The Perils of Public Engagement and Why You Should Do It Too

Kevin Folta | Professor, Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida

March 5th, 10:30am

Social media is a powerful medium to share information. Unfortunately the space has become home to activists spreading false information that impacts farmers and ranchers and the products they generate. The good news is that dissent is borne from a small number of individuals. The bad news is that they are experts in manipulating public perception of agricultural production—and it is their full-time job.  To make matters worse, agricultural producers and scientists, while carrying the correct information, fail to engage in the internet’s powerful medium. When they do, they make mistakes. The presentation will inspire you to rethink how you connect with a curious and concerned public, change your willingness to engage, and then provide guidance for effective persuasion and resolving confrontation in social media space. We’ll also discuss some of the pointy realities of entering public discussion and how to survive them.  Farmers and ranchers have tremendous power to influence public perception and policy. Effective engagement in visible space is key to creating beneficial change and maintaining social license to farm.


Kevin M. Folta is a Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida.  His research program examines how light signals are sensed in plants and how different parts of the spectrum can change shelf life and high-value fruit and vegetable traits. His group also uses novel genomics approaches to identify genes related to flavor and disease resistance. He has been recognized for his efforts in science communication, with lectures and workshops that guide scientists and agricultural producers in changing public perception about food production. In 2016 he was recognized with the prestigious CAST Borlaug Award in Agricultural Communications and was announced as the Ag Pro Person of the Year.  Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago (1998).