As a communications professional nothing can be more frustrating than being informed that one’s communications strategy is just not getting through to people.

Yet, that ugly truth was driven home in a new poll that has found that a different approach may be needed for farmers and ranchers to more effectively communicate with consumers.

As communications director for the Western Plant Health Association I have attended countless communications meetings discussing the proper ag messages that should be developed. I have attended seminars, conferences and workshops learning how better to convey agriculture’s benefits and opportunities to the general masses. I have produced videos for public consumption extolling the virtues of best management practices, the safety of food products, and the inroads made in commercial crop production that aim to protect the environment.

However, I see the wisdom of this new information and realize that I might have to make some adjustments in our attempts to assure the public that farmers and ranchers are sincere and hard at work in feeding the world in the most affordable and safest way possible. But wait — that sentence just might not be heard by consumers in the way I meant it.

Case in point: Keith Yazmir of Maslansky Luntz & Partners recently gave a presentation to Charleston/Orwig, a large strategic communications consultant, about his firm’s research on the messages agriculture uses to communicate about food production and agricultural practices. The research was funded by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance and provides insight into the messaging that agriculture is spreading and the actual translations that consumers are hearing.

The poll found that while a message can be presented in what seems like a clear, well-stated way, it often can be heard and interpreted much differently than intended. In fact, agriculture’s standard 'go-to' messages aren’t providing peace of mind for consumer audiences, and fighting emotion with science and facts has not moved the needle. Since I frequently use “science” to refute misstatements from environmental groups, I found this last bit of information more than troubling.

In arriving at his conclusions, Yazmir used the same research methodology employed in political debates to track changes in agreement or disagreement with an idea or statement — the reactions of influencers in the food industry were tracked as a farmer discussed current farming methods, phrases or ideas. The Instant Response Research uncovered emotional reactions to messaging in real time. Study participants included chefs, restaurant owners, food bloggers and food writers, among other food influencers.