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I read a lot. I still print out a lot of articles. I bookmark a lot (if you’re really an ag nerd or journo-nerd, feel free to check out some of the links I’ve saved on del.icio.us). OK, so sometimes the articles need to be marked “to read when time,” but, regardless, I’m an avid browser and scanner of farm, media, trends, management and leadership topics.

In all those words are always some that require chewing. You know, food for thought. A pondering of how this impacts me or my industry or my family. I thought I’d throw some of those “hmmm” thoughts out for the masses today. Let me know if anything triggers more “hmmms” from you, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments or in a direct email.

1. “Mystery shop” your own farm.

OK, so this one is from a business customer service post written by George Taylor, president of Beyond Feedback, on a blog called “Customer Think,” but I think it’s an idea that merits some agriculture attention.

Retails stores use “mystery shoppers” all the time. You know, people who go incognito into a store as a shopper and evaluate everything from friendliness of clerks to cleanliness of restrooms. What if we had a mystery farm visitor? How would they view our farm? What’s it look like, smell like, feel like, to a stranger?

Why should we care what a complete stranger, and possibly nonfarm stranger, thinks about our farm? Because that’s your customer. That’s your support system. And if they don’t like what they see, that could also be your biggest opponent. There’s a reason Temple Grandin says we should have video cameras in our barns: The public wants to know what a farmer does.

And person who has a negative experience with a farm won’t keep his opinion to himself.

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

2. What’s your ‘elevator speech’?

This is nothing new, but it’s probably a question we’ve all shoved to the back burner. Speech? I have to talk about what I do? To a stranger?

An elevator speech is a sound bite, if you will. A 60-second, non-stuttering comment about something, be it “why I’m passionate about farming,” or “why I use pesticides and herbicides” or “why I treat my sick animals with antibiotics” or “why I raise my dairy calves in little white igloos.” And first off, you need to figure out why you do those things, condense it into a consumer-friendly conversation of a minute, and then practice it. Out loud. Behind the barn or out in the tractor cab. Role play with a good (really good) friend who won’t laugh.

Ditch the over-used, meaningless phrases, like “farmers are the original environmentalists” and “we have the safest food supply in the world.” Consumers don’t give two flying hay bales about the cliches. (Read Feedstuffs recent article, “Ag’s go-to messages not resonating,” if you don’t believe me.)

And get ready to revamp your speech, or to have five or six ready. You are the most effective spokesman for agriculture. Hands-down. Are you ready?

3. Buddy, can you spare some time?

People want to connect and you could benefit from that networking, or “idle chat” as much as the next person. Be generous with your time. Is there someone who would make a good “let’s have a quick cup of coffee” conversation? A neighboring farmer? A businessman who goes to your church? It could even be with an employee, or a neighborhood youth. Those conversations keep you grounded. And the time you invest in building relationships always, always has solid returns.

4. Lighten up.

Why do you think everyone tunes into The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or Stephen Colbert or David Letterman’s top 10 lists (or even a website devoted to cat photos and videos with abysmal spelling). We love to laugh (heck, we need to laugh).

You can take your farm business seriously, and still enjoy a good laugh now and then. Life’s too short for frown lines.

5. Think refrigerators.

Yes, there is a future in farming.

I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds — achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.

– Beginning of FFA Creed

We’ve heard so much about world population growth and “who will feed the world,” that we’ve actually become a little distanced from that conversation. But the reality is this: As more people worldwide increase their income and class standing, they will eat more meat. In India, the number one item on wish lists is a television. The second wish? No, not a car, but a refrigerator, says futurist Jim Carroll. “Right now, refrigerators have only a 13 percent market penetration. Talk about opportunities for growth,” Carroll wrote in his blog last spring.

Carroll predicts per capita meat consumption growth from 2000 to 2030 will be 49 percent in China, 79 percent in India, and 22 percent in Brazil.

That alone should give you something to chew on.

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.
Susan Crowell
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