Embracing Value-Added, Evidence-Based Diversity Across the Food Industry is Good for Business

Benefits of Org Ag BenbrookIf you ask any brand manager, company executive, or corporate board member what a company’s most valuable asset is, the answer is always the same – consumer trust, and the marketplace loyalty grounded in that trust.

Whether selling cars, computers, or potato chips, both trust and market share are difficult to earn and easily lost.

Maintaining consumer trust does not occur in a vacuum. Aggressive, young sharks (i.e., competitors) are always eager to move up the food chain, and the unexpected must be expected – and dealt with adroitly, to prevent a slip from starting a long, slow slide.

Think of all the sweat equity, and public and private investment capital that has flowed into U.S. Ag Inc. over the last half-century, making our food and fiber system the envy of the world, or so the story goes.

I worry, however, that the halo-effect benefiting all U.S. farmers and food companies, and the nation as a whole, is losing some of its luster.  This is clearly happening with a growing segment of consumers in the U.S., and it is also beginning to happen in international markets.

Some of the reasons are obvious, others are subtle, systemic, and increasingly damaging. I have been thinking about what it will take to at least start turning things around. Many of the major ag industries here in the PNW are heavily reliant on exports to food-quality and food-safety conscious markets, and so it is especially important for our region to track factors with potential to alter U.S. Ag Inc.’s reputation, for better or worse.

I was invited to do a speech at an Organic Agricultural Research Symposium (OARS) in La Crosse, Wisconsin Wednesday, February 25th, and decided to use this speaking engagement to address some aspects of this important topic.

My talk is entitled “The Benefits of Organic Agriculture: Evidence Based Results and Evidence-Driven Policy.” While organic, value-added benefits and label claims are addressed in some detail, the talk is really about much bigger fish. It’s about the integrity of science, trust in the U.S. government, and how to restore, and perhaps even brighten, U.S. Ag Inc.’s halo.

The presentation is being live streamed by the eOrganic cooperative extension program at 6:00 pm Central Time 2/25/2015, and will be posted by eOrganic soon after its delivered.  We have also posted the slides, six-to-a-page, on the M2M website.

I suspect that most people who listen to or read the talk will find at least a few points or assertions objectionable, but please do not let these points of conflict obscure the more important message – U.S. Ag Inc. needs to find better ways, in concert with our government, to embrace, verify, and market value-added products, and if we do not, others will.

Loss of access to value-added markets will take away jobs, reduce farm and food industry income, and undermine the potential return to investment capital.

Finding ways to acknowledge, and indeed celebrate, proven benefits of organic farming is a necessary first step. Without getting past this first step, next steps may prove too great a leap. For possible paths forward, see “The Benefits of Organic Agriculture: Evidence Based Results and Evidence-Driven Policy.”