I was reading an article in a marketing magazine the other day about trying to figure out a way to market beef and tell people about it. The problem is that people aren’t willing to pay attention to what they have to say anymore. They mentioned that attention span of people is now less than the attention span of a goldfish. The attention span of a goldfish is about 9 seconds, and now people have dropped to 8. It use to be 12! But as people get more and more adapted to phones and technologies, it’s hard to hold their attention. All people want to know is the brand, and if it’s credible. After that, they are sold on it. When I was younger, there was no such thing as branding, it’s a whole new thing in the food business, and it’s become very important.
Ontario has something called Corn-Fed Beef. It’s a program that has certain protocols such as: you have to be an environmental farm plant, feed the cattle a certain way and manage them a certain way. If you work up to those standards, then you can use the brand of Corn-Fed Beef. And the reason it’s taken off is because it was branded properly, and people know that behind that name there are certain morals that they were told are good.
It’s amazing how things are changing. When I was younger, people they knew their food came from the farm, and they trusted the farmer more than they do now. They left it up to us to maintain their best interest. “We don’t know about farming, but you do, and how best to grown it, so we trust you completely.” That’s what people thought back then, and that has changed a lot in the last ten years. Now people want to be more involved. They want to tell us how to grow the food. Especially when it comes to managing animals, and picking our varieties.
It’s interesting the way the public is getting more involved in the way that food should be produced. As good as it is for them to be educated about food, it’s kind of become a pressure now to appeal to the public’s needs instead of the quality of crops we can produce out of our lands.
For example, we use to grow all GMO corn, because the only herbicide that you needed to use with it was roundup, and that is very very safe. You could drink it and be alright. But when you go to non-GMO, you’ve got to go to the old herbicides which are not as good for the environment or for our health. And that was all dictated by the public.
From my understanding, GMO’s are pretty harmless in comparison to what they are replacing it with. But people think you’re going to grow horns out of your head if you eat it. I’ve told people that GMO’s are good science, but they simply didn’t sell it to the public properly. Their brand wasn’t established correctly. When they started, they could’ve used GMO for medicine, and people would have embraced it more. Instead they got greedy and pushed it on the farmers, and they accepted it, and now it’s coming back to get them. And I can’t see it lasting another 10 years. Europe already banned it. And there is a huge negative response to it here.
At the end of the day, consumers are the boss, we’ve got to grow for them. It doesn’t matter what we think anymore. If they say they don’t want any meat fed from GMO corn, we’ve go to sell that meat. Things have changed a lot in agriculture.
When I graduated in 1973, consumers weren’t involved at all. And there has been a lot of good come out of of consumers being involved. I mean there are some poor poor stockmen who shouldn’t be able to have animals. They are cowboys not cowmen. They are hard on their animals, and I agree that things like that should change. And the consumers caused that change. They have driven these issues to companies like McDonald’s, and now they won’t buy cage-layer eggs anymore. So there is a lot of good that could come out of it, but other things simply shouldn’t be dictated by the consumer, because not everything they learn about their food is true.
Rod McKay - President/Farmer at Willowtree Farms