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CINCINNATI, Ohio (OFBF) - Dr. Jay Lehr kicked off Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s 91st annual meeting in Cincinnati on Wednesday with a challenge to the farmers in attendance.
“I want you each to talk to one person you don’t know every month about what you do,” said the science director of the Heartland Institute, who let farmers know he wasn’t at their opening luncheon to speak but to recruit advocates for agriculture.
He noted that perceptions have changed about agriculture “partly due to (the farmers’) fault.”
“We don’t talk about agriculture unless it’s with somebody else in agriculture,” he said, urging that that has to change. “If we don’t educate about agriculture, who will?” he questioned.
Lehr praised the work of Ohio’s farmers in passing Issue 2 in November, which creates the Ohio Livestock Care Standard Board.
He said farmers need continue the momentum and to further speak out for themselves, and not to rely solely upon organizations such as Farm Bureau to do the work for them. “You are the Farm Bureau,” he said. “You have to take that spirit you had for Issue 2 and make it your life’s work.”
Agricultural advocacy continued to be a hot topic throughout the day as farmers gathered in the afternoon to hear from Terry Fleck, executive director of the Center for Food Integrity.
Fleck shared research with farmers that help determine how to better connect with an average consumer who is multiple generations removed from the farm.
He said though farmers still hold the same core values and integrity as 50 years ago, the change in size and scope of farms has led to misperceptions.
“Consumers trust farmers, but don’t believe what you’re doing today is farming,” he told those in attendance.
He encouraged farmers to get on the Web and advocate for agriculture because that’s where the early adopters and thought leaders do their research and get most of their information.
Fleck said the best way to connect with the average consumer is to show that farmers
share the same values and ethics. His bottom line was that consumers don’t want to know farmers are doing what they do just because science says they can.
“Farmers need to give people permission to believe their practices and values are consistent with consumer expectations,” Fleck said, noting that farmers should strive to help the consumer understand them as a person and their ethics first, then use science and competence to verify it.
“Our social license to produce food hangs in the balance,” he said.
Other Wednesday highlights included:
- The hospitality corner, where attendees could learn more about member benefits and Ohio Farm Bureau partners.
- Breakout sessions on Energy, Electricity – Now and Future by Jon Williams, director of customer relations and development for AEP, and an Ag Perspective for 2010 by Alan Brugler, president of Brugler Marketing and Management, LLC.
- The finals of the Young Agricultural Professionals Discussion Meet was held, with winners to be announced on Thursday evening.
- The conclusion of the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation online/silent/live auction to raise funds for its grants and scholarships program.
More meeting to come
Annual meeting continues on Thursday with approximately 350 delegates from across the state settling in for a two-day session in which they will develop and approve the policies that will guide the actions of the organization for the coming year. The Harvest Banquet will also be held, where the winners of the Excellence in Agriculture, Outstanding Young Farmer and Discussion Meet contests will be named. Many individual member accomplishments will be recognized, and the 2009 Ohio Farm Bureau Distinguished Service Award will be presented.
The annual meeting runs through Friday.