I’m going out with a dairy farmer. He’s pretty darn awesome if I say so myself. (And yes, I’m very biased.) I will admit that farming can be suffocatingly romantic at times. When I help him with chores my hand is often in his. However, I’m not talking about that kind of romance.
People outside of agriculture tend to romanticize farming by attaching emotions and feelings to what we do, and they use those notions as their ideas of what farming should be. They think that we should all raise our animals in little red barns like our grandparents did, and they freak out when we suggest that farming like our grandparents did isn’t exactly feasible anymore. To them, GMOs and biotechnology conjure up buzzwords like “Frankenfoods.” To them, Monsanto might as well be Satan. Animal agriculture gets people really wound up, especially those that don’t understand what goes into raising livestock for food. Farrowing crates and calf hutches in particular are still hot-button issues among consumers because that’s not the way they think we should do things. In short, modern farming doesn’t give them the warm fuzzies.
I recently got into quite the tussle with some vegans on an anti-dairy Facebook page called Non Dairy Kerry. One of the people I locked horns with completely gave up dairy products because she couldn’t handle the sound of calves bellowing after being weaned from their mothers. For her, it was the emotional factor that drove her into the arms of veganism. Another woman I got into a spat with—I was feeling really feisty that night—told me that I am a slaveholder and a Nazi because I milk cows. I tried my best to combat their misinformation with science and facts, but it was futile against such resistant people.
This is where agriculture has room to improve when making its case to the American consumer. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, divided the art of persuasion into three categories: ethos (credibility), pathos (emotional appeal) and logos (logic). People attacking agriculture are arguing largely on the basis of feelings and emotions. We tend to combat their ignorance with facts and logic, with the emotional factor largely missing from the equation. We can’t keep doing that anymore. We need to do a better job engaging consumers and explaining why we do the things we do, and then tie it back to them so the emotional side of their need for knowledge is satisfied. If you’re a hog producer, reach out to consumers and tell them in your own words why you use farrowing crates and confinement housing. If you’re a dairy producer, reach out and explain why you separate mother and calf after freshening. If you’re a cow-calf beef producer, explain why you wean calves from their mothers after months of being on pasture together. Either way, find a way to reach out to consumers and tell them (in non-farmer speak) why you do the things the way you do and find examples in their lives to relate it all back to. Don’t tell them what other people told you to say because then it’s not in your words.
By explaining to consumers why we as farmers and agriculturists do the things we do, we can help to restore their faith in farmers again. I know it sounds terribly contradictory but by telling our stories—our own thoughts, feelings and observations—we can take the romance out of agriculture.