Let’s hear about the issue, then your opinion

Social media means people have more freedom to say whatever they please about anything they like (as long as they don’t libel or slander anyone). And though social media can be a valuable tool, and one crucial to modern democracy, it’s important to make sure those you’re trying to reach understand the issue you want to discuss, before being treated to your opinion.

Problems arise when writers feel like their backs are up against a wall, and skip the important first step of introducing the issue – all in an effort to defend their beliefs. You run the chance of alienating those who don’t get it, and reaching only those who are like-minded and know what you’re talking about without any background support. Not getting out the key information first can disengage readers, and evoke undesired responses that don’t advance anyone’s understanding.

This is especially important for agriculture, which is caught up in a sea of turmoil and confusion. Unless people who are truly curious to learn about it have an opportunity to engage in some meaningful dialogue, turmoil will prevail. Remember this three-step process: state the issue, then the development in the issue that’s sparking a conversation (or news story, blog post or whatever), then your opinion. I believe that’s an effective way to communicate about complex issues and advance the dialogue about them. For more on this approach, check my Farm Management Canada blog post and webinar.

Blogs are a great way to convey larger amounts of information and detailed opinions.

Blogs are a great way to convey larger amounts of information and detailed opinions.

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Optimism from government but not from U.S. farmers

Ontario and U.S. grain producers face many challenges. Photo credit jaybridge.com

Ontario and U.S. grain producers face many challenges. Photo credit jaybridge.com

Despite the Canadian government’s optimism about agriculture in our country, some Ontario grain producers, as well as farmers south of the border, disagree with the sunny financial outlook. That’s particularly true in the U.S., where a company called DTN released the results recently of its thrice-yearly agricultural confidence survey. DTN surveyed 500 U.S. crop and livestock farmers, and the results portrayed an all-time low level of producer confidence. That’s the second time in the last three surveys confidence levels were pessimistic.

According to DTN, concerns over stagnant or falling crop prices, increased crop production and rising crop input costs contributed to U.S. crop producers’ pessimism. Farmers who raise livestock were also glum because of the prospects of lower prices brought on by beef, pork and poultry expansion. Expansion brought on by low livestock inventories have producers worried about what happens when supply catches up to demand.

It’s a tough situation. On a webinar about agricultural advocacy last week, I spoke about the need for farmers to communicate with the public. They have such a high credibility rating, not to mention a hands-on perspective of what happens on the farm — something people are confused about right now. Imagine, though, how hard it is to be publicly upbeat about your industry when you have such a grim outlook. Maybe in the U.S., confidence and attitude won’t intersect. But that seems unlikely. And even though it’s the truth, I doubt pessimism is the image consumers are looking for from farmers.

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One million football fields for pollinators

Ontario’s grain farmers recently announced that they want to see one million acres of self-sustaining pollinator habitat identified and preserved by 2018. The million-acre proclamation is contained in the Ontario Pollinator Health Blueprint, drawn up by an eight-member task force of grain farmers, seed dealers and beekeepers, with input from more than 900 farmers.

They say a million acres of repurposed farmland, as well as private land and public land for pollinator-friendly habitat, would mean continuous blooms throughout the growing season could be available to bees and other pollinators. Mark Brock, Chair of Grain Farmers of Ontario, foresees a registry being created in which acreage and habitat could be recorded and monitored track new habitat and programs. But habitat is just one pillar of the plan. Other pillars in the plan include pesticide exposure; disease and parasites; communications between beekeepers and farmers; and verification, measurement and collection standards for insects. A final pillar will help determine farm pest thresholds and provide a benchmark for determining the health and disease status of Ontario pollinators.

This million-acre exercise isn’t totally falling on the shoulders of farmers, and shouldn’t. Farmers are leading it, but all parties must co-operate and be committed to meet and maintain the one-million-acre target. Monitoring, research, benchmarks, registries — they’re all part of what’s needed to help sort out fact from fiction, and reduce the hyperbole over pollinators. It’s a complicated huge issue, and farmers are facing it head on.

Farmers call for the equivalent of a million football fields, like the new Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, for pollinator health. Photo credit www.torontosun.com

Farmers call for the equivalent of a million football fields, like the new Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, for pollinator health. Photo credit www.torontosun.com

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