Finding Your Voice
By Kim Vail, Executive Director
Published May 2, 2016
Are you one of the millions of viewers who recently experienced the final season of the television program American Idol? If you are not, each year for the past fifteen years anyone who believed they could perform well vocally could show up and audition at various cities across the country to hopefully be selected as a contestant. During the contest, which lasted for several weeks, a team of celebrity judges critiqued all weekly contestant performances and every viewer of the show could cast ballots and vote for their choices as best performer.
Each week a contestant who received the least support would be eliminated until the final program segment named the winner of a recording contract and a very large cash prize. The contestants who step into the spotlight for this opportunity believe in what they are doing and take a risk in stepping up to share their message and achieve their dream.
Farmers and ranchers are also committed to their businesses and aspire to have the ability to use proven as well as new methods to remain viable. They know the risks involved in raising animals and producing crops to nourish our communities and also earn a living for their families doing so. They use every conceivable advantage that can be found to help mitigate the risks of weather and markets of which there is little to no control. These inherent risks are increasingly being compounded by layers and layers of government policy and regulation frequently initiated by ill-informed activists.
For as long as many farmers can remember the story was the same: Keep to yourself, operate your farm and don’t bother speaking with the media…there is nothing to gain. This attitude cannot be more outdated today. The truth is there are many of the ill-informed who would do away with several methods of farming and ranching. Their voices can be loud, many times ignorant, but are also well placed. These voices need to be countered.
How is this accomplished? Open doors so the media can have a look at real farming and ranching and the advances in production practices and accompanying conservation that have been realized. The general public needs to see farmers more. Meeting reporters on your farm can help them understand what really goes on instead of being confused by the latest popular fad.
It is very helpful to have an agenda with points you want to make. Being able to make the points in two to three sentences and longer anecdotal forms is good. The most important component of making points is to be able to back them up with reliable information. Good reporters want to know as much as the people they cover and having the right facts available can be everything, especially if the reporter has received incorrect information.
Ag media is commonly supportive, but mainstream, less-informed reporters will require closer scrutiny and explanation. If you have something to say, restate it, repeat the obvious and ask the reporter in a friendly manner why he or she thinks it matters to you. It may take several exchanges before the story is right. It is also helpful to practice making your points with someone you trust. Family and friends at Farm Bureau can be good sounding boards. Even friends who don’t know farming and ranching can be good to bounce ideas off of as they will hear your words as an average person.
The important thing is to develop a relationship with the reporter that could lead to a key opportunity down the road to influence an important issue. They may not always get everything right, but the more they know you the chances improve that they will.
Much like the contestants on American Idol who believe in what they are doing, take a risk in stepping up, practice to fine tune their message, invite others to help them be successful and avoid being eliminated, farmers and ranchers need to find their voice and communicate how farming and ranching really work.