Agriculture has been working for decades to convince consumers to embrace the benefits modern science can bring to agriculture and food production.
When it comes to technology, such as genetic engineering, much of the challenge with winning public approval can be linked to agribusiness and farming’s inability to establish itself as a trusted source for consumers, claims Kevin Folta, chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida.
Speaking to agronomists at the recent Ontario Certified Crop Advisors annual meeting, Folta – recently honoured with the Borlaug Council for Agricultural Science and Technology Communication Award – described talking effectively with consumers as a case where science meets psychology. “People love farmers and scientists, but they don’t trust farming and science.” He adds that the industry has failed to earn that trust because it has too often relied on scientific fact, and the perceived benefits of the technology, to win consumer support.
Folta says that’s a mistake and a new formula is needed if agriculture is to earn public approval for a continued farm science revolution. In this interview, he explains that the new approach needs to be based on shared values; one that sees farmers earn trust by listening to consumers and ensuring they are acting ethically and doing the right thing when it comes to producing healthy food and protecting the environment.
Only after that trust has been established should farmers talk about how they can use science and technology to support these values. Too often, Folta says, agribusiness and farmers have started their consumer conversations with the science and its production benefits. That doesn’t work.
Folta also feels it’s important for farmers, agronomists and all ag professionals to be active on social media if the industry wants to be heard and understood. “Social media has been a conduit to bad information. We need to take it back,” he says.