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Farmer or Producer? The Great Debate Solved

07.19.21Lindsey Tjugum

Farmer or producer? Ranch or operation? Hobby farm or backyard farm?

These terms may seem interchangeable but choosing the right ones can make all the difference in how your audience perceives you and how they resonate with your messaging.

A case study in language use

Take dairy farmer or dairy producer, for instance. We conducted a social media poll asking industry members which term they prefer. The results were clear:

  • 83% preferred dairy farmer
  • Only 17% preferred dairy producer

Not surprising as a similar poll from Progressive Dairy found respondents preferred dairy farmer over dairy producers 4-to-1 (78% dairy farmer, 22% dairy producer).

While the data is clear, we still see dairy producer used frequently. But it may be missing the mark if you’re trying to resonate with a dairy audience.

What’s in a word?

Why is a seemingly minor word change such a big deal?

To consumers, the term “farmer” typically evokes thoughts of trust, hard work and commitment to environmental stewardship and animal welfare. Alternately, the term “producer” can sound cold and insinuate factory or industrial to consumers. The same idea applies when referring to the business — “dairy farm” sounds warmer than “dairy operation.”

This terminology shift also reflects how we’re evolving as a dairy community.

In the ’80s, farmers wanted to project a new image showing the skill and expertise their jobs entail. That’s when “dairy producer” became the preferred term. But, as time passed, the pendulum swung back to “farmer” as the more consumer-friendly term.

Evaluate your messaging with a fine-tooth comb

Farmer vs. producer is one example of many word choice debates. And, terminology is just one aspect of making sure your messaging resonates.

Before any messaging goes out the door, check for:

  • Industry terminology: What terminology does your audience use to speak about themselves and their businesses? Consider how herd size, area of the country, age generation and other factors might shift terminology.
  • Consumer perception: Even if you’re targeting a farmer audience, your messaging may end up in the hands of a consumer. Does your content represent the agriculture industry well?
  • Diversity and inclusion: Are the language and photos you’re using inclusive to all genders and races?
  • Market changes: While some terminology works when markets are high, the same words might be off-putting to farmers when markets are low. Keep up with industry trends to ensure your message is sensitive.
  • Visual assets: Do your photos represent modern farming? Be cautious of showing animals in situations consumers could misinterpret.
Let’s talk about what terminology is right for your audience (and ask about our Farmer or Producer Point of View resource).
Lindsey Tjugum
Lindsey Tjugum
Senior Manager