Be prepared to face off-farm issues

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PLAIN CITY, Ohio – Every day, livestock producers face issues that force them to consider off-farm reactions as opposed to onfarm benefits.
Several speakers addressed those issues at the eighth annual Ohio Livestock Coalition Industry Symposium held recently at Der Dutchman’s Banquet Center, Plain City.
Speakers focused on public relations efforts, environmental regulations and consumer and animal rights activists.
Spreading the word. Two representatives from the Columbus public relations firm The Cochran Group addressed working with the media.
President Chan Cochran told audience members to get ready.
“You are going to see significant environmental regulations,” Cochran said. “You’ll see polar debates about animal treatment. My counsel to you all is to get in the game and take your message and make certain the public understands it,” he said.
Angela Hazlett, senior account representative, reminded the farmers they must speak as one, but the bottom line is they must speak – period.
The best way to deal with reporters, she emphasized, is to have your answers ready before the reporter asks a question.
“Now is the time to get your ducks in a row. Get prepared and be ready for reporters’ questions before they ask them,” she said.
Hazlett added that producers should always talk to reporters.
“‘No comment’ is not an answer. ‘No comment’ equals guilt.”
Moral debates. During his presentation, Wes Jamison, a professor at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, said that animal activists focus on moral obligations when attacking the industry.
He outlined what messages Ohio livestock producers could use to show that animal agriculture is morally right: It’s right to work and agriculture provides many jobs in the state. It’s also morally right to work close to the land.
“Agriculture allows people to connect in a real day-to-day way to the land.”
Don’t act superior. He cautioned producers from asserting that agriculture’s viewpoint is fact-based while the opponents’ is based on emotions.
“It’s a false distinction to say their side is emotional and our side is fact-based,” Jamison said. “We’ve honey-coated our message just like they have.
“We have to spend more time understanding the language of the people we’re communicating to,” he added.
He asked participants, “Would you be willing at a moment’s notice to open your farm to public scrutiny. If your answer is ‘no,’ you’ve got some work to do.”
Use common sense. Other farmers’ questions dealt with environmental regulations and a program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study air pollution emissions from livestock operations.
Jack Van Kley, an environmental attorney, said farmers need to use common sense when dealing with activists or government officials.
“Use common sense in everything you do, regardless of the size of your operation or how far you are under the radar,” Van Kley said. “Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.
“Good neighbors don’t sue good neighbors.”
Safe harbor. One farmer asked what size of producer should sign up for the EPA’s Safe Harbor emissions study, but Van Kley responded, “If we knew that answer, we wouldn’t need the safe harbor agreement.
“The whole purpose of the study is to determine at what size of an operation is a program needed. EPA has some guesses. I guess whether you sign up or not depends on how lucky you feel.”
No guarantees. He added there are no guarantees from the government that if an operation does all that’s required and still fails air emission testing, that it won’t be found in violation.
“The bottom line is there’s no guarantee that the EPA would comply with today’s law tomorrow.”
Jamison reinforced Van Kley’s comments. “These regulations are back-door efforts by activists to regulate you out of business. You need to show the public the human impact of these regulations on real farmers.”

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