Pay attention to agriculture terms when bridging the consumer gap

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

Over last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to bounce around from conference to conference, learning on topics ranging from no-till, to canola production, to irrigation. On a glance these three topics may not have a ton in common, but as January wraps up (already!?) it’s got me thinking about some of the common themes.

It’s likely not a surprise to any of you that one of the common themes I’ve concluded is how we talk to consumers — but more specifically, the terminology we expect them to understand when explaining what we do.

In the past I’ve joked about doing the agriculture reports in college, and how my classmates thought a cereal crop was a crop of Corn Flakes, or how irrigation wasn’t even a term they could try to guess. There’s a picture of me (somewhere) where my classmates brought a bunch of eggs to class, because they thought my family worked in ‘egg,’ not ‘ag.’ I remember thinking ‘these city kids just don’t get it.’ But is that really their fault? Are we doing a good enough job, or are we cutting corners by using insider terms? Even the crossover within our own industry can cause for confusion in terminology.

Consumers come after us for the use of a certain ‘weed killer’ out there, and we start talking back to them about glyphosate MRLs, and spewing numbers, without explaining what on earth that actually means. We shorten agriculture to ag, without thinking it’s not a common term for those outside of our industry.

For the past month, I’ve heard this conversation a few times — that we need to pay attention to the terms we use. Yelling back loudly to the consumers that many of our operations are no-till, and the benefits this provides to our soils, doesn’t necessarily mean anything if they don’t know what ’till’ even means.

Don’t take me the wrong way here — I’m not trying to say consumers are people that need to be talked to like children. All I’m saying, is the next time you hear someone ask a ‘stupid’ question, maybe take a step back, and put yourself in their shoes. When you hear a lawyer talking about a decree, do you know what it means? When you hear an oil and gas crew talk about fracking and reading seismic waves, do you know what that means? Interest rates went up by fifty basis points — did you have to Google what a basis point was?

These are all very common terms for the respective industries, but we can’t all be expected to know everything. We can learn, we can educate, we can work together. I think it’s time we start recognizing that it’s OK not to know what something is. Let’s create an environment both in, and outside of our industry where we feel comfortable asking what something means, and not knocking each other down for not understanding.

These basic conversations could open up a whole world of conversation, and hopefully with that, some understanding. As we well know, the bridge of the consumer gap isn’t going to be built overnight, but we can certainly help each other get it built.

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