With advice to “throw out the old rule book” and “change your marketing mindset,” the 2014 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit spent two days last week addressing all of animal agriculture’s hot button issues. “Cracking the Millennial Code” was the theme as several panels of experts spoke about everything from sustainability to antibiotics.

Buzzwords like “trust” and “relationships” came often as speakers told attendees how to talk to millennials about modern agriculture. “We can’t speak to them as if we are arguing policy issues,” Joe Forsthoffer, director of communications at Perdue Farms, said during the Antibiotics Endgame panel. “Even if their feelings aren’t rational, they’re still rational as feelings.”

Participants learned the importance of building relationship with consumers, treating them as partners in food choices. “People don’t want to be educated, people want to have a conversation,” stated Ray Prock, Ray-Lin Dairy, as part of the discussion on big agriculture versus small. Building relationship and trust is what leads to the ability to discuss the science behind modern agriculture practices. While millennials are one of the most highly educated generations, they do not trust science used by agriculture today, Prock pointed out.

A common topic throughout the conference was the concept of labels and consumer choice. Janice Person of Monsanto explained that millennials are not interested in the labels–they are interested in understanding the information. In an industry where labels are a defining marketing point of the product, it becomes too easy to say one practice is better than another. “It’s the war we never saw coming–farmer vs. farmer,” said Ben Wilson of the FarmOn Foundation. “We’re picking a stance because we’re being asked to take a position: The way we’re doing it is better and therefore every other way of doing it must be bad or worse,”  he said.  If we want to make a difference in this industry, we’re going to have to work together,” Wilson said.

 The video of the summit can be found on the YouTube page of the Animal Agriculture Alliance.