Whether it’s the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list or Michael Pollan’s documentary Food Inc., agriculture is having to increasingly defend itself against widespread public criticism.

As a result, 49 commodity groups have banded together to form the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance to try to start a conversation with consumers.

But it won’t be business as usual, says Bob Stallman, chairman of the USFRA and president of the American Farm Bureau.

“We’ve been telling consumers what we think they should know,” says Stallman, who’s also a rice and cattle producer near Columbus, Texas. “What we need to do is listen to what consumers are asking and to their concerns and have a two-day dialogue. Then that process will hopefully address those concerns. We haven’t done a very good job of that.

“This isn’t a campaign in a traditional sense. This is a movement. It’s going to be an ongoing process.”

And the campaign won’t involve a tit-for-tat type of defense against criticism. Instead, it will involve increasing agriculture’s voice with consumers.

With the aid of New York-based Ketchum public relations, the group has developed a six-phase approach that will include providing farmers and ranchers with tools so they’ll feel comfortable using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Stallman says.

The campaign also will involve giving agriculture a more public presence and working with influencers, such as the media and teachers.

Regional townhall meetings will be conducted in September in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere and transmitted nationally via satellite. In addition, the campaign will feature agricultural myth-busters.

For more information on the USFRA and its efforts, click here.