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Are U.S. farmers good stewards of Mother Earth?

Wisconsin State Farmer

KANSAS CITY, MO - For those who farm, Earth Day is every day, said Terry Fleck, executive director of The Center for Food Integrity (CFI). But most consumers aren’t completely convinced farmers are doing enough to protect Mother Earth, according to the latest CFI trust research.

Farmers should engage in conversation showing how they are good stewards of the land every day, not just on Earth Day.

“The land and its gifts are the lifeblood of agriculture no matter the size and scale, the crop grown or the livestock raised,” said Fleck. “But many of those on the outside looking in aren’t so sure.”

For the first time in the latest CFI trust research respondents were asked to rate their level of agreement with the following statement: “Do U.S. farmers take good care of the environment?”

While 42 percent strongly agree, more than half – 51 percent – are ambivalent and only moderately agree. They’re just not sure farmers are doing enough.

Why? First, the “big is bad” bias is likely at play, said Fleck.

“As the size and scale of farming grows, consumers don’t trust that large farms have their best interests at heart,” he said.

In fact, in the latest research 51 percent strongly believe that large farms are likely to put their interests ahead of consumer interests, compared to 36 percent for small farms. There’s a perception that profit is the overriding motive and that the use of pesticides and GMO seeds, for example, simply make farmers more money at the expense of the earth.

“I would also propose that the public has little to no idea what farmers are doing to protect our natural resources, so it’s difficult for them to form a strong opinion one way or another,” he said.

So, how do farmers demonstrate to consumers that they’re continually finding ways to do things better to produce food in a way that sustains the environment for generations to come? Engage with them.

“Consistent, long-term engagement is critical,” said Fleck. “Having values-based conversations either in-person or online is what will make a meaningful difference. Our research tells us that connecting with consumers on what’s important to them – their values – is three-to-five times more important to earning trust than simply sharing facts and figures.”

Also, consumers want to see “practices,” according to CFI’s transparency research. Why? Because practices are values in action.

Show them what you’re doing, said Fleck. “Tackle topics like pesticides and GMO seeds, precision fertilizer application, tilling methods that prevent erosion, efficient water use and cover crops. Focus on continuous improvement and why it matters to you.”  

The steps you take on your farm to keep Mother Earth happy and healthy may seem routine, but they likely are “aha” moments for others, he said. 

Options for engaging include: 
·        Taking advantage of local public speaking opportunities.
·        Pitching stories to the media about seasonal milestones on the farm (planting, harvest, etc.) and incorporating environmental sustainability messages.
·        Posting pictures with great captions and short videos shot on your phone to social media (the simpler the video, the more authentic).
·        Taking advantage of the new Facebook Live to give “on-the-spot” reports about what you’re doing on your farm to protect our natural resources.
·        Engaging in those critical day-to-day conversations to better understand what’s important to your neighbors and community, and having meaningful dialogue.
·        Sharing good values-based content from others on your social channels.
Millions participate in Earth Day by commemorating environmental successes, highlighting challenges and envisioning solutions, said Fleck. “As the original stewards of the land, farmers are encouraged to get involved in the conversation, too, not just on Earth Day, but every day,” he said.

Learn more about CFI’s latest research and the Engage values-based communication training program at