Recently, a survey of opinion leaders and decision makers in Sacramento yielded some very positive news for the rice industry. Rice farmers were seen as providing important environmental benefits while supporting a strong economy. Importantly in a drought, they were also seen as good stewards of resources including water. In fact, most people said that they should receive the same amount of water as previous years.
These findings were in stark contrast to the same survey conducted five years previously. At that time, those opposed to the industry saw rice farming as an “us verses them” proposition. What was good for rice was seen as bad for the environment.
This 180-degree turn in view led Kerry Tucker, a 30-year public relations professional, to say that the industry’s communications effort was a model for agriculture.
What then were the factors that contributed to this significant change in how our industry is viewed? Three things played a role, in our opinion.
- Solid messaging – coming on the heels of the survey five years ago, we shifted our focus to highlight the significant environmental benefits from rice production. We also put our family farmers as the face of the industry.
- Early adoption of social media – we were early adopters of social media to tell the industry’s story from a first person (farmer) point of view.
- Increased interest in agriculture – at the same time the public was expressing a renewed interest in agriculture. Sustainability and where food comes from became the buzzwords of the day.
These factors combined with a lot of hard work and creativity put the right people talking about the things that mattered to the public. And we did so in the new places everyone was going to talk about the issues of the day – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and blogs.
If this is the model for agriculture, our results speak to the potential for success.