For the week of Aug. 7, 2017

Livestock producers must connect on a value's basis

By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau

Today’s livestock producers work in a noble profession. Unfortunately, not everyone believes this so people who care for animals must understand how consumers think and feel. Get inside their heads, if you will.

Consumers hold farmers responsible for the humane treatment of farm animals. In recent consumer surveys, people rated animal wellbeing higher than the care and wellbeing of workers in the food system but not as high as food safety.

It is not science, technical capacity or ability that drives trust. Instead, it is whether consumers believe agriculture shares their ethics and values.

Kansas livestock producers spend long hours caring for their cattle, hogs, goats and sheep. Many check on their herds every day. They constantly monitor for health issues. They make sure their livestock are well fed, watered and have shelter during inclimate weather.

During calving season, for instance, most cattlemen put their momma cows and new-born calves’ wellbeing front and center. You can bet, their care and safety is their number one concern.

Telling this story includes showing people what is taking place on our nation’s farms and ranches.

The most important job ahead is to communicate in a way that helps people trust what farmers and ranchers say and do. Too often livestock producers take for granted that rural neighbors know and understand who they are and what they do.

Just like their urban cousins, they remain committed to their chosen vocation. They live and breathe animal husbandry – the care and nurturing of their livestock. They continually think about their charge.

Agriculture can no longer take for granted that those outside our industry know about what we do. Our industry continues to evolve and most of the people in the United States today are not involved in farming and ranching.

Many Americans know little about where their food comes from. They want to believe that what livestock producers are doing is consistent with their values and ethics.

Livestock production or animal agriculture in the most affluent country in the world faces special challenges and opportunities. Among those challenges is that Americans spend such a small percentage of their income on food that they can demand food where they want it, when they want it, in the proportion they want it and produced in a humane way.

Many food stores and food retailers have announced implementation of third-party verification measures to ensure food animals are treated humanely. In some instances, customers will demand third-party verification and if it doesn’t exist, the store providing the food may not be credible.

Agriculture can and will win the hearts and minds of consumers.

Tell your story. Inform people at every opportunity how hard you work every day to ensure animals are treated fairly and humanely.

 John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.