Picture this—it’s 1935 and a sun-weathered farmer in bib overalls looks you in the eye and says, “High bred, my foot! I ain’t payin’ $5 for a bag of seed corn when I can use what I collected from last year’s crop.” Within five years, most farmers were planting hybrid seed corn, but scientists and ag companies needed to use multiple techniques to convince the doubters.
Today’s scientists are trying to assure a skeptical public that innovation can help feed a hungry world. Many think the standard “deficit model” is ineffective—throwing large amounts of info against the wall to see what sticks. As Tim Lundeen stated in a recent Feedstuffs article, people need more than facts. Personal situations are involved, and effective communication has become complex.
Lundeen suggests a 4-step model: the content, the communicator, the audience, and the communication channel. In some ways, this is what CAST is striving for in its various communication modes, from issue papers to press releases to daily tweets. Consider this example:
1. CAST publishes papers about biotech and ag innovation (content).
2. Winners of the annual Borlaug CAST Communication Award—and many others—regularly communicate about research and innovation (communicators).
3. These scientists and noted experts communicate to the public, stakeholders, policymakers, and students (audience).
4. They use research papers, videos, blogs, social media, presentations, and other methods to convey their information (communication channels).
Come to think of it, maybe things weren’t so different in the 1930s. The content was more abstract at first—basically a guarantee that the farmer would get higher yields. Iowa State University researchers and companies like Wallace, Pioneer, and Garst made it all concrete by producing the seeds.
Sales crews were the original communicators, but in some ways, the audience (farmers) also became communicators. They might hear about the product on radio or read results in the newspaper, but it was face-to-face talk that held the most sway. Social media in the 1930s revolved around chat sessions at sale barns, feed stores, and church socials. The hardware store owner tells Henry that the Johnson brothers pulled in 55 bushels to the acre with hybrid corn, and he’s no longer bragging about the 33 bushel average he got with regular corn.
Seed companies used test plots and ads in implement magazines, but the real communication came from the “peer review” farmers did among themselves. Nobody wanted to miss out on a product that was safe and cost effective. That 1935 farmer might bust a strap on his bib overalls if he heard the price a bag of seed corn is now fetching, but in all likelihood, his great-grandson is now using apps and applying the latest precision techniques to make his biotech grain produce big results. Let’s just hope that he still has time to do some “face-to-face social media” in an ag world where complex communication is the norm.
by dan gogerty (top pic from blogs.nature.com and bottom pic from onlyinyourstate.com)