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Beyond the Bale : February 2010
February 2010 BEYOND THE BALE WOOL PRODUCTION 17 AWI-sponsored Nuffield scholar and woolgrower David Cussons has identified the public's growing obsession with product traceability and safety as a new opportunity to strengthen links between farmers and consumers in markets around the world and in Australia. He has also used his Nuffield scholarship to investigate modern communication strategies that will improve public perceptions of farming in the media. CONSUMERS' EXPECTATIONS David, a woolgrower at Kojonup in Western Australia, says that while travelling through several countries last year he found that consumer expectations about traceability and accountability in fibre and food production were highest in Japan. However, expectations are also rising in many other countries, including in Europe, he says. He believes this insistence on traceability back to the farm gate is not necessarily the burden many growers may see it as, but an important opportunity to promote the agriculture sector. He says accountability for wool or meat products starts with farmers and their livestock, not supermarkets and fashion stores. Understanding what shapes consumer sentiment was an important part of his Nuffield studies, and he found that markets were very different in each of the countries he visited. These included Japan, Sweden, the UK, the US, Mexico, Canada and New Zealand. COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES David says he chose countries for his Nuffield tour that had markets and media similar to those in Australia, but found significant differences in the scale of resources available, particularly in the US. Engaging with modern, city consumers FAST FACTS l The public's growing expectations about product traceability and safety create an opportunity for the farming sector to engage with city consumers. l The farming sector needs to understand the demographics of modern society so effective public relations strategies can be implemented. Woolgrower and Nuffield scholar David Cussons examining sheep breeds in the state of Sonora, Mexico. "For instance, the Californian Farm Bureau, which covers just one state, employs up to 24 full-time public relations staff. Another company I visited had staff tailoring information kits to target individual journalists, based on background profiles they develop to identify the particular interests of these journalists. There are very few organisations in Australia that have the resources to do that." As part of his tour he visited AWI offices in London, Japan, Sweden and the US, where staff understand the local markets, trends and customer 'hot buttons', and are identifying the best communication channels in each market. "The issue of animal welfare, for instance, has gained more traction in Sweden than in other countries because of the culture in northern Europe. In other parts of the world I think manufacturers are still waiting to see how consumer sentiment on the issue develops, rather than responding to the issue itself," David says. Regarding industry crisis situations, David says that while it is impossible to plan for every eventuality, he believes some basic preparation can help agricultural industries protect their reputation and markets. Initial planning can help prevent poor decision-making on the run, and reduce the stress of those managing communications in times of crisis, as well as the stress of producers and customers caught in the crisis, he says. "You need to be able to tell your customers that you have a problem and that you're working to fix it. You have to give your customers confidence that they can come back to your product once the issue has been resolved. "How you communicate this depends on the market you're in and the mediums they prefer. Every marketplace is different and uses media differently. That's where it's really important to have a good understanding of your markets, what's driving them, and where they go to for information," he says. More information: www.nuffield.com.au David Cussons, 08 9832 8194, firstname.lastname@example.org
September November 2009