Many months ago, I stood in a grocery store in Wyoming, listening to my brother lecture my husband about his choice in maple syrup. His platform: the health risks of the high fructose corn syrup in my husband’s choice of product. While he is absolutely correct that too much sugar is not good for anyone, there is no scientific data to show that HFCS 55 is worse for your health than any other kind of sugar. Now jokingly referred to as “sugar-gate” within my family, the story illustrates how easily misinformation can masquerade as “fact” in public opinion – damaging an industry and putting our access to a supply of high-quality, abundant and safe food at risk.
The agriculture industry faces some dramatic challenges today: agronomic, societal, economic. The rate at which technology is advancing and societal views are shifting creates a moving target of misinformation. The cumulative effect, as we’ve already witnessed, can have a significant impact on the industry’s ability to produce and thrive.
Misinformation is hardly new. Deliberate circulation of misinformation to influence public opinion and government policy dates back centuries. What has changed is the speed and distance at which this misinformation can travel in a short amount of time, combined with a low cultural connectivity to agriculture. At the time of our nation’s founding, nearly 90 percent of the population was involved in agriculture. Today, only two percent of the U.S. population is connected to the industry – and with each passing decade, we see a greater divide between rural and urban communities. Yet at the same time, the two grow physically closer, as urban sprawl collides with rural farm production. We’ve witnessed the impact of this collision right here in my home state of North Carolina – a Right to Farm battleground.
When you consider that the leading global cause of death is hunger and that one in six Americans is food insecure, misinformation in agriculture is particularly alarming. Public opinion can sway policies, even when those opinions are not founded in science. We’re watching a crisis of communications play out in our industry, and it is critical that we find our voice to help bridge that communications gap.
These circumstances make ag communicators more important than ever to help businesses navigate an increasingly complex landscape. Communications experts tend to wear multiple hats in this industry. From crisis communications to corporate reputation to marketing and engagement, these communicators come prepared to tackle specific issues facing the ag community.
Corporations and industry organizations rely on communicators to help share their stories and connect them to their customers, stakeholders and influencers. In today’s environment, farmers and ranchers are finding a need to speak out to correct misinformation and protect their right to farm. That’s where an ag communicator can help. It doesn’t need to be a large program: It could involve mapping out a crisis communications plan, or even something as simple as a social media training course. Relying on a trusted advisor who understands the marketplace can make all the difference when it comes to effectively communicating your mission, vision and values to your customers and stakeholders.
Next time you find yourself confronted with misinformation — even in the middle of a grocery store — do your research and find your voice. Oh, and enjoy your pancakes and maple syrup, regardless of sweetener. Remember: Everything in moderation.