Farmers and agriculturists use terms to describe themselves that hurt ag’s image to its customers. There are two commonly used words that fail to conjure images that will win the hearts and minds of the average American.
The first one is producer. I’m a dairy producer. I’m a grain producer. No you’re not, you’re a farmer. At least that’s who your customers would rather buy their food from.
Think of it, nobody goes to a producers market to buy their fruits and vegetables; they go to a farmer’s market. Consumer research shows the average American still trusts and holds farmers in high regard. Call a farmer a producer and it only plays to the stereotype that agriculture has become to clinical, technical, slick and uncaring.
It seems producer began to replace farmer back in the 1980s. Farmers were tired of being seen as hayseeds and wanted to be viewed as the business professionals that they were. So they thought calling themselves something else would freshen up their image.
Something’s changed since then. Agriculture is no longer ignored. People have great interest in how food is grown, unlike the 1980s when farmers markets were scarce and most people just assumed food grew in grocery stores. A generation later, the average American doesn’t know a farmer, yet many are intrigued by those who grow food and raise livestock for a living. They like farmers. Yet we refer to ourselves as producers, which to most people, describes a person who runs the soundboard in a recording studio. It might sound like I’m being picky, but it only widens the divide between those who drive tractors and raise livestock, and the other 99 percent of our country.
Another term that hurts us is operation. Producers don’t own farms, they own operations. Say operation to most people and they think of their last trip to the hospital. It’s not a positive connotation, and not a place for crops and livestock. People like farms. Consumer research bears this out. Still don’t believe me? Tell me this: would people rather buy a fresh tomato from a farmer or a producer? Do they take their kids on a fieldtrip to a farm or an operation?
Notice I used the term customer instead of consumer in my lead sentence? Consumer doesn’t give people enough credit. They are our customers and in business, the customer is always right. At some point I think much of agriculture seemed to have forgotten this business principle. Too often we work off the premise in agriculture that we’re right and that everyone else either doesn’t understand us or is out to get us.
Well whose fault is that? We all shake our heads when we hear the average American is several generations removed from farm life. Maybe we need to look at from another angle. Perhaps farmers got a little too removed from what was happening in the city?
Change takes time. Producer and operation has been engrained in all of our vocabularies. I make every effort to nix producers and operations from Farm Bureau materials. I would hope that my colleagues in education, government, journalism and commodity groups would do the same.
Agriculture faces no shortage of public relations challenges. Let’s take a small step forward by simply going back to saying farmers and farms.
In many ways, Casey Langan has spent much of his life working for farmers. What began as a childhood fascination with his grandpa’s herd of cows yielded him a career. Only this farm hand’s plow is usually a pen. Milking cows and working in the tobacco fields of his native Edgerton eventually gave way to reporting for a weekly farm newspaper, working for a farmer legislator and the Farm Bureau.