KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Transparency and sustainability were the hot topics at the top of the agenda at the 2015 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit, held May 6-7 in Kansas City. “It’s about having a dialogue, not just telling a story,” said Cameron Bruett, chief sustainability officer and head of corporate affairs for JBS USA, Inc. “We have this huge modern disconnect with agriculture; most of the consumers’ interaction with agriculture is the grocery store.”  

Kimberlie Clyma, managing editor, MEAT+POULTRY

Kimberlie Clyma

This year’s Stakeholders Summit was themed “The Journey to Extraordinary.” Sessions were focused on exploring animal agriculture’s continuous efforts to embrace new technologies that will help feed a growing population while measuring sustainability, engage consumers in innovative ways to bridge the knowledge gap, and highlight initiatives that demonstrate agriculture’s commitment to transparency.

Speakers included National Geographic’s Dennis Dimick, who gave an in-depth look at the magazine's 2014 “Future of Food” series. “We didn’t want to just do a series for people in agriculture,” Dimick said. “We’re trying to reach the public who is interested in food.” Dimick explained that food is a crucial area of common ground that will help foster conversations about the future of agriculture.

There’s never a shortage of interest or discussion about sustainability at meetings of the agriculture industry, and the Stakeholders Summit was no different. JBS’ Bruett explained, “Sustainability means something different for whoever is talking about it.

“Simply defined, sustainability is responsibly meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to responsibly meet their own needs,” he said. He added that it’s more about finding a balance between three things: social responsibility, economically viability and being environmentally sound.

The bottom line is: “Sustainability is doing more with less,” Bruett said.

Jeff Fromm, author of “Marketing to Millenials,” discussed how to reach today's millennial generation. “Uniqueness, meaningfulness, innovation and authenticity are the four variables impacting brand loyalty for millennials,” Fromm said. He went on to note that, to millennials, authenticity is gauged by transparency.

Speakers including Brad Scott, partner of Scott Brothers Dairy, Gary Cooper of Cooper Farms and Leah Lentini from Fair Oaks Farms shared stories of their companies’ ongoing efforts toward transparency. Scott and his company opened its doors to the “Undercover Boss” reality show in 2013.

Cooper shared stories of opening the doors at Cooper Farms to 4-H groups, school tours, local news and community groups. “We are opening up our barn doors more and more every day.”

Lentini explained how Fair Oaks is doing its part to make the ag industry more transparent with its dairy and pig farm tours. Last July, there were 16,296 walk-in tours at the Fair Oaks, Ind., facility. The Fair Oaks farm now includes a Farmhouse Restaurant and a soon-to-be-opened Pork Education Center and Crop Education Center.

Lentini summed up the Fair Oaks philosophy toward transparency: “We use good practices on our farm. We do everything we do because we love it. Why keep your barn doors closed?”

The practice of “opening barn doors” is becoming more commonplace all around the ag industry. Two bloggers took the stage on Wednesday at a session called “The Voyage to Radical Transparency” to share their personal experiences of going on the Alliance’s behind-the-scenes “Farm to Pork” blogger tour in North Carolina last fall. Communications consultant David Westcott, who helped the Alliance design the blogger tour, told the audience, “I think transparency will save your industry.”

Both bloggers explained how their eyes were opened and perspectives changed when they were given a first-hand look inside the industry.

“Food in this country is something we take for granted and [the tour] made me value our food system,” said Ilina Ewen, writer for the blog Dirt & Noise. “The passion that is demonstrated in ag is unparalleled in any other industry.”

Lisa Frame, writer for the blog A Daily Pinch, shared that she came from a farming family and that agriculture is really about “becoming part of a family.” She explained how her experience made her and Ewen a part of the ag family. Frame is still writing and communicating about her tour to her readers more than six months later. “We are vested in your fishbowl now,” Frame said.