Ag-vocating 101: five tips to educate others about agriculture

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As an agricultural communications major, one of the most common topics of conversation between my peers and me is how to educate others about agriculture. While we have had some formal education in communication, many of our friends and family interested in ag have not.

In some cases, their passion for agriculture and their desire to correct those who disagree with the industry can start an argument no one wanted to be a part of. To help you become a better “Ag-vocate,” here are my top five tips for communicating with opponents of the agriculture industry.

Be respectful.
This is number one because it’s the most important. Nothing takes a discussion from pleasant to unbearable quicker than throwing out insults or making accusatory statements. Think about what you want to say. Then think about it again. If you wouldn’t like it said to you, keep it to yourself.

Put yourself in their shoes.
Most people with concerns about the agriculture industry feel they have a good reason for it. People who know little about agriculture or have had a negative experience – like a bad reaction to a certain product or a food allergy – are naturally skeptical of an industry they’re unsure of.

Make an effort to understand why they feel the way they do.
Oftentimes these individuals are looking for answers and clarification. Tell them you understand their concerns, and identify with them by sharing a personal story if you have one. Share some facts about why the agriculture industry uses the practices they might be worried about, and be mindful of the things they are uneasy about.

Check your facts.
If you choose to use factual information in your discussion, check your facts twice and make sure they come from reliable sources. If someone checks your facts and finds they’re false or inaccurate, your reputation and your argument go out the window.

Some great resources for facts about agriculture are USDA, extension services or university studies. While blogs and individual farm pages can be a great sources of personal experience or a snapshot of ag life, you can’t always be sure the facts are correct.

Know why you’re having the conversation.
Is the person open to other ideas, or are they just looking to argue? It’s much easier to share thoughts with someone who genuinely wants to hear someone else’s opinion than with someone who just wants you to validate theirs.

If you feel like you’re being targeted or set up in the conversation, it isn’t one you want to continue having. Respectfully end the conversation, offer to discuss ideas another time and move on.

It’s okay to stop.
In some cases, even if you are keeping the conversation respectful, the other person may not be. Especially with controversial agricultural topics, you have to choose your battles.

It’s easy to get sucked in when a discussion turns into a fight.

If you find yourself feeling insulted, angry and defensive, it’s time to step away from the conversation. You can either continue it later when both parties have had time to calm down, or agree to disagree and find another opportunity to advocate for agriculture.

Remember these tips the next time you have a conversation with someone who has doubts about agriculture. Keep your cool and remember: the exchange isn’t about just you, it’s about a worldwide industry, and the 21.4 million people who make their living from it every day.

Katie Berndt is an agricultural communications major and can be reached at katelyn.berndt@jacks.sdstate.edu.

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