Bill Buckner, head of business operations, North America for Bayer CropScience, has a mind grounded in science. In a recent talk at the 5th annual Ag Issues Forum during the 2010 Commodity Classic, he cited dozens of scientific statistics on what crop protection products have accomplished in ag’s ongoing efforts to feed a growing and hungry world population.
“Without the use of crop chemicals, studies show yield losses would be around 48%,” said Buckner.
Coupled with this grounding in science, Buckner is also emotional. “I love agriculture,” he told the audience, stripping off his suit coat and tie to don a T-shirt promoting the industry.
For production agriculture to survive, this combination of science and emotion is critical. Buckner told attendees that taking a purely science approach to agriculture’s developing production technologies has not worked. “It’s disheartening to sit on Capitol Hill and hear from members of the Senate and House how agriculture is losing its voice,” he said. “Science isn’t always the answer. We’ve tried that, folks. But what we heard at EPA is that although everything we do needs to be science-based, we’ve got to give the public something more.”
In his own mind, Buckner believes part of the reason agriculture’s science message hasn’t connected with the average American ties to how people have gotten their news during the past decade or so. “Science takes too much time,” he said. “To understand a product and the science behind it, you have to have an interest in it. People are sound bite individuals these days.”
This is part of the reason why anti-industry activists have been successful. They have consistently used sound bites repeating words such as “species loss” or “Frankenfoods,” causing an emotional response in the listener.
“Emotion runs across the gambit,” said Buckner. “It is easier to understand, especially with very hard-hitting statements. We as an industry have to determine how to tell our message in these kinds of sound bites.”
To accomplish this, CropLife America is planning to hold a national policy conference in Washington, DC, this summer. According to Buckner, the goal of this meeting is to formulate some new messages that everyone in the industry can use to promote agriculture’s positives to the public.
“Research shows that about half the people in our business won’t admit they work in this industry when asked by a stranger because of the negative image it might create,” said Buckner. “But 74% of this same group say they would speak up if given the proper tools and a positive message to spread.”
I would encourage everyone in the ag industry to get behind this effort. As long as they are backed up by science-based facts, there’s nothing wrong with sending some emotional messages once and a while — especially if they get across to the public that helping to feed the world without causing undo harm in the process is what we have traditionally and continue to do best.