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Are U.S. Farmers Neglecting Mother Earth? Consumers Weigh In.

For those who farm, Earth Day is every day.

Taking care of the environment is a given – a no-brainer. The land and its gifts are the lifeblood of agriculture no matter the size and scale, the crop grown or the livestock raised. But many of those on the outside looking in aren’t particularly convinced.

For the first time, in the latest trust research from The Center for Food Integrity, we asked respondents 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. They’re just not sure farmers are doing enough.

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

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

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.

So, how do we move the needle? 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.

I know you’ve heard that before, but it’s critical. Consistent, long-term engagement – 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 spewing 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. Tackle topics like pesticides and GM seeds, precision fertilizer application, tilling methods that prevent erosion, efficient water use and cover crops. Focus on continuous improvement and the “why.” Why does it matter to them and 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. 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 that can simply be 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’s happening on your farm.
  • 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 in one way, shape or form by commemorating environmental successes, highlighting challenges and envisioning solutions. 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.

Download CFI’s latest research here and connect with me to learn more about CFI programs that equip you with the tools to earn trust, including our Engage shared-values communication training program and the new Engage Online self-guided modules.

 

Terry Fleck

Executive Director, The Center for Food Integrity