Farmers challenged to take on their critics

Buckeye Farm News

Jay Lehr kicked off Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s 91st annual meeting 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. 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.

“If we don’t educate (consumers) about agriculture, who will?”

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 shouldn’t 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.”

Terry Fleck, executive director of the Center for Food Integrity, said although farmers still hold the same core values and integrity as they did 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 said. 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.

Fleck said the best way to connect with the average consumer is to show that farmers share the same values and ethics.

“Farmers need to give people permission to believe their practices and values are consistent with consumer expectations,” Fleck said,

“Our social license to produce food hangs in the balance,” he said.

Mike Townsley, president of Bob Evans Farms food products division, said Bob Evans has experienced some pressure from groups such as PETA and the Humane Society of the United States and that those groups are purchasing small amounts of Bob Evans stock. But Bob Evans is “only making decisions based on science” and not from pressure from activists. Activists have threatened boycotts, but they haven’t done them yet, he said. Bob Evans also was a strong supporter of Issue 2, and Townsley thanked Farm Bureau for its work on the issue.

Consumer awareness of food safety has made the industry better, and Townsley encouraged producers, growers and suppliers to work together to build consumer trust. Consumers want fresh, local, affordable food and to know where it comes from, he said. “There has never been a better time to tell the story of agriculture,” he said. “We need ag to step up to get the message out there.”

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