Image of Agriculture vs Beliefs

I’ve written up a post before about the Image of Agriculture (following the link to read more about how farms and ranches can “dress for success”). Now, I want to utilize some stuff that I’ve just learned in a Social Psychology class.

I’m going to transpose an excerpt from the book “Social Psychology” by David G. Myers.  (This book is utilized within the course as a form of a textbook and contains lots of great information)

“…Research reveals that it is surprisingly difficult to demolish a falsehood, once the person conjures up a rationale for it. Each experiment first implanted a belief, either by proclaiming it to be true or by showing the participants some anecdotal evidence. Then the participants were asked to explain why it is true. Finally, the researchers totally discredited the initial information by telling the participants the truth: The information was manufactured for the experiment, and half the participants in the experiment had received opposite information. Nevertheless, the new belief survived approximately 75% intact, presumably because the participants still retained their invented explanations for the belief. This phenomenon, called belief perseverance, shows that beliefs can grow their own legs and survive discrediting of the evidence that inspired them.”

I want to point out here why this is important to agriculture. It’s important due to the power of persuasion used in advertising and marketing campaigns. Some of you are already aware of the fear tactics used by food companies pitting one style of farming against another (ie: the great GMO debate and Organic vs Conventional). These fear tactics play on our emotions and health concerns. *As an FYI, I’m not taking sides here, I’m just looking at the tactics and impacts*

How do these powers of persuasion in advertising and media affect our behaviors and beliefs? Here’s how! Let’s use the example of this image below.

Image clip from:
Image clip from:

As a mother, the first thing I notice in this image is the toxic sign to the left of the image and the brown sky. Second thing I notice is the no spray zone and the sun shining in the blue sky. As a farmer, this is a polarized image with zero fact based information.

How does this clip use the power of persuasion with fear appeals? Well, that type of farming to left appears to be dirty (brown sky) and toxic (the sign). It looks unhealthy even with the corn growing exactly the same as the right image. The type of farming on the right shows me a beautiful landscape with sunny blue skies and the idealist image of what we would all want farms in our neighborhoods to be. See that little logo at the top, with the “join the New MacDonald Movement”, well that gives us a directive to what to do as the next step if we “fear for our environment”.

Here’s the funny thing. The New MacDonald is the OLD MACDONALD! It’s the image of what we all think as consumers of what we want farms to look like. It’s the image we’ve seen our entire lives as we’ve driven past farms in rural areas. To be honest, I’ve never once witnessed huge puffs of pesticides bigger than the clouds in the sky. I’ve never once seen green soils in corn fields. I’ve never once witness a brown, dirty sky (other than a dust bowl which I’ve never physically witness, just to clarify).

This image is very polarizing and untrue. Now, let’s see some reactions if this was done in real time with real people. (Pay close attention to the reactions in the audience, staged or not they still impact us with a power of persuasion)

Say you are a farmer now that sits on the other side of the fence. You aren’t organic, yet you aren’t a conventional farmer either (like me, by the way). I know you will find these images and tactics rather disturbing. I’m sure you noticed that NOT ONCE was there any factual information that discussed any type of real environmental impacts, crop yields, or hell, even a tractor (not one? How can this be?)

Peripheral routes to persuasion are one’s that makes us feel good and making us “feel good” about let’s say choosing Organic based products is saving the environment, creating a better life for animals and giving us the perspective of all those farms we pass by on road trips. While in reality, some organic farms aren’t any different than what’s deemed a conventional farm. Yet after many view this imagery, they associate a feeling of bad and negative to any farmer not carrying the organic label.

Why is this bad for all of us? Let’s go back to the  quote at the top about belief perseverance. If ten people see this image for the first time and believe the center line of demarcation, all farmers that are not organic are deemed as bad, untrustworthy and uncaring. Even when these 10 people are presented with fact based information and many times know farmers they can talk too (either in person or via social media), 7.5 people will still hold the belief that it’s organics only from now on.

Now, I want all of you folks that are non-organic believers to step back for just two seconds and put on your thinking cap. Haven’t some of us done the same thing? How many are sitting there right now thinking about where their beliefs come from that GMO’s are good or that spraying pesticides are okay for the environment? With the sheer number of farmers that are generational farmers, I will lay money on the table (that I don’t have to spare) that you use the systems you do because your dad did it and everything turned out okay. Some will say that they have read the research and they are confident in their belief. How can you be when for every pro scientific study their is one that contradicts the findings?

Many of us will immediately jump on the band wagon to refute claims, as I did above. Here’s the issue with counter arguing: If you aren’t convincing enough in your counter appeal, all you do is build resistance against your viewpoints. It’s called attitude inoculation and very much like immunizing someone with a low dose vaccine. The more you argue, the higher the vaccine and the more resistant the opposing side becomes.

Why is all this important in today’s world of agriculture? It’s important because to be FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED. We live in a world today full of available outlets and inlets for information. Just be aware that everywhere we look someone is trying to persuade us to their side. I think Myer’s had some good advice for everyone to use, farmer or consumer, it doesn’t matter….

“To be persuasive, you have to stimulate people’s thinking. stimulating thinking makes strong messages stronger and weak messages less persuasive.” (Myers, D.  Part 3 Social Influence, Social Psychology, p. 180.)

What we think of a message is crucial. That’s where our beliefs come in, but don’t argue your case unless you have all your counter arguments lined up and are prepared to have the case you’re making not result in immunization of the recipient. Second, if you are going to make your case…. make it first. I’ve said before (and I’m going to continue expressing it) that you need to be proactive, not reactive.

You have to get people’s undivided attention, present your case (with facts preferably) and keep repeating your message.

What’s my message in all this? I just want people, all of us, to sit back and think about the arguments we all have over food production. Some of us know and understand that it takes all of us and that many farmers make the best decisions they can based on the information and circumstances in front of them. Let’s stop focusing so much on peripheral and subliminal advertising and start communicating with each other directly. Today’s farmers are much more available than ever before. The diversity of farmers on Twitter alone is staggering and they are from all regions in the world.

Communication between the producer and consumer are crucial to the future. All of us have the same goals in mind for the future: Safe, healthy and nutritious food for everyone. Can we stop throwing up prison fences around one production form over another? No one wants to climb chain link fence to get ripped to shreds by razor wire. Each side does it too. Stop demonizing others for their choices, hold open discussions, everyone ask each other questions. Take the power back to make your own educated decisions, not just follow along because someone told you to.

I’m hoping this gives everyone as much food for thought as it did me. Please feel free to comment, add remarks, whatever.


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