Meeting in the Middle

I wanted share my experience from the Meet In The Middle event in Olds, Alberta, on February 16th. Before I get into the event, I wanted to give you a bit of a background on myself and why I was so excited to attend this event. When I think about my family, friends, coworkers and career, it is safe to say that I am completely immersed in agriculture. I grew up on a farm East of Vulcan, Alberta. My mom and dad, as well as their parents on both sides, farmed. My closest friends all work in the agriculture industry, so you can imagine our conversations and our pro-GMO mindsets are well aligned. My first real exposure to people outside of agriculture came when I met my wife and her family who all live in Vancouver. Getting to know them very well over the past 8 years has taught me a few things about what people think really happens in modern agriculture. Urban people, who have some agricultural knowledge, think that farming with pesticides is outdated and needs reform, GMO’s are dangerous, unneeded, and untested, and the progressive farmers move to organic because they know how to best farm sustainably. The fact that Europe does not endorse GMO’s is a huge red flag for many people. These ideas are what many urban people, who have done some level of “research”, believe to be true and with significant conviction. It is NOT an easy opinion to change in a single conversation.

This has fueled my fascination with marketing and how it impacts people’s mindset and influences decisions. It seems companies that can best establish trust and authenticity in the consumer will win. Anytime I have a conversation with someone removed from agriculture about agriculture and I don’t first establish trust (establish that, I too, want a safe food supply for all) the facts do little to change their opinion.

I had an incredible time at this event. We each had assigned seating, which was predetermined by doing a survey to establish your understanding of agriculture. At different parts of the evening, they would require certain people to move to a new seat, so new conversations could be started. I was able to chat with a lot of interesting people. The first in-depth conversation I had was with a nurse who is married to a doctor in Calgary. She has two daughters and was genuinely interested in what goes on in our industry. She didn’t understand the Pest Management Regulatory Association (PMRA) process, or how in-depth the technology we use is researched before launch. It was very clear to me after this event how many people think there is very little research or testing before commercialization.

The toughest conversation I had was with a woman who was about my age. She has a lot of allergies and she has been struggling with stomach problems for about 8 years. She said that when she eats organic produce instead of conventional, the allergy symptoms that she was experiencing before disappeared. This was a difficult conversation, because for me to bring up the placebo effect would have been insulting. In this situation, I thought it was best to encourage her to keep trying new things and eat whatever makes her feel her best, but I didn’t have an answer as to why she was feeling that way.

The idea of locally sourced food was one that resonated deeply with many of the guests at the event; they wanted to do their best to support the local markets when possible. One gentleman at our table was talking to me after the meal about trying to organize a group of farmers that could supply his bakery, so he could market his bread as locally sourced. This brought up the conversation about traceability within our commodity system, and being able to show where ingredients come from. It will be interesting to see if this “local” concept becomes big enough that consumers would be willing to pay a premium to incentivize the value chain to be able to provide this information quicker. Wishful thinking, I’m sure.

The organizers had a farmer come in (the farmer who is the face of Nexera). He spoke to the group about how crop input costs have changed significantly. They brought in a bucket of barley and talked to the group about how much it was worth and how much it cost him to produce it. This stirred a lot of conversation within the group about how much goes into producing a crop and the challenges that come with it. There were a few members at our table who were so far removed from agriculture, that it was necessary to speak in the most basic agriculture language possible.

Overall, I thought the event was very well done. I have found that using a personal story about how agriculture has changed over the last few decades, and how much better it is now, in comparison to our previous practices, goes a long way. It’s important to have a strong story that incorporates the facts, rather than referencing facts only if you want to make the most impact.

HartungCadeCade Hartung is a territory sales representative for Dow AgroSciences Canada. He lives with his wife Sheree in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.