Go Ahead, Be Hard On Your Beliefs

FarmOn Einstein Quote


“We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.” – Tim Minchin

What we believe is important – really important, for that matter. Because our beliefs naturally guide us to make decisions and take actions that carve our path and influence the direction we take. And while our beliefs play a big role in shaping us, it’s critical that we take the time to truly examine our beliefs and reconsider some of our assumptions. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done.

In the agriculture industry, there are many different beliefs about the “right” way to do things. We operate on information overload, as each side of a heated topic bombards us with staunch proof and steadfast statistics to back up their unwavering beliefs. Often, people passionately argue their belief from habit or defense of their livelihood, rather than taking a step back to actually examine if their beliefs still hold truth when all of the information is carefully weighed.

But here is the awesome thing about truth: it can handle questioning. It isn’t offended by poking and prodding. I think, at times, we are afraid of questioning because we fear that it will damage all that we have built to be true based on our belief. However, that’s the beautiful thing about questioning, it pushes us towards answers. Because questions can’t change what is true, but they can inspire understanding that leads to either a confirmation or a change in our beliefs based on logic and fact.

As farmers, we must be careful not to segregate ourselves based on belief. The way you choose to farm is NOT the only thing that defines you. You don’t have to follow traditional practices to prove you honour agriculture’s past. You don’t need to farm organically to care about the Earth and understand the need for sustainability. You can love and respect animals while still raising them for food. Too often we become so entrenched in our beliefs that we can’t see the big picture: that when it comes to food, we’re all in this together!

If we are honest with ourselves, and truly question our beliefs based on the quest for truth, we must admit that there are sustainability issues with some of the ways we produce food and that every type of farming will play an important role in the solution. Sparking change that will ensure the health and future of our planet for generations to come will require a new way of doing things and the ability to set aside pride, fear, and the need to be “right”. Instead, we must move forward with great intention based on what we now know, rather than what we have always believed. The need for innovative collaboration and unity within the brotherhood of farming has never been greater. Each of you will play an important role in that which will be a defining moment, a “tipping point” for food production as we know it. So be brave in questioning your beliefs. Understand that just wanting something to be true cannot make it so. Be comfortable knowing that it’s okay to change course if need be. What you do as a farmer is essential, how you do it is ever evolving based on new knowledge. And that, friends, is as it should be.

Re-Thinking the Future of Agriculture

Vik Maraj, of Unstoppable Conversations, discusses how to improve the future of agriculture by letting go of the past.

Farmers can’t get out of their view about what limits them in fulfilling their future ambitions. Often they think that they are “on their own.” This view has been passed down by previous farm generations, however the limitations of generations past, no longer reflects the reality of today. In the past, farmers truly where on their own, left to battle it out each year for the hope a good yield, come harvest time. But today, farmers need to realize they are not on their own and to be able to re-imagine a new future of agriculture they must start reaching out to other farmers, organizations and networks.

The future of agriculture cannot improve by referencing the past; it requires us to bring forth a future that is entirely new.



Managing Your Human Resource Risk

When you’re in a farm operation there are a number of different risks and in order to be successful as a farmer you need to understand:

1. What the risks are;

2. The potential for problems with the risks;

3. How to alleviate the risks to an acceptable leve

To understand the whole picture you need to educate yourself and then consult professionals to help you out.

‘Human Resources Risk’ is one of the ‘5 Pillars of Risk Management’, as explained by expert Reg Shandro.  In farm families the complexities of managing human resources can be risky business!

For further resources, please read the information below or in the “download” section on the right of your screen:

Conflict Resolution Skills
This workshop was funded in part by the Agriculture & Food Council of Alberta


How Young Farmers Can Make Great Choices in Their 20’s

When you’re in your 20s your challenge is to become independent from your parents. Part of what a young farmer really wants is to have a voice and make decisions, and to be respected for his or her opinion.

So, if you’re a young farmer and you identify with the above, this video is for you!

Also, remember to check out Elaine Froese‘s webinar “How to Make Better Family Farm Decisions“.

And if you want some farm management tools and templates check outWittman Consulting.

Conversation Skills #3: The Skills

In this series of short videos, Brady Wilson of Juice Inc. walks you through some hands-on skills that you can test drive in your business and family relationships right away.

This is part 3 of the “Conversation Skills” series. Watch part 1,“Conversation Skills Part 1: The Operating System”


Framing Up the Conversation 



But What if They Won’t Talk?



But What if it’s Me?



Engaging the Cortex



Getting Back to the Point



One Conversation at a Time



Getting to Common Ground 



Intelligent Listening 


Conversation Skills #2: The Apps

Brady Wilson
 of Juice Inc. demonstrates that the “Operating System” of conversation, has some killer apps!  Let’s dive into some of them and see how it all works.


