When you write for a living, you spend a lot of time thinking about how what you say will resonate with who you say it to. In marketing communications, we call this messaging.
Like many folks, I’ve become passionate about the potential for regenerative agriculture to deliver a whole lot of good – to the farmers / ranchers who grow our food, to the consumer who wants more nutrient-dense food, to all of us wanting to preserve our planet for the next generation.
No question, system-wide adoption of regen ag has the potential to have a tremendous impact on our climate, farm economies, and human health – and we all need to eat. But not every positive outcome or benefit of regen ag necessarily resonates with the same or even multiple audiences.
➡️ In many ways, we’re all self-driven, lured to the one or two benefits that meet our most immediate needs.
For example, while most of us can acknowledge that eating less industrially-produced beef would be beneficial, the reasons for that belief and the benefits from that decision differ based on the audience, i.e, a consumer wanting to reduce cholesterol and fat in their diet vs. environmentalists who think getting rid of meat entirely is necessary to mitigate climate change.
➡️ That’s why marketers start by identifying the “pain” of their audience and then dig into the benefits.
What’s In it For ME?
It takes time, energy, money, and a lot of patience to drive any massive shift in mindset and daily behavior. The system-wide adoption of regenerative ag is no different – and we must target messaging to each audience in a way that most resonates with them.
➡️ This seems like a simple concept, but too often it seems like the smartest people in the room still don’t get it.
Take for example what we saw in the Netherlands starting in 2022. A 2019 court ruling called into question the Netherlands' attempts to cut nitrogen-based pollution and spurred new policies calling for the reduction of nitrogen-compound pollution by 70-80%. In addition to implementing new rules on nitrogen use, the government declared it would purchase 3,000 “peak polluter” farms – by force, if necessary. No surprise, this wasn’t well received by farmers in the Netherlands – the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products after the United States.
("Tractor drivers and protesters continued to arrive throughout the morning ahead of the Hague protest" - Credit: EPA)
Whether or not you agree with the government’s aggressive policy stance or side with the farmers really doesn’t matter. I don’t believe thought went into how to best message this need for change in a way that made sense to farmers without villainizing them – and their reaction was understandable. (Speaking of which, moving away from a blame game might be a solution to getting the Farm Bill passed as well.)
As Kate Greenberg, Colorado’s Commissioner of Agriculture says, we need to find the “radical center” – acknowledging that soil health is an issue farmers, legislators, corporates, and consumers can all rally around.
We Feel YOUR Pain
To convince each audience of the importance of adopting or supporting regenerative agriculture, we must drill down to what matters most and pinpoint their pain.
As Sarah Mock explains in her book, Farm (and Other F Words), while Americans idealize the small American farm, ultimately, it’s a business like any other. And with off-farm income accounting for over 80% of total farm income, and farmers left with minuscule profits, making money ON the farm is more important than ever.
➡️ So how do we tap into the pain farmers feel every day to sell regenerative ag?
Framing the value as a way to preserve soil health (the most important asset on every farm) and as a way to earn extra income (through ecosystem markets) or a more valuable commodity.
On the other hand, you can see how framing regen ag as a solution to all the evils inflicted by modern agriculture isn’t effective messaging (particularly since, as Gabe Brown explains in his bestseller Dirt to Soil, most farmers were taught conventional production models and believe they are sustaining the land).
It's no accident that Brown's consulting company, Understanding Ag, leads with "Restoring Soil, Profits, Farms and Futures" as the headline on their homepage.
➡️ And what really matters to get the other most important stakeholders onboard?
For consumer adoption, the challenge is to translate buying regeneratively grown food into a meaningful value proposition – whether that’s taste, nutrient density, or human health. While marketing regen products effectively to consumers has plenty of its own nuances, the tactics will likely involve a little emotion, altruism, and education.
The appeal of regen ag to corporates centers around ESG goals. For food, fuel, and fiber companies in particular, there are the benefits of building resiliency and sustainability in the supply shed. It’s encouraging to see that large, multinational CPGs are embracing regen ag – whether it’s General Mills and its partnerships with American Farmland Trust and Rodale Institute, McDonald’s sponsoring research into regenerative grazing practices, or countless other examples (scroll down to helpful downloads).
Investors, too, are embracing regen ag and ag-tech. The challenge will be to balance the desire to deliver returns while having the patience to let the transition play out. Similarly, as Anthony Corsaro points out, investors must also consider regenerative brands when making their investments – not just land, upstream production, and carbon programs – if we’re going to achieve whole system solutions.
And what about the environmental activists alarmed by our warming planet? How do we present regen ag as a satisfactory solution to climate change, knowing that on-farm and system-wide transition will take time to deliver an all-inclusive solution? How do we discuss the nuances around hot-button issues like ruminant animals without it just becoming soundbites?
We’re Thinking of You
I’m the first to admit: I’m not the smartest person in the room.
But I make it a priority to remind myself that we each have our own perspectives and objectives – regardless of the issue at hand. I think it behooves us to take this approach with regenerative agriculture as well and to tailor our messaging so it matters.
Hi, I’m Kristina Tober 👋. I'm a writer and communications consultant helping agricultural organizations tell their story. For my boys, I hope we can all find common ground in regenerative agriculture and grow a better future.
GIFs for this article were curated by Anthony Corsaro 🤌
Editor's Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and do not necessarily represent those of the ReGen Brands platform or team.