What were the origins for the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance?

Q. Schott:
We’ve got good programs but, let’s be honest, they weren’t real effective.

We were all answering the same questions about food security and food safety but not having a real effective voice.

And so the idea was formed: “Let’s put all ag together and make the same message, put some dollars behind it and come at it with one voice to say the same thing with dollars involved.”

Because the entertainment industry has a real big affect on today’s food consumer, we thought, “Let’s set up a food dialogue event out in L.A. and see if the entertainment industry can help us get the message out.”

0912pc_q-a_1Q. How is USFRA different than previous efforts to tell production’s side of the story?

A. Fowle:
Previously, the focus had been on getting stories out of what the farmer does and how they do it.


The USFRA’s approach is to take what many of us in agriculture, particularly those of us in social media, have discovered – that there is more value and more benefit to entering into discussions and having dialogue with our customers rather than tell-tell-tell.

We have forgotten that we need to listen because, ultimately, we are a customer service industry. If we don’t have satisfied customers, we don’t have buyers for our product.

Q. What production questions are you most commonly hearing?

A. Schott:
Really, modern agriculture of today is where the questions on production come to.

Some folks think there’s some factory farming going on, but 95 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is done by family farmers. So it’s that kind of message we’re trying to get out.

They ask a lot about what we’re doing for the environment. And so we talk about a lot about how farming tools have cut down a lot of the overapplication of fertilizer and chemicals and overlap and spray drift.

It’s all about bringing our consumers up to speed with what we’re doing to bring farming and ranching into the new century.

A. Fowle: In the last year, probably the biggest one has been the whole “pink slime” discussion. Prior to that, the big discussion was between grass-fed, grain-fed, organic and natural – what do those mean? Is one better than the other?

I have always been of the mindset that we don’t compare one production method as better than another.

We have diversity and we should celebrate the diversity whether you’re growing natural, organic, conventional or grain-fed beef; it’s all healthy for you, it’s all safe and let’s celebrate our differences and continue to be able to offer our customers diversity of choice when they go to the supermarket or farmers’ market.

Q. Is it simple to explain production methods they’re asking about? Is there scientific differences that come up with medications, antibiotics?

A. Fowle: If handled properly, I have never had a real challenge in explaining that. I would say the less science you can talk, the better off you are.

Most people don’t understand the science behind it. Simple science, yes, but if you can convert it into a language and terms that they do understand, customers have epiphanies.

No, you’re not going to convince everyone that it’s all safe, wholesome and nutritious. But you have to recognize that when someone’s not going to change their mind, you agree to disagree.

Q. What do you tell producers that are reluctant to tell their production story and explain the processes of raising grain and livestock?

A. Schott: One common statement I make is we’re good at producing food, whether grain or livestock; we just haven’t felt the need to have a dialogue with our consumers.

That’s one part of farming and ranching we’ve really got to change. Every chance we get, I just really encourage a farmer and rancher to get on Facebook or start tweeting – it’s part of the farmer-rancher picture today that we’re not doing a real good job at.

A. Fowle: I’m not so sure it is a point of telling a story. What has been forgotten is that we need to listen to the customers and answer the questions they have and recognize that there are certain practices that we can do better.

Agriculture has always prided itself on utilizing the latest technology, being the most efficient that we can be. And we have neglected being able to listen and communicate why we do what we do to the customer.

It’s come back to bite us on many occasions. At the same time, the customer basically is just curious about what we do.

Q. The credibility of farmers and ranchers, though, is solid with audiences today?

A. Schott: We’ve done surveys that the consumer out there trusts the farmer and what he’s doing. I think that’s got to be the voice that carries the message across.

When you’re talking to the guy producing the food, they really connect. We’re really the key to removing some of the myths out of some of modern agriculture today.

Your panel discussed TV programs and food channels. How can those programs be an advantage to today’s producers?

A. Fowle: I think there’s a world of opportunity there. The door has been opened. More viewers today in the U.S. are turning to Food Channel and Cooking Channel and cooking shows.

We have an opportunity there to form relationships with chefs, channels, nutritionists and be able to provide thought-provoking, insightful and informative programs that will aid us in reaching customers that previously we may not have been able to reach as effectively.

Schott: What I’d like to see is that any information they give about food production (should) be accurate and up-to-date knowledge on where this food came from.

Sometimes they’ll say all-natural or all-organic or local – let’s just be accurate about what that means and why they’re using it in their food. That’s where the questions will come with farms and ranches on TV.

Q. What should the producer do to become more savvy in those departments?

A. Fowle: Read. Read and listen. My grandpa always said you ought to learn at least one new thing every day, outside of that which we do.

I challenge other beef producers out there to take 15, 20 minutes a day and read something that’s not something you’d normally read. Get a perspective from a different angle, and you don’t have to agree with it, but it ought to at least make you think about how you approach what you do.  end_mark

California rancher Jeff Fowle, in hat, participates in the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance Food Dialogue “Hollywood and Vine.” Other participants, pictured from left, celebrity TV chef Danny Boome; TV producer Juliet D’Annibale; Jeff Fowle; moderator and filmmaker George Motz; Karen Rosa, director of the American Humane Association’s film and TV unit; Scott Vernon, president of the Livestock Publications Council.
Photos courtesy of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.