Our piece peri & Sons Talks To Pundit About Ag Chemical Incident brought this note from a top executive at an important industry organization:
Concern and Empathy — We Need to Show it More
We read with great interest the in-depth interview with Peri & Sons regarding the recent incident in which some 120 farm workers were treated by an emergency response crew during a fumigation application near Reno, NV. It was apparent from the lengthy interview that Peri & Sons has significant safety measures in place on their farms to protect their employees and provide a safe product. Unfortunately, this obvious care and concern for the safety of their workers was not reflected in the media coverage either during or after the incident.
At the Alliance for Food and Farming, our charge is to assist our members in responding to media reports concerning a number of food safety and farming issues, including pesticide drift. The Alliance for Food and Farming was formed in 1989 and its members include major commodity groups, farm organizations and individual grower-shippers. Last year, we were involved in the development of a program called Spray Safe designed to address the issue of pesticide drift. The program was actually developed by a group of farmers, pesticide applicators and labor contractors in Kern County, California.
The Spray Safe program is meant to illustrate the care and concern of farmers when it comes to protecting public and worker safety. In Kern County, Spray Safe has been extremely well received by farmers, regulators, elected officials and, even, activist groups. In addition, it has helped tremendously in communicating to the local media all of the many efforts made by farmers to prevent drift incidents.
Of course, as we all know, drift incidents can and will still occur. So, along with the packaging of the Spray Safe program, the Alliance provides advice and assistance for farmers in handling the media when and if an incident occurs. While it is certainly frightening to be faced with such a situation, the job is actually quite simple. Without exception the most important message to communicate during a drift incident is CONCERN FOR THE WORKERS! This should be done before any information on facts, specifics and details of the incident are provided. After all, in our experience, concern for the workforce is what is utmost on the farmer’s mind. Communication about working cooperatively and closely with authorities to determine exactly what occurred is fine, but concern for the well-being of the workforce should be reiterated throughout any interview. (Obviously, if the victims involved are neighbors or the public, the same care and concern needs to be expressed. And, it is never appropriate to trivialize or comment on the extent of the injuries.)
Our advice is simple — you can attend as many “crisis” or “media” training seminars as you want, or you can employ a high-priced public relations firm to handle the job for you. But, these media professionals will likely say the same thing — concern and empathy for the workers in this unfortunate situation must be communicated clearly. For some reason, farmers are just not good at expressing this concern. It is unfortunate because it is the one message which is most important.
As noted, the Alliance for Food and Farming is in the business of providing advice and assistance in dealing with the media for our members. However, we are happy to share our thoughts on this issue with those outside our membership because it is all too true that this kind of negative media coverage reflects badly on all of agriculture. Please feel free to contact the Alliance for Food and Farming at (831) 786-1666.
— Marilyn Dolan
Alliance for Food and Farming
Ed Beckman, President, California Tomato Farmers, had told us about the Spray Safe program. Additional information on the program is available here. It is important to realize that you are not alone if such an incident occurs. There are industry resources available to help, including the Alliance for Food and Farming. It would be foolhardy to enter unchartered territory alone when experienced experts are ready, willing and able to help.
Our experience with all crisis-like events is that, despite a whole industry that has sprung up to help people develop crisis management plans, few are ready for the crisis.
Sitting around a conference room imagining what it will be like has little to do with the real life inundation that happens in a crisis. People think that putting a box on a paper saying that “Joe” will handle the media solves that problem. But speed is of the essence. There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain that goes like this: “A lie can travel halfway ‘round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
So a voice mail box filled with 300 messages that are being slowly returned is just an invitation for lies to spread.
Marilyn is absolutely correct in saying that the human inclination is typically to defend oneself which, inevitably, comes across on TV or in print as, well, defensive. Expressing care and concern comes across in a totally different way.
Many thanks to Marilyn for pointing out the availability of this valuable resource.