PIE Center research will help ag deliver a healthy message Editor's Note: This is the Field Notes column, written by editor Vicky Boyd and published in the May 15, 2012, issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

It’s all in a word.

Choose the right word or words to describe an object, such as agriculture, and you get a positive response and maybe even an ally. But pick the wrong words, and you may receive a negative reaction and possibly even alienate someone.

Nowhere is that more evident than with the recent backlash against “pink slime,” a meatbased product added to most of the nation’s ground beef.

The material actually carries the acronym LFTB, or lean finely textured beef. But when a government microbiologist recently coined the nickname pink slime, it went viral throughout today’s cyber-based communication networks.

Now at least two manufacturers—South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc. and AFA Foods of Kings of Prussia, Pa.—have filed for bankruptcy, and BPI has stopped production at three plants.

You may not get the same negative reaction when you’re talking to counterparts about agriculture’s benefits, but the words you choose may influence the outcome. Water Words that Work, a communications group founded by Eric Eckl, helps pollution control agencies and environmental groups promote their issues to consumers and voters.

When communicating with an audience you hope to win over, the group suggests using 26 words heavily.

For example, they recommend using words, such as future generations, healthy, family/children, safe and trends, when explaining the importance of what you do. Many of those same strategies can be applied to agricultural communications.

To fine-tune the message even further to Florida agriculture and a Florida audience, the University of Florida’s Center for Public Issues Education, in conjunction with the Agriculture Institute of Florida, conducted two years of research that tested and evaluated strategically framed messages about agricultural issues.

Part of the studies included six focus groups with opinion leaders statewide to determine how aware they were of various agricultural issues.

What the PIE Center’s research found was that even though the industry may have been talking, consumers weren’t listening. The messages didn’t resonate and at times even had a negative effect.

Based on the outcome of the research, the center is developing an online guide that will provide tips about how to more effectively communicate with the public about agriculture’s importance to the state, says Dawn McKinstry, center education and outreach coordinator.

The guide should be available this summer on the center’s website, http://www.centerpie.com.

Let’s hope it has words to pass on to future generations.

P.S. Speaking of family and future generations, Vance Publishing Corp., the parent of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine, is celebrating 75 years in business this year. View the entirely redesigned Vance website at http://www.vancepublishing.com.