Journalists can help farmers deliver on transparency


Owen Roberts, IFAJ Vice President, Canada

Are farmers using technology? I’ll say. Last Wednesday, my son-in-law Mark, a crop and livestock farmer, texted from the delivery room IT’S A BOY. He used technology to calm jittery nerves, to announce the arrival of Henry Huston, his and my daughter Alicia’s first child, and the first grandchild for my wife Angi and me. Great moments in issues management and multi-tasking, I’d say.

Admittedly, I’m an opportunist by connecting our grandson’s arrival to technology on the farm. But in reality, technology is a popular topic with farmers, and always has been. A lot of talk surrounds technology uptake.

Lately, consumers are among the driving forces for those conversations. Almost everywhere, consumers have a growing interest in food production details. Simple clichés about our food being the best and the safest do not appeal to them anymore, if indeed they ever did.

Accordingly, the agri-food sector is making adjustments in its approach to public relations, to try explaining to consumers production hows and whys.

This includes how and why farmers, processors and manufacturers use science and technology, including genetically modified crops and modern feeding and housing livestock facilities.

This stepped-up approach is all in the name of transparency – that is, being forthright, ethical and proactive about actions, issues and activities. Everyone in the sector is reaching for it, to promote better understanding, generate trust and avoid accusations of secrecy.  It’s a well-intentioned, admirable goal.

Social media has given transparency a new edge. It’s given non-journalists the opportunity to become writers and publishers of their own material and reach new audiences.

Farmers who are particularly good at writing or broadcasting can strike up a direct conversation with farmers or consumers through blogs.

Some of the smartest media outlets use this to their advantage by welcoming farmer bloggers into their stable. After all, if readers are going to farmer blogs anyway, why not have them housed on a publication’s website, rather than having farmer bloggers get all those e-visits on their own?

It makes good business sense…and it’s good for transparency, as long as the blogger’s content isn’t under pressure from the publisher.

In Argentina, at IFAJ 2013, results will be revealed of the first-ever IFAJ-sanctioned survey of successful media approaches to technology transfer (results will also be posted later in the month on the IFAJ website).

I’m curious to see how transparency fits into these results, and in particular, what journalists see as the limiting factors in disseminating best practices to target audiences.

Early indications are that technology is not wholly to blame.