Why is This Training So Important?



What’s Your Early Warning Signal?



Strategies For Keeping Your Marbles



You Will Get Triggered 



Blending Inquiry & Directness



Felt Needs



The Science Behind the Strategies 



Support vs felt Support 



Interference at Work


Conversation Skills #1: The Operating System


Brady Wilson from Juice Inc. demonstrates that the “Operating System” that lies behind any successful business is effective communication.

“Conversation is the operating system that drives the “applications” of feedback, recognition, problem-solving, and coaching. When done effectively, conversation also fuels great employee and customer experiences, and better business results. Every conversation matters.” –Juice Inc.

In this workshop you will learn how the communication ‘operation system’ works.


Conversation: The OS of Your Business


The Power of Pull in Conversation


The Pull Conversation Process 



Decoding the Human Brain in Conversation 



Why the Kitchen Table?



Losing Your Marbles 


Connecting with Consumers on Farm Animal Welfare

When controversial agricultural issues hit the public spotlight, there is a natural tendency by the industry to rush to “tell” and “educate” the consumer to get them to the right conclusion.

One step in the process that should never be overlooked is to stop and listen first, says Theresa Dietrich, a consultant specializing in consumer research.

To truly connect you need to truly understand,” says Dietrich. “We need to know who we are dealing with and what their perceptions and concerns are in order to know what strategies will be effective incresponding to or influencing them.”

If you’re just talking and not really listening, you’re likely to do more harm than good, she says. “You might as well be talking to yourself or not at all.”

Insights from research

So what is really understood about today’s consumer mindset? Dietrich has pursued a number of consumer studies, including focus-group style exercises, which provide some insight.

For typical meat eating, urban consumers, there are several issues that come to mind when they think about issues surrounding farm animal care, she says. Top of the list is the ethical housing and raising of animals, including issues related to animal density, sanitary conditions, confinement and space. Other questions surround what animals are fed, how they’re cared for, transportation concerns and the use of hormones and antibiotics. Additional topics raised include the concept of “factory farms” versus family farms, food safety and environmental concerns.

“The factory farms one is often used as a catch-all topic for nearly all of the concerns,” says Dietrich. “Overall, one of the important takeaways from the research I’ve been involved with is that these consumers do in fact have distinct feelings and concerns that come to mind and often they have formed opinions on these issues.”

The attitudes, perspectives and opinions from these consumers may not be ones that those in agriculture would agree with, says Dietrich. Some may even be outright factually incorrect. But to dismiss them on that basis would be a mistake.

Seek first to understand

“The discussion with the consumer is more effective if it is about understanding and constructive dialogue, not an argument of right and wrong,” she says. “You might not agree with their opinion, but regardless of whether it is right or wrong it is their opinion. We need to get past that and focus on what we can we learn. What do these opinions tell us that can help us improve how we make business decisions, how we conduct ourselves and how we engage and communicate with these consumers?”

There are two big reasons why the consumer mindset should be a major focus for those involved in animal agriculture, says Dietrich. The first is the general overall increase in negative media around the livestock industry. The impact of this on consumer thinking needs to be monitored and countered. The second are the challenges livestock products face in a marketplace influenced by these perceptions.

“The first point is undeniable,” says Dietrich. “Not a week goes by that you don’t see something negative in some type of published media surrounding the industry.” YouTube has literally hundreds, possibly thousands of videos that depict examples of the negative treatment of animals. There have been several examples of documentaries that have hit mainstream viewing such as “Food Inc.” that have not been complimentary towards the industry. There have been several books written such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” that conclude that to stay healthy people should “Eat less. Mostly vegetables. Little meat.”

It’s unclear whether there are clear links between negative media coverage and declining market share for livestock products, she says. “But it’s obviously a potential we need to be aware of and on top of.”

On the positive side, there are many opportunities for livestock industries to tap into attributes and messages that are attractive to the consumer, she says. As part of her presentation at the Livestock Care Conference, Dietrich conducted an interactive exercise with audience members to brainstorm ways to accomplish this. She kicked off the session by showing a series of videos from some of her consumer research, showing individuals discussing their opinions on the food system and livestock industries.

The exercise yielded a range of helpful responses and good discussion. Throughout the session, Dietrich provided advice based on what she had learned from consumer research.

The common tie among each of her suggestions was the importance of identifying the consumer mindset, asking the right questions, making the right observations and – most important – listening.

General attitudes uncovered

Some of the fundamentals Dietrich has identified based on her research include:

Closer connection: People increasingly want to have a closer connection to their food – knowing where it is coming from, and wanting to feel some connection to it.

