We live in a strange First World where most people are geographically and generationally removed from the farm.
It is a world where consumers are preoccupied with a misplaced rural nostalgia, where “eating local” is king, where wheat is evil and where large operations are often referred to as “factory farms.”
This is a strange First World, where those of us who work on the farm or in the agricultural industry are befuddled by the constant bombardment of bad information from social media feeds. It leaves us wondering: what the heck is going on?
In a poll administered at FarmTech in Edmonton in late January, 95 percent said they participated in conversations about agriculture and food production. The statistic is not that surprising, given that the audience comprised mostly producers (75 percent) with the remainder being agronomists and sales people.
However, what might be surprising is that 85 percent of those polled said they have been involved in a conversation where things “got ugly.”
Why? Food is inherently personal and an important part of our social fabric, but topics around food and agricultural production have be-come more heated over the past several years.
Most of us carry around mobile communication devices. When we have a question, we Google it or we seek opinions through our personal networks on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
And although information on the internet is plentiful, that information is not always correct. It can be difficult for consumers to know how to separate the “wheat” from the “chaff,” so to speak. It is also difficult for those of us who advocate for agriculture to find reliable information in a quick and easy way.
The good news is that plenty of good information is available.
BestFoodFacts.org is one good online resource. It is a not-for-profit-based searchable resource about food and agriculture, in which more than 150 independent experts (mostly university) share their know-ledge and provide easy-to-understand feedback to any number of questions. Check it out.
Topics range from expert commentary on bees and neonicotinoid seed treatments to videos demonstrating the science of genetic modification in crop development.
People are talking about agriculture and they are talking about it passionately. What can we do?
Those of us who work the front lines of agriculture need to step up and engage in these conversations and dispel the myths. We need to be accurate with information, be accountable for mistakes, but most of all, be authentic in our approaches.
How we communicate with people is often more important than what we say to them. We need to connect with people on a personal level — in our homes and in our communities — and we need to do it from a shared-values perspective.
We need to tell our agriculture stories in a way that works for us as individuals. It is the interplay of all our voices — together — that will be the voice for change in the long run.
Cami Ryan is a research associate with the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources.