Agricultural Education Needs To Be Clear

As a writer, I often use metaphors in my stories. Sometimes when the topic is a bit complicated or difficult to follow, using a metaphor of something similar but simpler can help the reader to better understand what is being discussed. One of my favorites is calling an unacknowledged problem “the elephant in the room.”

Unfortunately, sometimes, the “elephant” can really become an elephant – particularly in the mind of some listeners. I was reminded of this fact at a recent industry event.

Last week, I attended The Fertilizer Institute’s annual Outlook Conference. One of the speakers at this event was John Harpole, president of Mercator Energy, who was there discussing shale drilling for natural gas. Harpole related how one of his attempts at metaphors had gone wrong at a recent town council meeting where attendees were protesting vertical drilling.

“I was trying to relate to the audience that today’s vertical drilling methods have gotten so accurate that we could hit a refrigerator buried several hundred feet below the ground,” said Harpole. “Immediately, a woman stood up in the back to the room and said ‘you are burying refrigerators in the ground?’”

Harpole answered her the only way he knew how. “It’s a metaphor,” he said. Her reply: “I don’t care what brand of refrigerator it is; you shouldn’t be burying them in the ground!”

Is it okay to use metaphors to tell good ag stories?

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At first thought, this is a funny story. However, it speaks to a deeper problem everyone in agriculture has been dealing with over the past few years – that the general public just doesn’t understand our business. Going forward, as we tell agriculture’s good stories, the speakers have to realize that muddying the message with a “cute, everyday metaphor” to get our point across could backfire, ultimately hurting our cause.

And that’s an elephant none of us wants to see in the room ever again!

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