SPOKANE — Farmers should emphasize shared values over science when answering questions from critics or the public, a Canadian farmer and communications says.
“Every decision a farmer makes, it has a value behind it,” said Cherilyn Nagel, a Saskatchewan, grain, oilseed and pulse farmer and a director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. “You’re never going to gain their trust by slapping a 400-page study in their inbox — you have to tell them why you care about taking care of the land.”
Nagel is also on the board of the Global Farmer Network, a nonprofit that supports farmers’ freedom to choose the tools and technologies they need to maximize production and improve sustainability. She spoke to Spokane County growers during a series of Spokane Conservation District workshops Nov. 12-13.
Consumers and farmers both want healthy, affordable, safe food that is environmentally friendly and respectful of animal welfare, Nagel said.
“This is exactly what we want to give them, and it’s exactly what they want,” she said.
Consumer interest in food and food production is high and growing, but they are so removed from farmers, they’re primarily getting inaccurate information from critics and activists through social media, Nagel said.
“Everything is available online — except farmers,” Nagel said. “We didn’t know we had to do that, it’s just been thrust upon us.”
Farmers have added good communication skills about the decisions they make to their necessary duties, she said.
When answering tough questions, Nagel’s advice included:
• Keep cool.
• Be friendly, not argumentative.
• Stick to what you know.
• Offer to talk more later.
• Share the fun things about farming.
Farmers don’t need to enter a conversation with the goal of changing someone’s mind. But they do need to connect with the audience on their terms, Nagel said.
“Your job is to listen to what their concern is,” she said.
Nagel told the farmers and ranchers to think about what the tough questions would be for their own farm, such as why they use pesticides.
Most of the time, they already know the reasons, but haven’t thought about it in a way to share the message with consumers, she said.
“If you don’t know to answer the question, ‘Why do you spray pesticides?’ then you shouldn’t be spraying them,” she said. “Farmers need to take some ownership here in the decisions that we’re doing.”