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David Sparks Ph.d AAA Perception Change
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Idaho Ag Today
Date: May 10, 2018

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The overarching message on how the animal agriculture community can protect the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, veterinarians and industry professionals is to engage and change the perception of the industry, according to speakers at the 2017 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit.


Two panels discussed how farm tours and engaging with consumers are key to growing confidence in agriculture. The first panel included Rex Martin, senior vice president, owner relations and Scott Wallin, director, consumer confidence, both with Dairy Management Inc.


Martin and Wallin shared how DMI is engaging with unexpected audiences about the dairy industry with their “Acres to Avenues” video initiative connecting farmers with consumers and having them switch roles for a day to learn what it takes to do each other’s job.


The second panel which focused on how farm tours can be an instrumental tool in engaging with influencers included Meagan Cramer, director of communications & marketing, Kansas Farm Bureau; Jancey Hall, program manager, Kansas Soybean; Stacey Forshee, Kansas grain and beef farmer; LaVell Winsor, Kansas grain farmer; and Abby Heidari, Registered Dietitian.


“Remember that your common knowledge is not the consumer’s common knowledge,” suggested Heidari.


Media also plays a role in shaping consumer perceptions and Luke Runyon with Harvest Public Media and Tyne Morgan with U.S. Farm Report explained how the tone of rural America changed in the media after the presidential election.


“Rural America has this very loud voice out there and maybe they’re not the loudest, but they’re the silent majority often times,” Morgan said. After the election, “the media finally wanted to hear what rural America had to say.”


Morgan and Runyon shared how it is in agriculture’s best interest to cultivate a relationship with media proactively and when your company or organization isn’t currently in the news. Working with potentially biased media was highlighted in the next panel with Cindy Cunningham of National Pork Board, Jennifer Trey of Illinois Pork Producers and Phil Borgic of Borgic Farms. Be transparent, talk to reporters and use your tools to determine if a response will help or hurt the situation were three pieces of advice offered by the panelists to help set the record straight.


Key issues often covered in the media were discussed in the next session, including antibiotics, sustainability and animal agriculture’s role in public health. Beyer shared how consumers are not talking about antibiotic use in animal agriculture on social media, but some meat companies are dominating the conversation while Solomon shared how everyone “just wants to do a better job” in regards to how medicines are used both in animal agriculture and in human health.


“Activists today are masquerading as the consumers” working to increase the price of food, according to Thomson. “This is about sustainability of mankind and providing good for people in an affordable manner. Poverty in this country is determined by the price of food.”


Broiler chicken welfare took the stage to kick off the second day of Summit with a panel exposing how animal rights organizations are threatening not only the sustainability, but the welfare of broilers with the demand for “slower-growing” chickens.


Three broiler welfare experts included Kate Barger Weathers, D.V.M., director of world animal welfare, Cobb-Vantress, Inc.; Ken Opengart, D.V.M., Ph.D., D.A.C.V.P., head, global animal health & welfare and U.S. sustainability, Keystone Foods; Matt Salois, Ph.D., director of global scientific affairs & policy, Elanco Animal Health.


“Animal welfare is currently being defined by a very noisy group of people,” said Barger Weathers, alluding to the animal rights activist organizations. “We need to paint the positive picture of agriculture.” Opengart and Salois talked about the broiler industry’s efforts towards continuous improvement and how “slower growing chickens will absolutely have a negative impact on sustainability.”


The conversation shifted to campus dining with Topanga McBride, agricultural communications and economics student and Melissa Schrader, assistant unit director at Kramer Dining Center, both from Kansas State University.


“It’s not only about feeding students to support their education, but also educating them about where their food comes from,” said Schrader. She shared how their campus dining program brings in farmers to join their chefs to help answer student questions.


“The conversations [about agriculture] have gotten better with more discussions,” said McBride. “Mostly it’s people just looking for answers and they haven’t found them yet.”


Another panel featured Domino’s Pizza with Tim McIntyre, executive vice president of communication, investor relations and legislative affairs sharing that the pizza company supports farmers and ranchers and will never cave to supply chain demands made by animal rights extremists.


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