Our customers have the right to have questions and concerns about their food, and asking those questions should not be taken as criticism. Your best first steps in responding?  Take a deep breath.  Don’t get defensive.  Listen.

During the National Young Farmer & Rancher Conference in Kansas City, American Farm Bureau’s Johnna Miller armed attendees with a number of communication tips for Tackling Tough Ag Topics.  Her message? Consumers are ready to talk and farmers and ranchers need to listen and respond.  Here are some of Johnna’s top do’s and don'ts when communicating with our customers:


  • Use social media as a powerful advocacy tool

  • Acknowledge that farmers and ranchers aren’t perfect

  • Focus on improvement for the future

  • Use personal storytelling – it’s more effective than canned messaging

  • Validate facts and information with endorsements from trusted authorities

  • Link yourself with consumers through shared values

  • Speak the language of food – consumers can better relate


  • Get defensive – it shuts down the line of communication

  • Speak in absolutes – if they find one example in which you are wrong, they won’t believe anything you say

  • Respond by saying “because we’ve always done it that way”

  • Use scare tactics or threats

  • Use ag and science jargon

  • Act like you have something to hide – your audience is increasingly skeptical

These conversations may not always be easy but getting started on the right foot will help. Begin your responses with “I can understand why you’re concerned” or “A lot of people wonder that… let me explain.”  This is your conversation; you can set the tone.

Our customers and influencers in these conversations value transparency.  This is no longer a conversation that can be ignored. Your challenge now is…just do it!  Get a Facebook page and like and share important ag facts and information; open an Instagram account and let consumers see your farm and ranch through pictures; start a blog that tells your story on a weekly or monthly basis; talk to the person sitting next to you on the airplane or in your local grocery store; volunteer to speak up for agriculture when the opportunity presents itself; create educational opportunities in your local schools…and the list goes on.

You don’t have to do it all but if everyone does something, we can take back our voice in the conversation about food and farming.