’t create content, you can have a tremendous impact by amplifying others’ messages. ie. share good work, making it more visible. Signing up also ensures that you have control of your own name.
- Use the “feed the world” rhetoric.
- Dodge discussions on the limitations of genetic engineering/modification (GM). See Folta’s slide deck for more.
- Ever claim GM is a single solution. It is not.
- Discount other production methods or tools. All tools are needed going forward.
- Discredit other forms of genetic improvement such as mutagenesis.
We have the safest, most diverse and abundant food supply in history. We also have immediate access to information — good and bad. If we engage incorrectly, we make the broken lines of communication between consumers, scientists and farmers worse.
To change the hearts and minds of a concerned public, we need to get involved in the conversation — in person, on-line or both. According to studies farmers are both warm and competent, so sharing our stories is critical to ensure and maintain access to ag innovation for everyone.
So begin with telling your story, your way. Don’t get bogged down in the science and terminology. Explain how precision plant breeding benefits your farm, the environment and food production.
Read, watch videos, listen to podcasts, learn from others, share their stories and practice telling yours. Remember if you don’t have the answer to someone’s question, it is okay to say, “I’ll look into that and get back to you.” Add your voice to the conversation — everyone’s is needed. If we don’t tell our stories, who will?
Kevin Folta resources:
- Slide deck on communication and plant genetic improvement.
- TEDx talk, “Rethinking Genetic Engineering”
- Talking BioTech Podcasts
- Illumination Blog
Other Ag resources: