Wednesday, 14 May 2014

How Should Dairy Farmers React to Sensitive Social Issues

The public all have strong opinions about on-farm issues of Animal Welfare, Water Quality and TB. Individual Dairy farmers and Rural Professionals need to take a Public Relations leadership position. Social Media provide powerful tools to take a lead position. We need to make the running and not be forced to play catch-up on sensitive social issues. Defending the indefensible is not very smart.

How should farmers respond to Ugly public stories in the media? I don’t think angry rejection is the right response to these stories in the press. Letters of denial usually imply a cover up. Best to agree with the outrage, then state very firmly that these incidents are totally unacceptable. We must engage with those who are upset and seek a joint understanding and find community agreed solutions.
I understand farmer’s anger and outrage at all being accused of animal cruelty, malpractice or being environmental vandals. But we need to change our public response. We need to set the agenda and present our stories in a powerful and effective way. We should not allow sensational press to create crisis events without notice. Most of these sensitive issues are not only predictable but inevitable.

Every single farmer & rural professional is responsible for the image & goodwill of agriculture. Every farmer and every rural professional has a responsibility to improve and protect the image of agriculture and the food we produce. We need to promote what we are rightly proud of in our professions and businesses. Equally important is that we smarten our act if we don’t meet community/consumer expectations. We need to publically & ruthlessly reject offenders who are non-compliant. The non-compliant seriously damage the image of every farmer and every rural professional.
The vast majority of farmers all around the world deeply care for the animals they work with daily on their farms. Every farmer has a huge respect for the environment in which they farm. They fully understand that if they look after their natural resources, soil & water then nature in turn looks after their farming operations. We need to regularly talk to the public, the urban consumer and children about the core values of agriculture & farming.

A very good example is David Barton's UK TB Farmer's Blog

TB and badgers is a very emotive issue in the UK. Badger support groups, the media and politicians have dominated the agenda. Now David has made a bold & very powerful blog to graphically make a farmer statement & to tell his story. Over 200,000 views world wide of the TB Blog Farmers Guardian Tb Blog success article

Where are our champions? More farmers & rural professionals need to stand up and actively promote what is good & exciting about their farms, farm practices & agricultural industries. We need to promote excellence and good practice. Some individual farmers create the most fabulous genuine public images for their farm businesses.
Have a look at these examples of Farmers proudly telling their positive stories

Watch Stuart talking to Rosie the Cow in NZ Stuart & Carol Edmeades, Putaruru, Waikato

On Twitter Follow William Morrison, Marton @MorrisonFarming  or Colin Grainger-Allen @NZCows

Every so often, (not that often) Farmers and Rural Professionals are confronted by an ugly story that has outraged the press and members of our community or worse still our customers. Unacceptable farmer behaviour or practices e.g. Animal Welfare or an Environmental pollution incidents that hit the press headlines. Part of the problem today is that the community reaction is not just in the letters to the editor section of our newspapers. Social Media goes wild with these stories quickly trending worldwide.

Farmers & Rural Professionals need to be part of the conversation. Lots of people are talking about farmers and the way food is produced.

You can’t be part of the conversation if you are not at the table.

Farming professionals need to join Social Media   Join Twitter

Farmer reaction and official industry response in my view has been unhelpful and may well have been detrimental to the image of farming in NZ. Recent incidents include cruelty to dairy calves on NZ dairy farms in Chile, Animal cruelty to exported Australian beef in Indonesian abattoirs and a New Zealand survey published by NZ Fish & Game Survey Results regarding public perception of NZ dairy farmers and river water quality. Let’s not shoot the messenger but rather address the problem.
Maori Trust farms in New Zealand have a “Quadruple Bottom Line” business objective of “Culture, People, Environment and Profit” not solely a profit motive that is driven by self-interest and an individual approach.
Much could be learnt from the Maori worldview and the ethic of Kaitiakitanga….or stewardship to emphasise and illustrate the interconnectedness of life. This is an Indigenous people’s wisdom that is consciously created through reciprocal relationships with both people and ecosystems. It is a long term view for all people (both inside and outside the farm gate) and the environment so that their business has real relationship strengths.