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Generation gap exists in communication about agriculture

August 9, 2012
By Josh Moniz - Staff Writer , The Journal

GILFILLAN ESTATE Finding ways to better communicate the facts and lifestyle of the agricultural industry was the biggest topic of discussion during the agriculture panels held Wednesday at Farmfest.

During the "Consumer PreferencesFuture Changes for the Livestock Industry?" seminar, several panel members focused on concerns that animal rights activists had succeeded in obtaining laws that put significant restrictions on livestock operations, which they viewed as bad.

Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association President Don Schiefelbein said that it is the failure of the average person to see things without emotion that caused people to occasionally throw significant support behind organizations like extreme animal rights activist groups and other similar movements.

He pointed to the coming emergence of the Millennials generation, which he defined as persons born between 1980 and 2000, as the essential factor for learning how to argue the agricultural communities position. He said the Millennials would soon be taking over because they were steadily becoming the most populous generational group. He said their habits of lighter, more casual eating with significantly less meat in their diets would be a negative factor on the industry.

He also pointed to their intense connection with modern technology and social media as power forces for creating momentum when controversies emerge. He said that the "pink slime" controversy only gained public prominence when Millennials made it well known through social media.

Schiefelbein argued that they were also more prone to emotional responses to stories, which meant they could add undue weight to false controversies.

"Let's pretend 'pink slime' was actually something good. If Safeway pulls all its products with it [because it's controversial], how can that be a good thing?" asked Schiefelbein. (Pink slime was marketed as lean finely textured beef and contains filler.)

He argued that controversies without substance would mushroom in the media for a short while, but quickly dissipate. He said that livestock and agricultural producers needed to work with sellers ahead of time, so that they would be willing to weather the storm with them. He said this was part of a different approach needed, because trying to overwhelm emotional reactions with facts never works.

"Think of a parent, who thinks you wrongly gave a third strike to their kid in a game. You're not going convince that parent just by quoting facts," said Schiefelbein.

He argued that once the emotions of a situation disappear, the industry could then step in and be heard when it presents facts.

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at



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