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Conflict adds zest to your farm story

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What’s Your Story? Conflict isn’t just people fighting. Share how your farm has handled conflicting approaches, such as the old vs. the new.

People genuinely want to know what’s happening on your farm. But you still have to make your farm story interesting to attract readers, listeners and viewers.

And introducing conflict is one of the best ways to do it.

That probably sounds sensational. Conflict can mean controversy, and communications pros, especially journalists, are often criticized for focusing on a story’s most vivid elements.

But conflict is one of the seven or so key news values that communicators learn early in their career. News values, such as human interest, timeliness, impact and conflict, influence how events are selected and presented as news.

News values are a must-have for all stories, including farm stories. For example, people are fascinated with human interest stories about those living life outside the norm — like farmers. People also want timely news; they want to be among the first to know about everything, such as a new crop variety that will end up on their dinner table. And finally, they crave analysis about the impact of new developments, like restrictive production laws, and how those developments will affect their food dollar.

Yet none of these values is as powerful as conflict. It has elements of absolutely every news value, and then some.

What’s conflict?

Conflict can be about people fighting — you vs. your dealer, your landlord or your neighbor, for instance. But that’s a limited view.

In news, much conflict is about opposing positions, like the conflict between wrong and right. Or conflicting approaches, such as the old vs. the new. Or conflicting practices, bad compared to good.

That makes conflict perfect for farming. Agriculture is research-driven, always moving forward in areas such as technology, animal welfare and environmental stewardship. Those advances are great examples of conflict, like the old vs. the new. Conflict can show people how conventional practices (the old) have changed to meet modern needs.

In doing so, conflict presents farmers with an opportunity to discuss how efficient crop and livestock production feeds more people, how sustainability keeps the next generation of farmers on the farm, or how environmental awareness leads to better protection of natural resources.  

Try applying that thinking to your own operation. Consider all the stories waiting to be told based on new approaches vs. old approaches.

Can you hear them? I can.

“We used to do things one way, because that was considered the best way for our farm. But then new research emerged, and we discovered a better way. Now, we do things differently. Here’s what we’ve learned, and here’s what we’ve changed.”

That’s an agricultural cliffhanger. C’mon, tell us, what are you doing now that didn’t do before? That’s interesting!

Every farm has that kind of story, built on conflict. What’s your story? People want to know. 

Roberts teaches agricultural communications and journalism at the University of Illinois. Email questions to him at The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.

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