The Words We Choose

Nancy Kavazanjian, a Wisconsin farmer, serves as chairwoman of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). She also serves as a director on the United Soybean Board, which oversees the national soy checkoff program. Below, we’ve reprinted an article she wrote from Illinois Farm Week, printed October 5, 2015.

Organic Farmer of the Year Greg Reynolds raised a few eyebrows at The Food Dialogues: Minneapolis when he exclaimed “there are words used in conventional agriculture that just grate on my ear.”

Overlooking the phrase “conventional agriculture” which grates on MY ears, Reynolds makes a point.

Truth is, everyone trying to explain today’s farming methods should choose words carefully. While Reynolds couldn’t come up with specific words that bothered him, USFRA research shows there are words we should use, and others we should lose, when talking about farming and ranching in order to better connect and build trust with consumers.

Rather than talking about insecticides, herbicides and pesticides, for instance, our research suggests we explain how we prevent bugs and other pests from eating and stealing nutrients from our crops. When talking about nitrogen and other fertilizers we use on those crops, it’s best to explain that we are nurturing plants with nutrients at exactly the right time, at the right rate and in the right amount to help them grow and thrive.

While GMO seed is a well-known term and trumps the use of the word biotech, our research shows it’s more effective to discuss planting seeds that grow stronger and more resilient or have special, built-in ability to repel insects and diseases. We use the term GMO over biotechnology because it is consumer language, and we want to use the language that connects in every instance.

Animals occasionally get sick, just like people do, so we should relate how we work hard to keep animals healthy and maintain growth; sometimes that means properly using antibiotics, according to label directions and under a veterinarian’s care.

Anyone familiar with our Conversation with EASE training realizes no magic phrase exists to connect and build trust. Instead, we must

(1) Engage by looking for common ground to start a conversation and build from there.

(2) Acknowledge specific questions and concerns. Once a conversation is started, we can

(3) Share stories about how food is raised. Only then can we help consumers realize we are working hard to do the best possible job of raising food on our farms and ranches in order to

(4) Earn trust. If you’ve never tried talking with a stranger about agriculture, you’re likely to be surprised at how many people enjoy discussing it with those directly involved in farming and ranching.

USFRA has developed specialized training sessions – called Conversations with E.A.S.E. – which [are] offered by Illinois Farm Bureau. During a recent E.A.S.E. Training session in Minneapolis, Wisconsin dairy farmer Todd Doornick explained how his dairy cow trackers were similar to fitness trackers that are popular with people today. It was a great analogy that resonates well with today’s tech-saavy consumers.

We all have stories to tell about how we care for our land, our animals, our farms, families and communities. Share yours with us online at

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