By: Shelley Jones and Tiffany Stephenson, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
October is Ag Month in Saskatchewan, and as it draws closer, it’s time to start planning both industry and Ministry roles in communicating with consumers. The theme this year is “Our Food has a Story” with the goal of making more personal connections between agriculture and the public than we ever have before. Throughout October, the Ministry plans to share stories of how food is produced from gate-to-plate and introduce some of the people dedicated to delivering safe, healthy, affordable and sustainable products. We hope, as an industry, you will share your stories, too.
Recently, Farm & Food Care Canada launched both the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) and its 2016 Canadian Public Trust Research Report. Their latest research findings indicate only one in three Canadians think the food system is moving in the right direction. Although that may sound alarm bells for some, we should view it as an opportunity to build trust and to shift perceptions to a place where consumers are confident that we are on the right track. Approximately 69 per cent of respondents said they trusted farmers more than doctors, dieticians, teachers and even government, so there is no better time to tell your story!
As an industry, we have an opportunity to give consumers the information they want. To do that we need to work together to ensure consumers are hearing consistent messaging when it comes to their food. The Ministry and agricultural industry communicators came together in June to discuss Ag Month and how we, collectively, can tell our food story. We know food connects people. Most of our cherished memories somehow involve food, whether it is Christmas dinner or a backyard barbecue. However, as agricultural professionals, we tend to be more comfortable talking about the production methods than the end product. The problem is most consumers don’t understand agriculture and further, most food-based decisions are made with the heart, meaning, the logical, information-based approach doesn’t resonate with many consumers. In order to have meaningful conversations, we need to talk to consumers’ hearts. We need to stop talking about the sprayer and start talking about bread. We can do this by using values-based messaging. By focusing on shared values we will develop a connection with consumers and they will become more trusting and accepting of agriculture and how their food is produced.
The Ministry’s hope for Ag Month is to engage all the industry in telling their chapter of the food story. This can be simple or complex – it could be as simple as having good social media content and using a common hashtag, or working with your membership to help producers tell their story because we know consumers trust farmers and ranchers. Or perhaps it’s more complex, with displays at grocery stores and advertising. Regardless of how you choose to participate, the Ministry is here to help.
Through our Agriculture Awareness Initiative Program, we will match dollars up to $25,000 for new initiatives to help tell your food story during Ag Month. We will also be putting together an Ag Month guide book to provide tips and tricks on how to engage in the conversation. As an industry we need to align and coordinate our approach for Ag Month and beyond. Working together as one industry is the only way we are going to gain consumer support for modern food production. Ag Month is a great opportunity to start telling your story.
If you have any questions or for more information, contact Shelley Jones, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tiffany Stephenson at email@example.com.