Ochsner emphasizes conversations, not communication for ag industry
Casper – “Our industry is up for auction,” Kevin Ochsner told a group of nearly 50 women and men at the Wyoming Women’s Ag Symposium Nov. 9 dinner. “A lot of people are getting involved and telling our story. I want to challenge the ag industry that no one in this world is in a better position to tell our story than we are.”
Ochsner, who is a cattle rancher from Colorado, said his deep passion for sharing the story of beef cattle production, along with his proximity to Denver, Colo. allows him the unique opportunity to interface with beef consumers who know little about the industry on a daily basis.
“Consumers are being bombarded by the media,” he added, noting that it’s up to cattle producers to begin to tell that story.
Information in the media
Over the last several years, Ochsner said headlines like, “Wanted: Safe Beef” appeared in magazines like Consumer Report and Inc. Magazine.
“I expect headlines like these in the National Enquirer, but Consumer Report is supposed to be more objective,” he continued, highlighting statements in the story that equated organic, whole wheat and all-natural with healthy. “This gets my blood boiling.”
Other media entities have latched on to test tube meat or meat replacement.
“On the front page of Inc. Magazine, this gentleman imagines the world without slaughter and encourages us to think about ‘a post-meat ecosystem,’” Ochsner said. “Before we call him a wild freak, we have to consider that Bill Gates, Cargill and Tyson have all invested in these products.”
While Ochsner said the protein businesses indicated that they wanted a seat at the table in such new technology, he added, “Shame on us if we sit here when Inc. Magazine is telling people that a meat from test tube is cleaner than beef produced in Wyoming. That is ridiculous.”
Ochsner continued, “I don’t see cattle producers on the front page of Inc. Magazine. Other people are out there telling our story, framing our meat products as being dastardly, polluting the earth with greenhouse gases and being pumped full of antibiotics.”
“Negative messages have bombarded the media and the marketplace,” he commented.
In addition to media information, companies like Subway have come out with statements that they would transition to meats that have never received antibiotics by 2016, which is another place that consumers get misinformation.
“Students are also bombarded in the classroom,” Ochsner said.
Ochsner explained that in health class materials his children brought home, an article suggested students help save the planet by going meatless every Monday.
“What does this have to do with health? This article is a lifestyle choice and a political conversation. If we want to talk about nutrients and food, have an intelligent conversation about nutrition,” he said.
In reaching out to consumers, Ochsner said establishing trust is the most important aspect of working with consumers.
Referencing Steven Covey’s Speed of Trust, Ochsner said, “Trust is about character and competence. Character is about intent and integrity.”
Ochsner continued, many ranchers spend a lot of time working on competence, rather than on character. He further said ranchers have to focus on developing trust, an attitude of caring and transparency, as well as integrity and honesty.
“A photo of a gentleman in Indiana who put his calf in his hot tub to warm it up went viral because it showed his character,” he said. “We need to think about both character and competence.”
After establishing trust, Ochsner said, “Communication can’t happen without a connection. We have to find a way to relate to people who may not be like us.”
Often, producers are encouraged to communicate, but Ochsner asserted that might not be the best solution.
“A lot of people say we have to communicate, which says, ‘I know something, and you’re an idiot,’” he explained. “That’s our attitude.”
Ochsner continued, “To converse is to talk informally, to exchange views, opinions and more by talking. We need to understand why consumers do things by asking questions.”
Understanding why parents choose to feed their children only organic or free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is important.
“We need conversation as opposed to one-way communication, and we’re got to get better at it,” he said. “First, we’ve got to seek to understand and then to be understood.”
A conversation begins by asking the right questions, which are critically important.
“As producers, we need to ask questions when we’re talking – What are your favorite foods? What do you believe about how food is raised? How do you define a factory farm? Have you talked to anyone else? Are you interested in learning more about how producers feel about that issue?” Ochsner said. “We have to ask permission before we lay it all on them.”
Next, Ochsner suggested leading with values instead of facts.
“Don’t rely on science to sell our point,” he said. “We are scientific creatures, and we want to see that data, but consumers don’t want to know about science. Consumers also don’t believe science.”
Ochsner emphasized sharing our stories based on values, rather than facts, is the best way to encourage understanding.
At the end of the day, Ochsner said producers should not get aggravated, but rather, they should be motivated to promote their industry.
“We have to get motivated and dig up opportunities to talk about our industry,” he said. “We need to work to cover up the bad stereotypes and find new areas to promote what we do and how we do it.”
Ochsner’s presentation was sponsored by the Wyoming Beef Council.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org