manure lagoon
September 2, 2017

The New Normal: Community Opposition

 |  By: Jane Hillstrom

At a recent town board meeting in northern Wisconsin, residents expressed concern over construction of a proposed manure lagoon near their new homes in a rural development.

People questioning where their food comes from and subsequent community opposition is becoming agriculture’s new normal. Here are a few tips on how to handle a similar situation on your farm.

“No comment” means guilty. In the situation above, the local news stations reached out to the farm family “who did not want to speak on camera.” Being interviewed on camera tends to spike adrenaline. In agriculture’s new normal, one of the owners of the dairy must be media trained. “No comment” says you have something to hide, you are lying or you are already guilty.

The opposing neighbors from the development weren’t shy and their words filled the news story. Some of the phrases they used when talking about the farm were: increased incidents of asthma in children, gases, respiratory toxicity, groundwater contamination, toxic chemicals, health risks and others.

Imagine if the farmer had said, “We’re raising our children here, too. By installing a secure lagoon, we’re protecting the groundwater for future generations. We encourage you to tour our farm and learn more about how we are producing milk, cheese and yogurt for families in our community.”

Speaking up gives less air time to the neighbors, puts a face on the farm and allows others to form their own opinions.

Start with a plan. Before modernizing any part of your dairy—a new barn, robots or lagoon—create a community outreach plan. It’s crucial to doing business in the new normal. Your community outreach plan should include:

1. What you’re going to say. Lead with why you do what you do using emotive words. After sharing your “why,” discuss the social benefits of dairy farming for your community, and then add the facts.

2. Where you’re going to say it. Include community meetings, farm newsletters, conversations and social media. Repeat step one in every exchange.

3. A list of the community influencers you will proactively hold face-to- face conversations with to discuss your plan. Make a list of the people in your neighborhood who like to talk, along with the regulatory experts and the business owners who are in constant contact with the community. Be the first to share your story. Being first makes life easier.

Most business leaders rank the ability to communicate effectively as the No. 1 reason for their success. After centuries of farming, it seems more difficult to make changes on the dairy without being a strong communicator. The new normal demands proactive action to share your side of the story.