That was the message American broadcaster, writer and speaker Andy Vance shared with delegates at the 37th annual Saskatchewan Pork Industry Symposium in Saskatoon on Nov. 18-19.
“You might be saying, what does it mean to be YouTube proof?”
Vance posed and answered a large number of questions during his fast-paced, entertaining and poignant 45-minute presentation.
“The keys to creating a YouTube proof agricultural enterprise are pretty simple. It’s leadership, people and facilities and systems,” he said lumping facilities and systems together.
“Those three things will determine whether your operation will survive in the era where everybody has a video camera in their pockets.”
To drive home his point, he showed a video of hogs being treated inhumanely.
“How do you feel right now about being a pork producer?” he asked. “Not comfortable to watch the video, is it? We, as leaders of the pork industry, agree that this is not OK.
“How many of these videos have come out in the last three to five years. Quite a few, right? More than you can count on one hand. We all agree it is not acceptable. How did it happen? It happened because you have three key deficiencies. One, you have a deficiency of leadership. Two, you have a deficiency of people, and three you have deficiency in systems and facilities.”
He told those in the crowded room when consumers see videos of animal abuse, they perceive it to be representative of pork production.
“What happens after one of these videos is shown to the public? Someone from our industry, maybe an industry group like Sask Pork, maybe a representative of the farm, maybe some other third party interested in the conversation steps up. What do they say? ‘This is an isolated incident, this was an example of a bad actor and this is not what happens in our industry.’ Does that sound like every press release you have ever heard after one of these videos? Do consumers buy that BS?”
He said the industry has to do a better job of selling itself.
“So when we look at the role social media plays, YouTube is a very important part of the equation. Why? What is the old cliché? Seeing is believing. A picture is worth a thousand words. Talk is cheap. What do we do a lot of? We send out a lot of words that at the end of the day don’t mean a lot, but we are very deficient when it comes to using this medium to communicate our message. We have to get into a situation where every farm in this industry is immune to the kind of video we saw a few moments ago.”
He said he has a “five friends test.”
“Think of five non-farm friends in your life right now. Could I bring them to my farm right now and say, ‘This is what I do for a living and would I feel proud of my profession?’ If the answer to that question is yes, my hat is off to you. You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing.
“If the answer is no, or I’d be a little uncomfortable opening the doors, then you have to ask yourself a series of questions. Why wouldn’t I be comfortable? Is it because I am afraid of what they would see or is it because I’m afraid I couldn’t explain what they are going to see, or is it because we need to change something in our operation? You have to go through that thought process on your farm. What is it that is keeping me from being comfortable inviting those five friends over to my farm? Is it an issue of people? Is it an issue of facilities? Is it an issue of systems?”
Invariably, it is one or more of these that will keep the door closed to your friends.
“Leadership is paramount. Everything rises and falls on leadership. There is nothing more important to your operation than leadership. You are the most essential cog in the wheel.  You are the one piece of the puzzle that matters more than anything else. If you do not talk the talk and walk the walk, you can expect nothing from your people.
“You can build a facility, but if you don’t run it with the utmost integrity, it’s a waste of money.  Employees should know what you expect, how they should behave and what will happen if they step outside those confines. What they will respond to the most is: I am doing what’s right for the animal?
“If you set the expectation that these animals are providing us with this very essential building block of our life, and they are dignified creatures who deserve our respect and humane treatment. If you set that tone and that expectation, your employees will follow you. The buck stops here. You will determine how good your people and systems and facilities will be, and YouTube proof this industry.”  •
— By Cam Hutchinson