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Agriculture's role in food cost discussion
The price of food is a hot topic. Discussions about everything from Egyptian political unrest to climate change to economic recovery have economists, activists, politicians and bloggers talking about food prices.Farmers should be too.
“Any discussion of food is an opportunity to educate and inform consumers,” according to Janet Cassidy, OFBF’s senior director of marketing communications. “This is the perfect time for farmers to say to consumers, ‘Do you have questions? Ask me. Do you want to see how farming works? I’ll show you.’”
Ohio Farm Bureau is preparing materials aimed at helping members engage in the food price discussion. Included will be facts and figures, talking points, communication tips and other resources. The materials will be available online, through the Toolbox e-newsletter and from Farm Bureau staff. OFBF will also support the effort through Our Ohio magazine, the Town Hall Ohio radio network, YouTube videos, company websites and social media conversations.
Messages will focus on helping consumers understand that farmers care about the cost of food. Additional information will put food costs into perspective and describe factors that influence food prices outside of what’s happening on the farm.
Talking about food prices also has a membership marketing component, according to Cassidy.
“Tell your fellow farmers that we need their help in staying out in front of the issues. Explain to prospective associate members that we’ve got the answers to their questions. When food is top of the mind, Farm Bureau should be too,” she said.
A successful dialog about food prices will also pay benefits in the public policy arena, according to OFBF Executive Vice President Jack Fisher.
“Some factors, like weather, are uncontrollable by either farmers or voters,” Fisher said. “But other price-drivers are a function of political decisions.”
Issues such as environmental policy, taxes, regulations and immigration all have an impact on long-term food price trends, Fisher noted. Another is trade policy.
Ohio State University agricultural economist Doug Southgate notes that during the most recent run-up in world food prices in 2008, food shortages were exacerbated by governments refusing to sell into the world market despite having supplies that exceeded their domestic needs.
Another political factor Southgate would like the public to know more about is how funding for agricultural research affects food prices. He points out that in the mid 1980s, strong government funding for agriculture research led to a 20-year period of declining food prices even as demand was increasing.
A more current example is the food vs. fuel discussion. “Ethanol is blamed too much. People go to (ethanol) as the single cause of higher (food) prices; there are other causes,” Southgate said.
Fisher said he hopes Farm Bureau members will take the opportunity to visit with consumers, voters and prospective members.
“This is our chance to raise awareness that food prices are directly tied to how people vote. It’s our chance to explain farmers’ views on important issues. And it’s an opportunity to demonstrate our organization’s relevance to anyone who grows or buys food,” he said.