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‘Just have conversations’ (Editorial)

by | Jul 1, 2022

Another school year has wrapped up, and as students’ young, impressionable minds launch into summer fun, what they retain from the lessons, homework, and tests is continually questioned and studied.
How to make information stick in one’s mind was part of 2022 Stakeholders Summit hosted by the Animal Agriculture Alliance last month. In a session titled, “Changing of the (Cattle) guard: How Advocates Can Adapt to Be Effective,” three farmer bloggers weighed in on the power of being an influencer in the online world and why it’s more important than simply throwing facts at people about agriculture.
In conference highlights released from the alliance, Carrie Mess — a southern Wisconsin dairy farmer and writer of the Dairy Carrie blog — said farmers and need to shift from educating consumer to influencing.
In the social media universe, “influencer” marketing — using individuals with specific niches and a significant online following to promote a product or brand — has become big business for content creators and a go-to platform for companies. The influencer industry has grown from $1.7 billion in 2016 to $16.4 billion in 2022.
As advocates for agriculture, Mess and panel mates Brandi Buzzard, owner of High Bar Cattle Company in Greeley, Kan., and Debbie Lyons Blythe at Blythe Family Farms in White City, Kan., aren’t the mercenary pitch people that full-time influencers are, but use a similar playbook to connect with their followers.
At the conference, they said defining a target audience is key. It’s easier to connect with people in your demographic or generation because you can relate to them and get a handle on where they’re receiving information from.
“Stop educating people,” Mess said. “Just have conversations.”
For certain, there’s still an educational component in those conversations, but it’s delivered with emotion, understanding and a level of respect that gives the information staying power long after the research-based facts are forgotten.
Breaking through to people and making a connection through shared values or other commonalities creates the pathway to share how food is grown in modern agriculture.
While broadly named “ag education,” there are plenty of signs of the influencing philosophy in play now. It happens on school field trips to local farms or when a local farmer comes into a classroom. It happens at summer fairs when the public talks to 4-H and FFA exhibitors about their livestock projects.
It happens when an inspiring agriscience teacher attracts a student with no farming experience into her program just because she made it sound fun.
We’ve all had great teachers in our lives. With an infectious passion in their voice and devotion to their subject, they can turn history into an engaging story, make math as melodic as good music and share the marvel of scientific discovery.
The experiences influenced us, maybe not into a career on the subject, but to understand and respect its importance in our lives.
Those people exist in agriculture, too. They’re in agriscience classrooms, all over the internet and in the tractor heading down the road to the next field.
We just need more conversations.

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