Farming and communication: Five truths

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Ryan Goodman comes from a family cow-calf and stocker-calf operation in Arkansas. He’s a graduate of Oklahoma State, is working on his master’s from the University of Tennessee, but currently lives in Helena, Montana. In between all those locations, he’s also traveled this country, learning more about farms of all sizes and commodities.

In other words, he knows agriculture from the ground up, manure and all.

But as communications manager for the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Goodman also knows about communication and the fast-paced, yet sometimes murky and muddy world of social media. And he shares his thoughts from the intersection of agriculture and communication in a variety of venues, but most notably in his personal blog, Agriculture Proud, which you can find online at agricultureproud.com.

Goodman recently posted five observations on social media and agriculture that are worth noting — and pondering.

1. People trust farmers, but not necessarily the business of farming or the practices involved.

I’ve said it before: You all are rock stars and you don’t even realize it. People want to know growers and farmers. They trust you because you’re real.

The disconnect occurs, though, when they don’t understand why you farm a certain way or with a certain practice.

2. When statements support what we want to believe, it’s amazing what we will make ourselves view as credible information.

This isn’t just a nonfarm phenomenon. We all do it. That simple recognition, however, is a huge step to overcoming that weakness.

3. People don’t know how to find, read or evaluate sound science information. And then, people don’t trust scientific resources when they do find them.

This is a tough one. In today’s 24/7 communication environment, you can find unlimited information on any issue, anywhere and with very limited effort.

The algorithms of search engines may also filter and influence what you find. The experts call it “self-reinforcing informational spirals,” because there are often differences between what you search for, and what Google suggests to you as results, based on popularity of links and views.

Online aggregators can filter information they provide to you based on your previous searches and website visits. In other words, your Web search may yield bias when you’re looking for facts.

4. People actually perceive documentaries, celebrities and run-of-the-mill websites as credible information sources to solely base a belief upon.

Celebrity endorsement or influence isn’t anything new, but there seem to be more and more public personalities who use the spotlight to proclaim the “truths.” Likewise, there are any number of websites that play hard and fast with science and facts.

As David Liebl of the Climate Science Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said during a meeting I attended this summer, “explain, explain, explain won’t make a difference.”

Scientific knowledge and understanding, Liebl said, is filtered by our experiences, our values, our socioeconomic status. And the trustworthiness of the messenger plays a bigger role in the acceptance of the message than the content of the message itself.

“It’s not how much you’re told,” Liebl added, “it’s who tells you so.”

To be heard, Liebl challenged, “you have to be loud, and choose who to be loud for [you].”

5. Members of the agriculture community need a serious lesson in how to communicate with others, how to facilitate a productive conversation, and how to respect others’ choices when those choices contradict their own beliefs.

And that, my friends, is fodder for a column all its own. Tune in next week.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Confirmation Bias – the act of verifying or ratifying something I believe is everywhere and in everything. We are all guilty of this to some degree or another and it takes courage to look and listen to evidence which contradict our beliefs. If I can find the courage the more true knowledge I can gain. If I know everything I cannot learn anything!

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