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Being the public face of your farm

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Table of Contents:

  • Public relations must be practiced from time to time in response to those who don't understand agriculture.
  • Follow the rules. Do what the rules say, and cover your own rear end.

It’s no secret that farming requires a wider array of talents and skills than any other profession, and for most farmers, it all comes rather natural. To survive in this business for any length of time, you must become proficient at any number of vocations – agronomy, engineering, economics, entomology, meteorology…the list goes on and on.

But one skill that doesn’t come so natural to most farmers is public relations, especially as it must be practiced from time to time in response to people who don’t always understand agriculture.

At the same time, it’s a skill that’s becoming more and more of a necessity, for several reasons. There’s ever-increasing urban encroachment, which can mean a shotgun wedding between country and city folk, and complexities when it comes to farm tasks such as spreading poultry manure or making aerial applications. Also, living in the country now appears to be in vogue, with some city dwellers fleeing the crime and traffic of their own neighborhoods to enjoy the “good life” offered in less-populated areas. These are the folks who consider four-wheel-drive trucks to be more of a status symbol than a workhorse, and who don’t restrict the wearing of camouflage to hunting excursions.

A further consideration when it comes to finessing relationships with those who might not be so understanding of certain agricultural practices is that some are more knowledgeable today than in the past about regulations and such, and whenever they complain they do so waving a stack of papers and threatening to notify the authorities, retain legal counsel, or, even worse, alerting the local media about a real or perceived transgression.

According to Kent Stafford, a specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the people who are complaining now are not the same people who were complaining 10 years ago – they are smarter. “Those who are complaining now know what the rules say, they know the things people are supposed to be doing, and they’re willing to hold them accountable if they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing,” he says.

Speaking to a group of crop consultants meeting recently on the Auburn University campus, Stafford was referring primarily to farmers who spread poultry litter on their land, but his advice could be taken well by all growers.

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