Agricultural communication (or agricultural communications) is a field of study and work that focuses on communication about agriculture-related information among agricultural stakeholders and between agricultural and non-agricultural stakeholders. Agriculture is broadly defined in this discipline to include not only farming, but also food, fiber (e.g., cotton), animals, rural issues, and natural resources. Agricultural communication is done formally and informally by agricultural extension and is considered related to science communication. However, it has evolved into its own professional field.
By definition, agricultural communicators are science communicators that deal exclusively with the diverse, applied science and business that is agriculture. An agricultural communicator is "expected to bring with him or her a level of specialized knowledge in the agricultural field that typically is not required of the mass communicator". Agricultural communication also addresses all subject areas related to the complex enterprises of food, feed, fiber, renewable energy, natural resource management, rural development and others, locally to globally. Furthermore, it spans all participants, from scientists to consumers - and all stages of those enterprises, from agricultural research and production to processing, marketing, consumption, nutrition and health.
A growing market for agricultural journalists and broadcasters led to the establishment of agricultural journalism and agricultural communication academic disciplines.
The job market for agricultural communicators includes:
- Farm broadcasting
- Journalists and editors of agricultural/rural magazines and newspapers
- Communication specialist or public relations practitioner for agricultural commodity organizations, businesses, non-profits
- Sales representative for agricultural business
- Science journalist
- Land-grant university communication specialist
- Public relations or advertising for firms that specialize in or have agricultural clients
The academic field originated from communication courses that taught students in the agricultural sciences how to communicate. Originally, agricultural journalists were needed to report farm news for a much larger agricultural and rural audience. As people moved from the farm to cities and suburbs, a much greater proportion of the population had less direct knowledge and experience regarding agriculture. While a need still exists for agricultural journalists, an equal, if not greater need exists for agricultural communicators who can act as liaisons between an industry with deeply rooted traditions and values and a public with little to no understanding of how agriculture operates and why it is the way it is.
The key journal in the field is the Journal of Applied Communications. Researchers have focused on a variety of areas examining consumer attitudes toward agricultural products and practices including genetic engineering and genetically modified food, natural and organic food and production, and food-related risks. Another area of research has been media coverage of agriculture and agricultural issues. Topics have included media coverage of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease), YouTube videos of California Proposition 2 (2008), and television news coverage of food safety scares.
Agricultural press and media
There is a wide variety of agricultural newspapers and magazines throughout the world. Radio programmes are frequently used for agricultural communication and Farm Radio International is a leading organization in providing programming to developing countries.
Several colleges offer formal education at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the field of agricultural communication. What follows is a list with links directly to the programs.
- Cal-Poly University
- Colorado State University (dual-degree pathway with ag business, animal science, and equine science)
- Ohio State University
- Oklahoma State University
- Kansas State University
- University of Florida
- University of Georgia
- University of Tennessee
- University of Illinois
- University of Missouri
- University of Nebraska
- University of Arkansas
- University of Wisconsin
- Purdue University
- Tennessee Technological University
- Texas A&M University
- Texas Tech University
- West Texas A&M University
- Utah State University
Approaches to Agricultural Communication
Theoretically speaking, agricultural communication is an applied theoretical field. The academic curriculum and scholarly endeavors typically stay within the context of agriculture, natural resources, and occasionally, the life sciences. It examines communication and human dimension issues as they relate to a variety of issues in agriculture and natural resources. Agricultural journalism is not always differentiated from agricultural communications in research. One could argue that when research focuses on media coverage of agricultural issues or when it examines issues within agricultural journalism specifically (i.e., what influences editors of agriculture magazines to publish risk information), then it is more within the realm of agricultural journalism. Journalism is often seen as a subset of communication that is supposed to be fair and balanced like traditional journalism, whereas the broader field of agricultural communication could potentially be viewed as advocacy communication.
Agricultural communicators are expected to have a certain amount of knowledge and familiarity with agriculture. One could also add to that definition and say the communicator also brings with him or her an appreciation, or even affection, for the agriculture industry. While this is also probably true of agricultural journalists, they at least need to be cognizant of their potential bias to ensure they ask critical questions and present unbiased information. Agricultural journalists are trained like traditional journalists, but bring with them an understanding of agricultural systems and science either through experience and/or academic training.
- Doerfert, D. L. (Ed.) (2011). National research agenda: American Association for Agricultural Education’s research priority areas for 2011-2015. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University, Department of Agricultural Education and Communications.
- Treise, D., & Weigold, M. F. (2002). Advancing science communication: A survey of science communicators. Science Communication, 23(3), 310-322.
- Boone, K., Meisenbach, T., & Tucker, M. (2000). Agricultural communications: Changes and challenges, Iowa State University Press.
- Evans, J. (2008). Agricultural Communication Oral History Project. Agricultural Communications Documentation Center. http://www.library.illinois.edu/funkaces/acdc/oralhistory/podcasts.html
- Journal of Applied Communications. http://www.aceweb.org/JAC/index.html.
- Irani, T., Sinclair, J., & O'Malley. (2002). The Importance of Being Accountable The Relationship between Perceptions of Accountability, Knowledge, and Attitude toward Plant Genetic Engineering. Science Communication, 23(3). doi:10.1177/107554700202300302
- Meyers, C. A., & Miller, J. D. (2007). Selected Consumers’ Evaluations of Genetically Modified Food Labels. Journal of Applied Communications, 91(1-2).
- Abrams, K. M., Meyers, C. A., & Irani, T. A. (2009). Naturally confused: Consumers’ perceptions of organic and all-natural pork products. Journal of Agriculture and Human Values [in press]. doi:10.1007/s10460-009-9234-5
- Tucker, M., Whaley, S., & Sharp, J. (2006). Consumer perceptions of food-related risks. International Journal of Food Science and Technology, 41(2), 135-146.
- Ruth, A., Eubanks, E., & Telg, R. (2005). Framing of Mad Cow Media Coverage. Journal of Applied Communications, 89(4) 39-54.
- Ashlock, M., Cartmell, D., & Kelemen, D. (2006). The Cow That Stole Christmas: Framing the First U.S. Mad Cow Crisis. Journal of Applied Communications, 90(2) 29-46.
- Goodwin, J., & Rhoades, E. (2009). Agricultural legislation: The presence of California Proposition 2 on YouTube. Paper presented at the National American Association for Agricultural Education Conference, Louisville, KY. Available from http://www.aaaeonline.org/files/national_09/papers/2.pdf
- Irlbeck, E., & Akers, C. (2009). The Summer of Salmonella in Salsa: A Framing Analysis of the 2008 Salmonella Outbreak in Tomatoes and Jalapenos. Paper presented at the National American Association for Agricultural Education Conference, Louisville, KY. Available from http://www.aaaeonline.org/files/national_09/papers/5.pdf
- Agricultural Communications Documentation Center. http://www.library.illinois.edu/funkaces/acdc