People over 40 may remember many of the agricultural ads that were common on Irish radio and television in the 1970s and 1980s.
Ads for milk replacers, products to combat diarrhea, veterinary products and agricultural machinery were regularly placed here.
A product called Cheno Unction was famous for years because of its positive slogan: “It’s a quare name but great stuff.”
Agriculture was omnipresent in the media at the time. RTÉ – the only TV channel available in many parts of the country – was full of advertisements for products to treat cough, liver fluke and scabby mange mites.
The general public, including children, had a much better understanding of agriculture and food production.
A large proportion of the townspeople came from a farming background or spent their summers in the countryside on relatives’ farms.
This shared experience of farming life has changed significantly over the past 40 years as Ireland’s economy has improved.
City children were no longer spending their summer holidays on farms and the connection was broken for much of the next generation of Irish consumers.
The result has been a widening gap between farmers and consumers, both in urban and rural areas.
This gap was not recognized or adequately addressed by operations managers as an opportunity was missed and a vacuum created.
Environmentalist, animal welfare and anti-meat groups have cleverly targeted young urban residents with their messages and campaigns, bypassing older demographics, certain that targeting messages to younger consumers will pay off in the long run.
Irish farming in general has failed to spread positive messages about what we are doing on our farms.
Farmers often seek to discredit organizations such as Bord Bia and meat mills rather than focus on an ongoing positive message about Irish food production. This is a terrible shame as there is so much good news about the way Irish food is made.
Specialized artisan food manufacturers were very good at promoting their products and selling a positive story, giving consumers a happy feeling when they made their purchase.
The debate over the agriculture emissions reduction target has highlighted how agriculture has lost the support of the general public.
Unfortunately, on the increasingly rare occasions where farm leaders have had the opportunity to make pro-farming arguments in the national media, the outcome has been far from positive.
A campaign of blaming other sectors only gives the impression that we are trying to shirk our share of the responsibility.
When the struggle to achieve the required percentage cuts in our emissions is complete, there needs to be a serious discussion between farmer organizations about how farmers can reconnect with the public and rebuild our reputation.
Allowing bad communicators with continuous negative messages to portray farming doesn’t work.
Ignoring young consumers and leaving their nutrition education to other types of campaigns will result in a persistent lack of their support going forward, which governments will take notice of.
The power of advertising and positive messaging is immense, especially among children, college students and younger adults.
The results can last a lifetime and are difficult to change.
Angus Woods is a drywall builder in Co Wicklow
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/comment/angus-woods-how-farming-can-win-back-the-general-public-41883068.html Angus Woods: How farming can win back the general public