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Find common ground with consumers

TAGS: Management
Joan Ruskamp Joan Ruskamp uses M&Ms to compare levels of estrogen in different foods, in a demonstration at a CommonGround event.
TELLING A STORY: Joan Ruskamp uses M&Ms to compare levels of estrogen in different foods in a demonstration at a CommonGround event. “The power of the visual is to enable a conversation showing the presence of hormones in all foods, why we use hormones in beef production and the safety of eating beef,” Ruskamp says.
LEAD Comment: It is important to share the story of ag to build relationships with the public.

Farmers and ranchers are continually encouraged to share the story of production agriculture with friends, family and consumers. This is often easier said than done as the day-to-day responsibilities of farmers and ranchers are abundant. Additionally, it is difficult to know where to begin.

Consumer opinions and backgrounds coupled with the numerous ways to now share information can be intimidating and overwhelming. However, sharing our stories helps create a relationship with consumers that can change the way they view agriculture. This is more important than ever as the public shares an increased interest, demanding more information on food nutrition, production and agriculture’s environmental footprint.

My husband, Steve, and I live and farm near Dodge, Neb. We both work full time on our feedlot and row crop operation. Three of our five adult children live outside Nebraska, and we have eight grandchildren. We enjoy hosting tours and have been blessed to meet people from all around the world.

Language that can be understood

One important element of communicating our personal farm stories to others is making sure we are not misunderstood in the language we use. Terminology can often hinder clear communication if one side has no idea what the other is talking about.

When I shared a story about “pulling” a steer to do a health check, I had no idea the person listening thought I was dragging the steer out of the pen with a rope. I learned it is particularly important to never assume a listener knows what I am talking about. We must communicate in a relatable way to help the listener paint a clear picture of what is being said.

Images of our life on the farm can be more powerful than words. With the ability to take quality photos from our cellphone, we can capture daily tasks, the impact of weather, the unique beauty of where we live, and especially the joys and struggles we face as farmers and ranchers.

Sharing events such as a wedding, new baby, school activities, volunteer activities and eating a meal together all show we have a lot in common with our non-ag friends. Finding common ground through shared interests or values can help facilitate trust when conversations arise about complicated issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions or biotechnology.

Positive, credible, inclusive

Sharing my ag story was not something that came naturally to me. I had to work hard to equip myself with the skills needed for engagement, and then I had to put these skills into practice. Through a national movement known as CommonGround, I learned the importance of being positive, credible, inclusive and real while connecting with others through shared values.

From the Masters of Beef Advocacy program, I worked to use available research to boost my credibility as a beef producer. Many other training opportunities are available to help each of us tailor our message, style and ability to share our story in a way that builds understanding.

The experiences I have had to share my story in agriculture with friendly and hostile audiences have taught me that communication builds relationships when we seek first to understand, respond with a desire to find common ground and nurture a dialogue with reciprocating respect. We are called to share our story because we are building valuable relationships at a time when they are most needed.

Ruskamp is a graduate of LEAD 28.

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