Social implications: Mason looks at implications of social climate on ag
Laramie – “Only 17 percent of Americans are raised in a rural setting. That means 83 percent is in the suburbs and urban areas,” said speaker Damian Mason at the 2012 AgriFuture Conference in Laramie on Oct. 17. “We want to be understood, but to be understood we must first understand the people who are not in agriculture.”
Mason is a professional speaker who draws on his agriculture background and emphasized the importance of making agriculture relatable to the average American.
Outnumbered and confused
“Only two percent of Americans are in production agriculture, and only seven percent work in the business of agriculture,” said Mason. “We are outnumbered.”
He continued that producers are very good at producing food, and while consumers eat, they do not necessarily understand the industry and production.
“In spite of mommy blogs, meet-your-farmer program and farmers’ markets, they still don’t understand,” Mason noted, adding that the industry can be confusing. “There are two kinds of cows: beef cows and milk cows. But beef cows give milk, and when milk cows are done giving milk, they become beef cows.”
With the simple example, Mason emphasized that the average consumer who is three generations removed from the farm may be confused by what those in the ag industry consider easy concepts.
“We use logic and economics, and we use the science of food production to talk about agriculture,” he continued. “The problem is, a lot of consumers are at the intellectual equivalent of the Jersey Shore.”
The ugly side of ag
“They also don’t want to see the ugly side of agriculture,” he added of consumers.
On top of being confusing, he noted that agriculture can also be shocking to consumers. For example, basic ag practices, such as using anhydrous ammonia as fertilizer, can be a big eye opener for consumers.
“To the average person that lives in the suburbs, ammonia is poison,” Mason said, “and we pump tons of it into the soil.”
“Think about what we do – we do things that are shocking to people,” he continued. “We clip the beaks off of birds, we castrate animals.”
He continued to explain that many times, the processes that occur in animal ag that are for the benefit of the animals are not perceived as such, giving examples such as restraining in a squeeze chutes or dehorning. Rather, he encouraged the promotion of more easily relatable concepts.
“I created bumper stickers to promote ag. ‘Agriculture: Because Starvation Sucks.’ Most people seem to understand that message pretty well,” Mason said, adding, “Agriculture is shocking, and the media is not our friend.”
With media utilizing the shock value of agriculture as a tool, consumers are becoming more un-informed about the industry.
“The media loves to run stories about agriculture that not only shock but scare,” Mason explained. “The media has a responsibility to sell advertising – that is it.”
“Do you know how many people won’t eat beef because of mad cow disease? Only four cows have contracted mad cow since 1995. It’s not mad cow disease we should be worried about – it’s a mad cow,” he quipped of the media scare in the early 2000s.
“Do you know how many swine had swine flu?” he asked the attendees of AgriFuture. “None, but it cost pork producers millions of dollars.”
With a degree in agriculture economics from Purdue University, Mason said, “My bold prediction is that with consumer ignorance, the shocking nature of agriculture production and media-inspired hysteria, we will have increased regulation.”
He continued to mention that many of the practices utilized today would be unheard of 25 years ago are not only common, but are required.
Because of the revolving door of continual hot topics in the media, as well as the abundance of protestors looking for a cause, agriculture will continue to face regulations fueled by the members of the public who don’t understand the industry.
“In the U.S., humans like to protest,” he said. “We aren’t worried about food, water or shelter. This is the country that people live to protest.”
With their basic needs fulfilled, Americans rather take time to fight for things that give them a good feeling.
“They are getting esteem and self-actualization out the idea of fighting the good battle,” he added.
Mason also added that organic production has been another source of a feel-good battle that protesters are fighting for.
“Organics are the Toyota Prius of the grocery store – it allows consumers to pay for what feels good,” he says, adding that there are some consequences to organic production. “Organic production takes twice the acres of conventional.”
He also added that producers should take advantage of the opportunities for niche markets and valuable, saying, “If you can make the money there, I like it, but organics do not economically pencil out without incentives.”
“I don’t have all the answers, but I will tell you what I would promote: ag is a business, and businesses must adapt,” he said. “In 2010, we produced 262 percent more food with less resources than in the 1950s, so should we still be producing like we did back then? The business of ag has adapted.”
Mason also noted that the idea that food equals security is also powerful.
“How many countries are food self-sufficient?” he asked. “They taught me in history that the U.S. never won a war, we just out-produced the competition in food.”
The idea that food production creates security is a winning idea, he said.
In promoting our industry, Mason added, “We have to be adaptable to change and responsive to consumer demand. We are business-minded people and financial savvy.”
“It is a wonderful business – the business of agriculture,” Mason said. “I am bullish and excited, and it’s a great time to be involved.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Social media impacts negligible
Laramie – While it seems that many organizations in the ag industry are promoting the use of social media to spread the word about agriculture, Damian Mason told attendees of the AgriFuture Conference in Laramie on Oct. 17 that social media impacts aren’t as big as many hope.
“Using Facebook and YouTube to promote agriculture is flawed logic because they are entertainment-based websites,” Mason explained. “Until a sow having piglets in a gestation crate rates up with Jersey Shore, people aren’t going to watch.”
He noted that a popular video clip of reality star Honey Boo Boo had over 1.4 million views, while videos from the Keuhnert Family Dairy operation only posted 109 viewers.
“If we want to talk about ag we should talk about why ag matters,” he said, “and we are a lot better talking about it face-to-face.”