Sponsored By
Nebraska Farmer Logo

3 ways farmers can improve food transparency3 ways farmers can improve food transparency

These days, transparency is expected. Charlie Arnot, Center for Food Integrity CEO offers 3 ways farmers can improve food transparency.

Curt Arens

March 12, 2016

3 Min Read

Farmers can talk all day long about the science and academic research data behind their practices. But are consumers listening? According to the Center for Food Integrity chief executive officer, Charlie Arnot, they probably are not.

Arnot spoke about transparency in food and farming at the annual Governor's Ag Conference in Kearney recently. "Transparency is no longer optional," Arnot told conference participants. "Consumers are not willing to pay a premium for transparency. It is expected. And there is a penalty for not being transparent."


And, the way we've been offering transparency has not been resonating with consumers. Typically, farmers and farm organizations have answered consumer skepticism about food production practices with sound facts based on scientific data. That is important, Arnot said, but it doesn't hit home with consumers.

"People have become accustomed to being skeptical of institutions. Because of consolidation of the food and farming industry in recent decades, they often think of us as institution," he said. "The more they think of us as an institution, the more shared values are important. People are more likely to make decisions about what they feel than what they know."

During his presentation, Arnot suggested three ways farmers can offer more transparency in their production systems and gain trust with consumers.

1. Use shared values to engage the public. He said that consumers understand that farmers need to be profitable, but they also want them to be accountable. "The public wants us to be forthcoming, not just honest," Arnot said. "Trust is built on transparency. Our practices must reflect our values." According to consumer studies, shared values are three to five times more important than science and facts in food production. "People crowdsource their knowledge, so they will get their information from other people they trust before they accept it from an academic institution," Arnot said.

2. Open the digital door to today's agriculture and find ways to exhibit transparency through it. Arnot suggested that farmers use digital platforms to provide avenues for transparency. He said that we should embrace skepticism in society. It is just a part of our lives today. "Who you are is as important to consumers as what you know," he said. "So communicate your shared values and let people know that you care. Share your story" through digital platforms and social media. But he reminded farmers to make sure their practices and systems are what they say they are, so they can deliver on their promises.

3. Commit to engaging with consumers early, often and consistently. He suggested responding to consumer skepticism with understanding and empathy, acknowledging their concerns and relating our own values that match those concerns. "We've always assumed that if we educate consumers, they will come to our side," Arnot said. "They can't do that unless they know that you want to do things right. We need to consistently maintain their trust."

If you'd like to learn more about Arnot's presentation, visit the Center for Food Integrity website

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like