Agriculture must quickly throttle up its public relations

We have all said and heard this phrase many times before – ‘Times have changed.’ As a child, the only television in the house was a 10-inch black and white set with 2-3 channels. Today, one digital TV can cover the entire wall of a medium-sized house.

Yet all change to date has not been necessarily positive. Newer communications technology has provided a voice for groups determined to change the consumer’s view of our food supply – pushing the idea that only locally- and organically-grown food is healthy and sustainable.

I personally support organic-, local-, and conventional-grown food and fiber and the right for consumers to make their own personal choice.  

From your favorite chair in the living room, just tap into on-demand streaming media providers, including Netflix, plus Internet sites including YouTube. Consumers are watching videos which claim that food grown through conventional farming practices is suddenly harmful and a threat to public health.

Examples of such online food documentaries include the videos Farmageddon, Seeds of Death, Frankensteer, Food, Inc., Good King Corn, GMO OMG, Fresh the Movie, Food, Inc., and others.

Meanwhile, I am aware of only a few videos which address conventional agriculture in a positive light, including the documentary Farmland available online on Hulu which features interviews with five young farmers and ranchers in their 20s.

The movie trailer shares a first-hand glimpse into the lives of these young producers and their high-risk-, high-reward jobs and their passion for a way of life passed down from generation to generation yet continues to evolve.

At the 2014 Western Growers annual meeting, board chairman and vegetable grower Bruce Taylor shared that the Whole Foods Market grocer suggests that people with values buy organic and locally-grown foods. This can suggest that those who don’t choose this avenue, and instead purchase conventionally-grown food, don’t have good values.

Taylor argued, “This undermines the trust in our food system and the consumption of our products.”

Recently, a good friend of mine told me that 80 percent of the U.S. food supply is controlled by the company Monsanto and almost every farm in the nation is owned by corporations with family farms nearing extinction.

I was stunned. When asked where he heard this information, he said a documentary on television.

These numbers are false and misleading. There are many businesses, including Monsanto, involved in research such as plant breeding and seed sales, to provide an even safer food supply and increased yields. The last U.S. government report I read said 3 percent of all U.S. farms are corporately owned.

What this all adds up to, Taylor suggests, is that those in agricultural public relations must step up their game to innovate new ways to inform consumers on the truth about agriculture.

This is an unprecedented challenge. The ‘word’ has always been and still is today a powerful tool.

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