“Crop Protection vs. Pesticides”
Is It Time to Ditch the Term ‘Crop Protection’?
By: Paul Schrimpf, CropLife
Question: Is it time to start saying “pesticides” again? Do I have your attention? Great, read on … but let me say this first. Every few editorials, I find myself reaching back to my early days here atCropLife magazine to help illustrate a point. This is indeed one of those times, so bear with me.
When I started as a mid-level editor with virtually no background in agriculture some 20 years ago, a newbie rite of passage was hitting the Beltway Circuit for visits to our illustrious trade associations. CropLife America was one of the first stops along the way for an immersion in issues and messaging.
At that time, the association was in year four of a name change. In 1994, the National Agricultural Chemical Association became the American Crop Protection Association (ACPA). The industry was suffering under the weight of a raging public and media war against pesticides, and the best way to change the conversation was to recast the products in a way that would highlight their benefits.
I remember sitting through presentations and slideshows in amazement at the amount of research and work that must have gone into developing the strategy. Chris Klose, my “tour guide” and the spokesman at ACPA during those years, was an impressive, battle-tested advocate.
“Crop protection” was rapidly embraced by the industry as the right way to address the active ingredients we sell and use. And in general, it’s still the term most used among the entire crop production channel.
But simultaneously, a new information tool called the “Internet” came along and began to change the way citizens research, learn new information, and interact with each other. The timing for championing a new term, and delivering messaging to the public couldn’t possibly be better, right?
Well, maybe not. During my interview with folks at CropLife America (formerly ACPA) for this article, our discussion ultimately pivoted to consumer attitudes, trust, and knowledge of the industry. It was then that Genevieve O’Sullivan, Vice President of Communications, threw me a wicked curveball when she said: “The shift from calling the products we sell ‘crop protection’ from ‘pesticides’ was one of the worst mistakes we ever made.”
OK, that was a surprise. She went on to explain that despite all the effort, the term “crop protection” has never escaped its industry shell. The general public, as revealed in CropLife America’s most recent focus group research, has no idea what the devil “crop protection” means, most often guessing that it had to do with crop insurance.
Consequently, when citizens want to find out more about our industry and the products we manufacture and use, what is the definitive search term? Pesticides. And guess what? Our perspective sits firmly on the sidelines while the “Anti” groups get all the Web hits.
No wonder understanding of the industry, the regulatory process, and benefits of pesticides are at disturbing lows.
So, what now? Genevieve advocates meeting the public where it stands, and re-inserting the term “pesticide” into our vernacular again. I have to say, while it will take some getting used to, it makes a world of sense.