One of the common questions among new acquaintances, after the obligatory weather discussion, is, “What do you do?” It’s usually an effective way to keep conversation going.
For too long, producers have often been known to answer that query with “I’m JUST a farmer.” While it’s OK to be humble, one of the speakers at the Farm Credit Canada (FCC) forums this year urged farmers instead to see such a question as an opportunity to show pride in their industry.
Greg Johnson is able to tell people his occupation is tornado hunter.
He jokes that this allows him to puff up his chest, because of the “cool factor” that comes with such an intriguing label.
Storm-chasing is his passion. His message to farmers was not to downplay what’s obviously their own passion — producing food.
He encouraged them to be bold and positive about their career choice, and the impact of their life’s work on people around the world.
It’s a message I saw resonate across the country, as I travelled with the FCC forum tour for several stops. Whether that was a sod grower in New Brunswick or a feedlot operator in Lethbridge, the challenge was an important reminder after a long, cold winter.
Being positive about the profession is more than just a feel good technique to get you out the door with more enthusiasm in the morning. (Although it certainly helps with that!) It’s also critical for the future.
Image and consumer views about those who raise their food count, both at the grocery till and in attracting newcomers to the business.
FCC has become known for providing inspiration to the farming community in its learning programs. But the organization, led by outgoing CEO Greg Stewart, became concerned when its survey found farmers’ perceptions of their own industry were even lower than the general public’s.
So FCC launched the Agriculture More Than Ever initiative to help shift the industry mindset.
It was not designed to be an FCC campaign; rather, the farm lender served as a catalyst for the movement.
“Creating a positive dialogue about agriculture” was a frontline objective. Those are trendy words, but in reality, that’s what Ag More than Ever is actually doing.
Lyndon Carlson is the senior VP of marketing for FCC. He says now, with nearly two years under its belt, the effort has over 250 partners signed on to be part of the initiative.
That includes, not surprisingly, producer associations and provincial government ag departments.
But then the swath widens.
“The partnership is so broad,” commented Carlson.
“It goes from a one-site retail ag supply outlet to a global multinational corporation. We’ve got every shape and size, and I think that’s really going to be powerful for sustainability.”
It looks like the industry was ready for such a spark.
“We needed to say, ‘It’s OK to talk about agriculture with passion,’” added Carlson.
“I just think maybe we just opened the door a little bit and people said ‘Yeah, I’ll go through that door.’ So we’re really pleased to see this kind of momentum.”
The Ag More Than Ever message is spotted on bale wraps by the side of the road, on T-shirts picked up at farm trade shows, on Twitter and Facebook with the Ag Proud banner attached to messages. And some of the best work is on the www.agriculturemorethanever.ca website.
There is a wealth of resource information, but also a great library of real farmer stories that make for motivational watching.
The visibility and awareness of agriculture as a “go to” business is growing. Sure, better economics have helped propel the message. But it was still a movement that needed to be made.
So now that there is motion, where to next?
Carlson says there’s no slowing down efforts to get the industry active, but the biggest request Ag More than Ever gets concerns how to reach the general public more quickly.
That’s the same general public that is now skeptical, gluten-free, anti-GMO and often unrealistic in its animal expectations.
It’s a big job, but Carlson points out that while that may be the next chapter at some point for Ag More than Ever, it’s an opportunity at farmers’ fingertips right now.
That’s what the newly coined term “agvocate” is all about, describing farmers who take the initiative as individuals to speak up.
That might be chatting with their doctor, or their children’s teacher, or the shopper next to them at the meat counter to see if their fact base on food is sound.
Dr. Cami Ryan of the University of Saskatchewan told the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce Agri-Business session that farmers today are considered “agri-intellectuals.”
They are the experts because they’re the ones with the firsthand knowledge of what they do. They carry a lot of weight because they’re the real deal and they care, so people will listen.
Changing minds isn’t easy, and might only be done one or two at a time. But it may be JUST the thing for a farmer to do.
Dianne Finstad is a veteran broadcaster and reporter who has covered agricultural news in Central Alberta for more than 30 years. From the Field appears monthly in the Advocate.