Making public relations work for your farm

  • 3 min read

Consumers are hungry for information, and they want it from farmers.

70% of Canadians want to know more about agriculture.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened consumer interest in value chains and local food. The latest research by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity shows that 70% of Canadians want to know more about agriculture, and that producers are their preferred source of knowledge above all others.

So how do farmers mobilize that knowledge? How do they become their own public relations agent, dispel misinformation and let the public know what’s really going on down the lane?

Farmers who’ve been successful at it suggest a variety of approaches.

Use social media to show everyday farm life

Popular Guelph, Ont., dairy farmer Tim May, known widely as Farmer Tim on social media, uses platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to connect with the public.

His posts show everyday life on the farm – the good, like satiated cows in the pasture or a vibrant sunrise, and the bad, such as poor weather or the grief he feels when a calf dies.

He says sharing all facets of farming makes an emotional connection with consumers.

“I wear my feelings on my sleeve, and everyone can see them,” May says. “You need to give yourself a personality and find common ground with people. They want to know you’re compassionate, that you care about your family and your animals like they care about their families and pets. They can identify with you on that level.”

May tries to publish a digital media post daily. He acknowledges that it’s a time-consuming effort; he manages by counting on the farmers among his followers to participate in his posts, to chip in and answer or elaborate on public-facing questions about production.

Start the conversation with common interests

Cash cropper Will Bergmann, who farms near Glenlea, about 30 minutes south of Winnipeg, Man., is a farmer representative for the Canola Eat Well Ask a Farmer feature. There, he gets the opportunity to explain why farmers use technology and other modern practices.

“Representing a sector in this way is a great way to talk to consumers about farming,” Bergmann says.

Bergmann and his wife Jen also operate a medium-size organic community-supported agriculture (CSA) operation on the farm.

They get ample opportunity to discuss both organic and conventional agriculture when they deliver produce to their members, who mostly reside in Winnipeg.

“Everyone wants safe, affordable, nutritious food, so that’s a starting point for a dialogue about farming,” he says. “Once we build the relationship, we can talk with people about who and what you can trust and understand their thoughts too.”

Have consumers visit your farm - virtually

Before COVID-19, fruit and vegetable producer Morris Gervais of Barrie Hill Farms near Springwater, Ont. engaged in a huge public relations exercise by hosting a Farm and Food Care Breakfast on the Farm event, drawing thousands.

Gervais is bullish on such initiatives.

“In Ontario, we have a pretty unique opportunity to connect with consumers, with so much of the population living here, not too far away and able to come to our farms,” Gervais says.

With COVID-19 physical distancing recommendations in place, allowing visitors on farms is practice of the past, at least for the time being. Instead, virtual farm tours are gaining popularity. Farm and Food Care Ontario offers virtual farm tours across a variety of agricultural sectors from various parts of the country on its Farm 360 website, including tours in virtual reality.

For direct to consumer sales, many farms across the country have started online sales with curbside pickup as a way of connecting with consumers, or opening small markets on their properties.

Bottom line

Research shows consumers want to know more about agriculture and want to hear the news from the farmers producing the food. The prospect of venturing into public relations can be overwhelming. Still, producers with experience in this area recommend finding common ground with consumers and finding a starting point for the discussion.

Article by: Owen Roberts