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Using Ag Values to Connect with Consumers

When visitors click the “We Care Pledge” on pillenfamilyfarms.com, they are reading the same words that are recited at least a couple of times each week at the third-generation Midwest swine operation. Every meeting of four or more team members opens with the pledge, recited in English or Spanish, depending on who is in attendance, says Sarah Pillen.

“I promise to care for all of our pigs by making sure they have food, water and air; to be patient at all times and never lose my temper with pigs or my teammates; to consider the personal safety and health of every team member and animal in each decision I make.”

The website also clearly states the values and principles of Pillen Family Farms, starting with “do what is right.” Videos capture team members talking about their pride in caring for the operation’s sows, piglets and finisher pigs, in producing quality feed from locally grown corn and in contributing to good breeding through DNA genetics.

As with other livestock operations, Pillen Family Farms use biosecurity measures that limit access to its facilities, located across three states. So the videos are shot inside the barns, offering the public a view of life for the sows, piglets and finisher pigs. The testimonials from team members underscore the importance of carrying out the company’s values statement and care pledge.

This kind of values-driven conversation is the ideal way for agriculture to engage with an increasingly urban consumer base that is swayed more by the opinions of friends and families than by proven science, says Charlie Arnot, CEO of The Center for Food Integrity.

Charlie spoke at our 2015 Agribusiness Finance Executive Summit, and Sarah was among the agriculture leaders in attendance. Sarah says Charlie’s advice to producers on taking control of agriculture’s story provided food for thought as her family continues to engage with prospective team members and consumers, including through a planned update of pillenfamilyfarms.com.

Charlie — whose not-for-profit company studies consumer views toward food and how those views are shaped –advises producers to use shared values to open conversations with consumers. Shared values are three to five times more important to building trust than sharing facts or demonstrating expertise, he says. Once shared values are established, consumers are more open to the facts. Charlie offers a do and don’t list to help producers as they reach out to consumers.

Don’t:

  • View customers as the enemy
  • Refuse to consider their perspective
  • Reject feedback from those who do not understand farming
  • Assume status quo is permanent

Do:

  • Be transparent and willing to engage
  • Understand that science alone will not prevail
  • Provide support to customers – they are your link to the market
  • Be willing to consider change to meet evolving demand
  • Help consumers understand the impact of their choices

“We have viewed the public communication problem as an information deficit problem. If we simply give people more information, if we give them more data, they’ll be logical, they’ll be rational, they’ll come to our side of the argument.”

When that doesn’t happen, ag decides it needs more research to provide more facts. In reality, Charlie says, a consumer just wants to know “that I count on you to do what’s right.”

Control Family Expenses to Protect Farm Profits

It’s not what you earn, it’s what you spend. For farm families whose living expenses crept up during the recent run of strong commodity prices, Dr. David Kohl’s words serve as a call to action.

Dr. Kohl repeated the phrase throughout this year’s Side By Side Conference, our annual three-day event for young and beginning producers. Left unchecked, Dr. Kohl cautioned, family living expenses threaten the profitability of farm operations. Top managers are adjusting family living and other costs to ensure they aren’t on the wrong side of agriculture’s widening gap in profitability.

Below are key strategies that Dr. Kohl recommended for taking control of family living expenses:

  • Follow the 60-30-10 rule: Sixty percent of farm profits are invested in improved efficiency; 30 percent goes to a working capital reserve to build liquidity; 10 percent is earmarked for discretionary spending, or family living. Families desiring a higher standard of living might need non-farm income to supplement their withdrawals, he says. But he has advised withdrawing less if families are operating their farms with a debt-to-asset ratio (total farm liabilities divided by total farm assets multiplied by 100) of more than 50 percent.
  • Separate business and personal expenses. Dr. Kohl advises developing a family budget that breaks down costs on a monthly basis. Set aside the budgeted amount, plus 25 percent for unexpected costs.Then stick to the budget.

Our financial officers work with customers to better track living expenses so families are in a better position to set spending goals that are right for them. Contact your local FCSAmerica financial officer if you’d like help assessing how family living expenses affect your farm operation.

2014 Family Living Planner