Industry Programs Help Farmers Gain Consumer Communication Skills
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AMES, Iowa -- Most consumers are becoming disconnected from agriculture, but still have to find a source for information about what they consume. Pig farmers want to be able to properly inform consumers about the well-being of their livestock and the safety of food products but can sometimes struggle to find the space to share their story. This can create the issue of a gap or communication barrier between the two groups. Both farmers and consumers can benefit from maintaining an open line of communication, however seeking out consumers and encouraging the conversation can be difficult.
Joyce Hoppes, director of consumer information for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said it’s important to first find common ground. This allows both parties involved in the conversation to become comfortable and remain engaged.
"Transparency is very important," Hoppes said. "The best way to start the conversation with a consumer is to first find common values. Use the information they share about themselves to help drive the conversation."
It’s important to realize, however, that not all discussions are created alike, Hoppes said. Making sure discussion points resonate with the individual or group is vital.
"While it is important to know your audience, your communication strategy may not differ all that much between certain age groups because they will be at a similar level of agricultural literacy," she said. "But, you must make sure the information you are sharing is relevant to them. Identify what needs they have in their lives and explain how the industry works to fulfil them."
Claire Masker is director of public relations for the Pork Checkoff where her job involves working with farmers and the public. She teaches producers how to use open dialogue with consumers.
"When talking to consumers, the goal should not be to strictly educate the consumer, but just to establish an open dialogue and ensure that they can trust you and seek you for answers," she said.
Both IPPA and the Pork Checkoff are affiliated with programs designed specifically for producers that build and strengthen communication skills and strategies.
The IPPA partners with the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation to reach consumers.
"One program that we at IPPA participate in is FarmChat, which facilitates virtual farm tours," Hoppes said. "Pork producers can use FarmChat technology to open their barns to students and other audiences, and explain modern pork production and interact on-site by answering their questions."
The IPPA currently is recruiting producers to participate in the FarmChat program and plans to have summer training sessions for the tours. Producers interested in participating in FarmChat or want to learn more can contact Hoppes at 515-225-7675 or email@example.com.
The Pork Checkoff has a well-established communications skills program for producers called Operation Main Street.
"OMS provides training sessions throughout the year and at World Pork Expo for producers to learn how to represent themselves and tell their story to consumers and other targeted groups," Masker said. "Program coordinator Ernie Barnes has great resources for that program."
(This article was written by IPIC communications assistant student Maddie Hagerty as part of her Science With Practice experience.)
Sherry Hoyer, Iowa Pork Industry Center, 515-294-4496, firstname.lastname@example.org
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