Transparency is needed to bridge the gap between ranch life and the grocery store.
A few years ago, a rancher told me a story about going into a McDonald’s to get lunch. He noticed the Angus burger on the menu, and wanting to test the knowledge of the employee, asked what the Angus burger was.
“Oh, you know. It was created by a guy named Angus.”
“Really? Who was this Mr. Angus person?”
“Well, I’m not sure. I can get my manager though, and maybe he can tell you.”
Similar to that awkward exchange was when a news anchor mistakenly called a pair of Black Angus cattle, “Black and Gus," during his broadcast. Watch it below.
While we may chuckle at the ignorance about our industry depicted in these two stories, it’s obvious there is a disconnect between consumers and ranchers today. And it goes both ways. If I asked my dad what he likes to do for fun, chances are he’d list taking care of his cattle, going to cattle shows, and reading cattle magazines. Talk about varied interests. How are we supposed to connect with our customers when we have little in the way of common interests?
Today’s average consumer is three or more generations removed from the farm, but we have to realize that many of us are similarly unfamiliar with the hustle and bustle of busy city life. We’ve got our work cut out for us to bridge the wide gap between producers and consumers.
I believe the first thing we must do is be more transparent. Here are three ways we can better open up and telling our story:
1. Use Facebook and Twitter to talk about ranch life. Whether it’s posting a photograph of a newborn calf, or sharing a link to your favorite BEEF article of the day, there are countless ways to use these social media sites to your advantage. Do more than just keep in touch with relatives; engage with folks outside your immediate circle.
2. Open yourself to conversations with consumers. This blog post was inspired by an article I read on guardian.co.uk, titled, “I am a U.S. cattle rancher. What do you want to know?” Mississippi- and Louisiana-based rancher Amelia Kent answered consumer questions about their cow-calf operation. What’s your typical day? What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made working on the ranch? What’s the craziest thing to ever happen to you on the job? What makes for a really good day on the ranch? What’s your annual salary? What do you think about subsidies? Do you have to worry about wildlife predators? What breed of cattle do you raise? Do cows nibble the top of the grass or pull it up? Is your life more like Dallas or Bonanza? How much water does your operation use?
Put yourself in Kent’s shoes. Would you be able to adequately answer these questions to satisfy consumer concerns? Would you be willing to? I applaud this family for opening up their home and hearts to share their story with others. You can read their responses here.
3. Finally, always find ways to improve your outfit. If the media or a tour bus was to come to your operation today, would you like what they saw? If not, what can you do better? What would you change? I’m confident that ranchers do the best to care for their land and animals, but there is always a little something more we can do to become better stewards. Keep growing, learning, engaging in your community and striving to become the best cattleman you can be.
If we can work on doing these three things, the lines of communication will be opened, and I think our consumers will like what they see.
Do you agree? What are your thoughts on transparency in the beef industry? Do we need more or less of it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.