Feeling goodPeople want to feel good about what they are eating.

Local and authentic are attractivePeople feel that locally helps “build their own little economic reality” while also being good for environmental reasons. They also want an authentic approach to how they live and how they eat, which is tied in with a belief that the nutritious food is natural food.

Factory farm image a big challenge“People generally believe that factory farms are bad and family farms are good,” she says.

Value trumps price (usually)Dietrich also believes consumers are willing to pay a fair price – for good value. “This can be taken two different ways. They can pay a cheap price for basic products or they can pay a premium when they are getting a premium quality product.”

Article courtesy of Alberta Farm Animal Care

Link Photo courtesy of Marji Beach

What do you think about connecting with consumers on farm animal care?

Connect With Consumers on Agriculture: “Speak With Pride”

Who speaks for agriculture today? For Crystal Mackay, there is no one better to do that than farmers and others who work in this industry every day. It’s not easy to connect with consumers, manage ever-higher expectations and support a clear, fair understanding of industry values and how things work, reported Meristem Land and Science. That’s not an excuse for agriculture to keep to itself.

As Executive Director of Farm & Food Care, Ms Mackay has ‘walked the talk.’ She has helped to lead a staff team, member organisations and board of directors who have collectively shaped the organisation to have a major focus on communicating with the public and providing credible information on food and farming.

“The good news is, the average Canadian has a really positive view of agriculture,” said Ms Mackay, who talked about the communications challenge for agriculture at the 2013 Banff Pork Seminar.

“The challenge for us is 93 per cent of Canadians say they know little or nothing about it. So there is definitely a big black hole out there for agriculture to fill with accurate information. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, we are leaving it to others to shape how people think about our industry.”

Tell Your Story

The key is for people in agriculture to tell their own story, she says. “Know your strengths. Talk about your farm or your area of expertise in the industry. Don’t bog people down with too much technical information. They want to know the real life stories about your care and commitment and what you do every day.”

The formation of Farm & Food Care is an example of people in agriculture making a concerted effort to strengthen the voice of their industry and be more active in engaging the public.

The organisation was created in 2012 from the amalgamation of the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC) and Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment (AGCare).

“It is the first coalition of its kind in Canada – bringing together livestock, crop and horticulture farmers and associated businesses,” sais Ms Mackay.

Her organisation provides information on food and farming and provides coordination and strategy on behalf of the entire industry in the province. There are three pillars to its business model:

  • Advocacy and intelligence – Risk communications and issue expertise
  • Industry Programs & Research – “Do the right thing”
  • Public Trust & Outreach – “Tell people about it”

The highest profile of these is the third pillar, aimed toward speaking openly about agriculture to build a stronger relationship with the public, said Ms Mackay. While her organisation offers a collective industry voice to accomplish this, it is equally important for individuals involved in the industry to play a role as ‘ag ambassadors’, each contributing to the overall cause in their own way.

Tips For Ag Ambassadors

What makes a good ag ambassador? Ms Mackay offered these tips to Banff Pork Seminar participants:

Be positive. “Think customer service with a smile,” she said

Know your audience. “Know who you are talking to and what their concerns are,” she added.

Be prepared. “This means taking time to know what’s happening and what you want to communicate,” continued Ms Mackay. “This can mean everything from dealing with issues to being ready for questions, including being prepared to deal with media.”

Keep it simple. Talk about what you know…but not too much at first, she advised. “Use examples from your farm or your experience. Never guess.”

Speak with confidence. If you’re asked about something you’re not comfortable you know the answer to or how to handle, there are ways to manage that, she said. “‘I don’t know’ is always a valid answer. Refer them to someone else or take their name and get back to them when appropriate.

Use easy to understand words and explanations. Industry jargon is a common mistake, she said. Ag ambassadors should also avoid human comparisons and loaded words. “Provide comparisons your audience can relate to.”

Show you care. Sincerity is critical to building trust, said Ms Mackay. People need to see you believe what you are saying and that you respect and value the audience you are speaking to.”

Know the line. Keeping positive often means finding the right balance between inviting discussion while avoiding debates and confrontations. “Remember, everyone is entitled to their opinion,” she continued. “You may be the only person in agriculture that person ever has the chance to meet. Make that impression great.”

The web site, virtualfarmtours and the ‘Real Dirt on Farming’ books are two examples of leading tools available that ag ambassadors can use and refer people to.

Links to these tools and others, such as an Ag Awareness toolkit, along with more tips and information from Farm & Food Care, is available on its web site.

Article courtesy of The Pig Site

Link Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk

Check An Open Letter to Consumers: 5 Things Farmers Want You To Know to read about some of the core issues farmers should talk to consumers about.

How do you connect with consumers? Share your thoughts below.