KNUTSON: Proudly say 'Our job is making money'
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- It may be the most common catchphrase in U.S. agriculture: "Our job is feeding the world." Sounds good, right? Consumers will understand we're nice people doing a noble thing, right? Nope, doesn't work. Nor should it. Farmers...
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - It may be the most common catchphrase in U.S. agriculture: “Our job is feeding the world.”
Sounds good, right? Consumers will understand we’re nice people doing a noble thing, right?
Nope, doesn’t work. Nor should it. Farmers’ job - first, foremost and always - is making money. You know it, I know it, the public knows it. Producers hurt their cause when they say otherwise.
At a recent farm show, one of the speakers said consumers don’t want to hear about farmers feeding the world. Focus groups have shown him, a smart and decidedly pro-farmer guy, that consumers care about things like food safety and affordability for their family.
Well, I don’t know anything about focus groups, but I’ve thought for years that “feeding the world” is tired and ineffective. Maybe it was useful once, but no more. In fact, the slogan has become counter-productive; critics of U.S. ag now ridicule it as a euphemism for what they decry as “big ag” and “corporate ag.”
People in ag often talk about the “disconnect” between ag and the rest of society. It’s a valid concern; too many people outside ag have little, if any, idea of what modern agriculture is about. But aggies contribute to the problem with glib talk of “feeding the world.” It reinforces the perception, accurate or not, that aggies won’t engage candidly with the public.
At the same farm show, another speaker stressed farming is a business and farmers should never apologize for trying to make money. He’s right, too.
Some farmers and ranchers recognize that. They make sure to tell the public that turning a profit to stay in business is essential. It’s the truth, and people outside ag need to hear it.
Yes, I know, some farmers are concerned about being perceived as greedy. They worry that honesty will lead to unfair criticism they emphasize short-term profits over good stewardship. The sad irony is, too much of the public thinks that now. Farmers, who pride themselves on being realists, need to recognize it’s time for change.
What to tell consumers Here’s my humble suggestion of what to tell consumers:
“Our job is making money. We need to support ourselves, our families, our employees and our communities. We do it by safely and efficiently producing nutritious food. We’re not perfect - we’re fallible human beings like everyone else - but we’re pretty good. And we’re getting better. If you’re interested, I can give you specific examples of what I’m doing personally.”
It’s not as touchy-feely as “our job is feeding the world,” and the full spiel is too long to be an advertising slogan. But it’s more honest and, I think, would be more successful. Hard-core critics of U.S. ag wouldn’t accept it - do they like anything U.S. ag says? - but it would open the door for productive discussions with fair-minded consumers.
So say it to yourself right now: “Our job is making money.”
Then say it to the public.
Say it often.
Say it proudly.