By Philip Gibson, Managing Director, Reverberate PR
I sometimes think that we are our own worst enemy.
We operate in an industry facing increasing negativity. We are being challenged on climate change impact, pesticide use, soil health and biodiversity. It feels like we are under attack. Yet much of the public face of farming continues to be defensive and even confrontational – justifying why we still need access to certain pesticides or why we must be allowed to continue doing things the way we currently do them.
If, in this post-Brexit world, we want to build a strong brand for British agriculture, then we have to change our ways. Like any other successful business, we should follow the ‘two ears, one mouth’ adage and listen to customers rather than justifying why we are right, and they are wrong. We are not entitled to farm and we are not entitled to receive taxpayer funding. We are not entitled to public support and recognition for putting food on the table. The ‘thank a farmer if you ate today’ rhetoric and attitude needs to change, as does the constant desire to maintain the status quo.
The reason any of us can farm and produce food is because someone wants to buy what we’ve produced in the way we’ve produced it. We are not entitled to their custom, nor their support – we have to earn it. So, to survive, let alone flourish, we have to think and behave differently, and engage others positively. We need to build a positive brand for UK agriculture starting with a new culture and a new mindset. We need to be addressing the public’s concerns constructively. We know agriculture and the food chain operate on wafer-thin margins. We know farming is hard work, in difficult conditions, for minimal return. Yet we all choose to earn our living from this great industry. If we want to prosper in the future, we have to be agile, adaptable and market-focused. We must be able to do what our customers require of us at a price they will pay. We need to ensure we are world-leading in all we do, every single day, on every single farm. This might be new thinking for agriculture, but it’s the challenge every business faces every day.
Let’s choose to be optimistic rather than pessimistic. Let’s recognise there are fantastic opportunities ahead for British agriculture, but let’s listen to our customers, anticipate changing preferences, and proactively identify and address potential reputational threats before they surface. Let’s react to macro challenges like climate change because it is the right thing to do, not simply because we are criticised or legislated against if we don’t. And let’s promote what we do in the most engaging and positive way we can – just like any other successful brand – to build brand value and brand loyalty.
Times are changing. We can either choose to try keeping things as they are, and get left behind, or we can spend time listening to our customers, truly innovating and driving British agriculture forward. I know where I’ll be focusing my efforts.