In my job I get to do a lot of fun stuff, really. Last week it was a trip to New York City (a place I really enjoy visiting - due to my love of good, diverse food choices). I was there to cover the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Food Dialogues event. These are super events where wide-ranging speakers come together to talk about key issues facing the food business.
However, during the dialogues a couple panelists made some comments that made me go 'hmmm.' One was the idea that once they got to know farmers they found you all pretty well educated - which surprised the panelists. The other is that folks are constantly amazed at the level of technology used in farming. To my agronomy/plant-science/animal husbandry degree-holding readers, realize that for many consumers there's a different image out there perpetuated by food companies who don't want consumers to even think about what large-scale production looks like.
But this brings a tech conundrum. If the consumer sees you as that pastoral, bib-overall-wearing hayseed (whom they trust) do they think you have the skill set necessary to use all that technology you're supposedly deploying? What I'm asking is this: Does the consumer think you're smart enough to use top tech?
The answer may not be evident, because anyone asked point blank would say "sure, sure, farmers are smart enough." However, if consumers don't know your college pedigree, or don't understand your vast understanding of a wide range of technologies that you use and steward, there could be a different credibility gap.
Study after study says consumers like and trust farmers, but they seem to be against large-scale farming. That's a literal break with reality that will have to be addressed through a little education of our own. Top farmers most likely go to college; and if they don't they have spent time in continuing education settings where they get certified to use restricted use pesticides; they get educated on how best to manage water resources; and they learn the ways that make farming more efficient and safe.
Yet it's another little uphill climb you'll want to take. And the food industry itself isn't helping. Every time I see farming portrayed on television I see tractors that have to be at least 40 years old since they're lacking rollover protection structures (ROPS became mandatory in the 1970s). I see old barns where I wouldn't want livestock raised. I see small-plot stuff that doesn't inspire confidence that you can raise my food.
Today's modern family farm (98% are still owned by families) uses the tools and technologies it takes to maximize inputs for best output per square foot. At the same time, those technologies and investments go into livestock management and care too. Of course, you'd never know it by the way you're portrayed by your very customers - the companies that use your products to produce everything from corn oil to frozen strawberries.
So keep telling your story, and remember to remind people of the education you have too. America is not ready for a bunch of rubes using biotech, crop protection products and other tools to grow our food. As for a well-educated populace of farmers...yeah, that's cool.
Now for something completely different
The folks at the Society of Automotive Engineering publish Off Highway Engineering magazine, and this week they tell the story of a pretty cool tool - the Gibbs' Quadski. It's a four-wheeler (two-wheel drive) that can also be a personal water craft. I am not making this up.
It may just be the perfect gift for the farmer that has everything, and it'll probably go on sale next year. You can learn all the tech specs and more (including its BMW-made engine) by checking out Gibbs' Quadski.
Don't forget that time is running out for the Early Bird rate at the 2013 Farm Futures Management Summit. Learn more at FarmFutures.com/summit2013. You could save up to $150 per person over the full rate - which goes into effect Dec. 1.