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4 Ways to Effectively Advocate for Farmers

Farmers around the globe face issues in advocating to consumers, influencers, and politicians, according to a panel of growers at the World Food Prize on Wednesday.

“There’s a growing disconnect between urban and rural areas,” says Mel Poulton, a New Zealand farmer. While she was referring specifically to her country, it was a sentiment that rang true with the other developed nations on the panel.

The panel was hosted by the Global Farmer Network and included farmers from five continents and was one of three global farmer roundtables held in conjunction with the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium. For this roundtable, each panelist was asked to share techniques used in their country to effectively advocate for farmers.

1. Communication training

This point was emphasized by almost all of the farmers on the panel – give farmers the tools they need to be effective communicators. Like the farmer training programs offered in the U.S. by Farm Bureau or commodity associations, farm programs in other countries find similar success with this tactic.

In South Africa, this includes training for TV, radio, and newspaper interviews as well as communicating directly with consumers. “We are working on being proactive instead of reactive,” says South African farmer Motlatsi Musi, who says the anti-GMO activists are much better at proactive approaches.

In Argentina, the farmer association Aapresid prepares farmers so they can advocate in schools and to the government. “Our training tells how to be more effective in our messaging,” says Aapresid president Pedro Manuel Vigneau. This includes telling your story; talking about the technology you use, such as glyphosate; incorporating aspects that your audience cares about, like how you work to improve the environment; and showing a personal side, including family photos in presentations.  

2. Empower the individual

Another common thread among the group was finding ways to enable and empower individual farmers. For Canadian farmer Jake Leguee, this means finding your own voice.

“I was tired of the beating and battering of ag, so I decided to write a blog,” he says, where he writes about what it’s like to be a farmer. “My most popular blog was what farmers do during the winter. People are just curious. They are genuinely interested.”

He also uses social media, adding that Twitter has been a good tool for connecting with other farmers in western Canada while Facebook has been more effective in finding consumers.

3. Find creative ways to reach a larger audience

In the U.S., the Maryland Grain Producers, along with other state commodity associations, started the TV show “Maryland Farm & Harvest.” The commodity associations provide funding to Maryland Public TV to produce the 30-minute show that features two to three farmers, highlighting hot topics like water quality and GMOs.

The show is working on its fifth season, according to Jennifer Schmidt, the president of the Maryland Grain Producers. “Of all the money that we administer through the checkoff, this has been the best investment in terms of communication because we reach an audience that is interested in agriculture but doesn’t have a connection to farmers,” says Schmidt. “This is one of the most popular TV shows on Maryland Public TV.”

4. Know the opposition

“The opposition gives you all your options,” shared U.K. farmer Andrew Osmon, stealing a quote from the All Blacks rugby coach Steve Hansen. While he admits that framing the public as the opposition is a bit too strong, he thinks the concept works well for advocating. “You have to understand where they are coming from, what their weaknesses and strengths are, and we have to have our house in order to be the best we can be,” he says. “Then we can influence.”

Knud Bay-Smidt from Denmark also emphasized the importance of understanding the other side. Along with a fellow farmer, he’s gone to several meetings by advocacy groups to listen and understand why people are concerned about different issues related to ag. “If you don’t understand why they are worried, you won’t be able to convince them of anything,” he says.

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