Clear communication at the local level helps to get the ag message across
“I’m here to tell you that the problem isn’t what people don’t know about agriculture, but it’s that too much of what they do know isn’t so,” says sixth generation Nebraska rancher and agriculture advocate Trent Loos of LoosTales.
Loos emphasizes the importance of agriculture in America today, and the rising importance of attempting to correctly educate the public about what agriculture does every day.
“Ninety-nine percent of people don’t have a clue that what we do is protect the environment and convert natural resources into a consumable product,” Loos adds. “That’s why each one of us has to accept responsibility to tell the story.”
Sphere of influence
Loos continues that, while it may not seem like an average farmer or rancher interacts with many people who aren’t familiar with the industry, the importance of making sure their local community is well informed is important.
“You may not – and probably will not – share your story in 28 states and three countries like I have, but it is correcting the misinformation that you hear in your local community that is so important,” says Loos. “When you hear information that you know is not true, you have two choices – you can do the easy thing and walk away, or you can turn around and say, ‘That’s not right.’ That’s all it takes to fix the situation.”
As the public remains uninformed, or misinformed, he points out that bad regulations and the onslaught of anti-agriculture movements will continue.
For example, Loos says, “Every misinformed regulation is there because someone was given bad information.”
Make a connection
As agriculturalists begin to share their story, however, Loos also mentions the importance of connecting with an audience. Establishing what agriculture is plays a role in educating and making a connection with the public.
In one instance, as Loos addressed a group of 20 students, asking each of them to define what agriculture is, he notes that each student provided a different answer.
“We complain about people not knowing what it is that we do,” he says, “but we don’t send the same message ourselves.”
Conveying the goals of the industry is also important. He adds that for many operations, one of the most important parts of agriculture is passing on the farm or ranch from generation to generation.
“Does a soccer mom in New York or even in Scottsbluff, Neb. care about the dream of passing our farming operation from one generation to the next? Absolutely not,” he says. “Until we learn how to share what it is that we are passionate about in a way that affects the audience and their life, we will continue to have a disconnect.”
Sharing a story that is relevant to everyone will help to bridge the knowledge gap between the American public and the agriculture industry.
Jargon gets us in trouble
As we share our message, Loos comments that too often, farmers and ranchers tend to get caught up in the lingo they use daily, but others are unfamiliar with.
As an example, Loos tells a story about talking to his wife on the phone while he was in an airport about their goatherd, which was kidding at the time.
“The lady sitting next to me was not impressed that my wife had just had triplets and I was on an airplane,” he comments, “and I started thinking about all the ways that we communicate and how people might never understand what we are talking about.”
For people unfamiliar with agriculture jargon, such as castrating calves or using semen, overhearing the terms in a conversation can cause confusion or even alarm.
Loos encourages producers to think about how they communicate every day and ask themselves, “Are people understanding what you are saying?”
Watch your language
The negative connotations of the industry are also prevalent, and Loos says that farmers and ranchers sometimes unknowingly perpetuate that angle.
“I take great issue with broadcasters who talk about ‘slaughtering’ cattle day in and day out,” he says. “For those of us in animal agriculture, we are doing a tremendous job of respectfully harvesting animals.”
“It’s not about being politically correct,” Loos continues. “It is about the great respect that we have in taking an animal’s life. We respectfully take the lives of plants and animals so that we can improve human lives.”
Utilizing language that properly conveys the actions taken by agriculturalists may also improve the light cast on the industry and the public perception of agriculture.
At the end of the day, Loos says, “The absolute answer to dealing with this issue is getting the information to the people and making sure people get the correct information.”
Trent Loos addressed attendees of the Range Beef Cow Symposium held Nov. 29 – Dec. 1, 2011 in Mitchell, Neb. Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tough questions: hormones
Trent Loos, sixth generation Nebraska rancher and agriculture advocate of LoosTales, notes that in interacting with the public, one of the topics he is frequently faced with is the use of hormones in beef production.
Loos says that a number of women ask him, “What are you putting in the beef supply that is causing our girls to enter puberty 18 months before their mothers and 24 months before their grandmothers?”
The hormone used in beef production – estrogen – has been negatively portrayed as being detrimental to society.
“A three-ounce serving of conventionally produced beef has 1.89 nano grams of estrogen in it,” explains Loos. “The average amount of estrogen in a cabbage leaf is 2,000 nano grams.”
Loos continues, “The average birth control pill has 34,000 nano grams of estrogen.”
Because of the propaganda against hormones use in the beef industry, the American public is falsely worried about the safety of the beef supply.
In the European Union (EU), where hormones aren’t utilized, the age of puberty for girls is the same – 18 months before their mothers and 24 months before their grandmothers, showing little correlation between hormone use and changes in health.
Rather, to explain the biological changes seen in youth, Loos looks to societal changes. Loos likens puberty in girls to that of heifers, asking, “What do we do if we want our heifers to reach puberty and calve by 24 months of age? We feed them.” As heifers reach a high enough percentage of body fat, they are exposed to a prostaglandin, either by introduction of a bull or the hormone directly. If heifers haven’t reached the proper body fat percentage, they do not respond to the hormone.
“Our girls today have a higher percentage of body fat, and they have more exposure to sex,” says Loos, adding that, just like heifers, a higher percentage of girls are going to respond by entering puberty at a younger age.