Radke emphasizes importance of communicating with customers about the beef industry
In production agriculture, producers have so much on their plate to think about sometimes they forget about people who aren’t involved in agriculture, according to Amanda Radke, South Dakota rancher, marketing specialist and Beef Magazine correspondent.
“As producers, we forget about the people who live in the cities or coasts far away from our farms and ranches. Those people think they know more about how farms and ranches should be operated than producers do,” she said. “Yet, those consumers have a vote in how producers can run their businesses in the future.”
However, Radke mentioned a few tools producers can use to better understand and communicate with the consumers of today about agriculture.
Radke stated almost every practice and process used by producers can be backed up with science and research.
“Anything from dehorning to castration to antibiotic use can be justified, but consumers want to hear about the emotional side of production agriculture,” she said. “Consumers want to hear producers’ stories.”
The main challenge is consumers getting their information about agriculture from the news and videos on YouTube, Radke added.
“During a summer internship in Washington, D.C. for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), I was paired with a roommate who was an atheist and vegan,” recalled Radke. “My roommate was convinced my family abused our cattle because she saw a drugged cow on YouTube.”
Radke realized the approach to talking about agriculture with consumers like her past roommate needs to change.
“There are also a lot of emotions surrounding production agriculture for consumers when they go to the grocery stores, which influence the agriculture industry as a whole,” she added.
The first emotion is the lack of trust between consumers and producers, mentioned Radke.
“Why do consumers not trust farmers?” she asked. “A few generations ago, people across the globe loved the American cowboy and the ideals of an honest, hard working, rugged cowboy.”
“If consumers were asked what they thought about cowboys today, realistically, they probably don’t think about producers. What the consumer knows about ag is what they get from the news, which isn’t very complimentary,” she explained.
Radke said consumer trust has been broken by the need for sensationalized news, which is often gossip or negative news.
Another emotion felt by consumers is guilt, according to Radke.
“At the grocery store, consumers feel guilty about the food they feed their families. They hear organic is healthier but can’t afford organic food, so they feel guilty for buying conventional products,” she stated.
Fear is another emotion consumers feel, which goes hand-in-hand with guilt, Radke stated, noting bloggers and technology that can detect genetically modified organisms (GMO) or pesticides in food are sources of cause consumer fear.
“There are people who make a lot of money from fear mongering and making consumers feel like they can’t trust their food,” said Radke.
Other emotions consumers experience include the confusion and romanticism of the agriculture industry, she mentioned.
“Children and college students are being indoctrinated to think about agriculture a certain way, and they are presented with materials that puts agriculture in a bad light,” she stated. “Consumers also have a romantic idea about having the small cow, chicken and sheep operations of yesteryear but don’t realize how the food supply would decrease and prices would increase if that were the case.”
Radke noted producers have to be a part of the conversation with consumers.
“Producers truly cannot afford to lose or bypass opportunities to tell their story or at least balance the conversation,” she said.
To combat the emotions and misconceptions about agriculture, Radke presented producers with a few tools they can use to bridge the gap with consumers.
She mentioned utilizing social media, talking to consumers and promoting the agriculture industry as ways for producers to help market their products and way of life.
“Using graphics, like comparing today’s agriculture with agriculture in 1960, is an easy way to tell a bigger story that’s hard to put into words,” Radke stated. “The best way to advocate for agriculture is through social media, where more consumers can be reached.”
Radke noted, in agriculture, producers usually respond to questions from people not involved in the agriculture industry either by laughing or getting defensive.
“Laughing or getting defensive when consumers ask questions is not positive or productive, and it is important for producers to listen to what consumers are worried about,” she said.
Looking for opportunities to tell consumers stories and advocating for agriculture is another way producers can make a difference.
“Producers need to get out there and start having conversations with consumers,” Radke said. “I think it’s more impactful to meet people in person and develop connections.”
She believes being engaged with consumers is an important part of any producers’ business plan, and if it’s not, then simply setting attainable goals like sharing one of her blogs is easy enough.
“If we don’t carve out time to talk to people and advocate for our industry, we’re going to have a tough time doing so later, and future generations will have an even tougher time,” Radke stated. “If producers are active and make a habit of being a part of the conversation, they can make a difference slowly but surely,”
On May 31, 2017, Amanda Radke spoke to cattle producers at the Beef Improvement Federation Young Producers Symposium.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.