When Congress returns the second week of June, a new Corn Farmers Coalition information campaign awaits.
Backed by the National Corn Growers Association and focused on the family farm, the campaign is intended to impact policymakers who are increasingly distant from the realities of agriculture.
Education is the ultimate goal of the CFC effort.
“One reason the Corn Farmers Coalition was formed was to give us a little distance” from policy issues, said Mark Lambert, CFC director, during a late May press conference. “The NCGA is well-known for working on policy — that’s something it does very well.
“This is strictly an educational campaign. We take facts — and 99 percent of the campaign’s come straight from USDA — that people might not know and raise awareness.”
To see some of the CFC ads, visit http://www.cornfarmerscoalition.org/press-room/ads/.
The pressing need for such an educational effort was explained by John Adams, a corn grower from Atlanta, Illinois. “The reason I’m involved in this is about 10 or 15 years ago I was more active with the Illinois Corn Growers (Association). We’d come to Washington, D.C., and visit our (Congressional delegation). We always had good rapport.”
Several years ago, Adams made a return trip to the nation’s capitol and “was quite shocked. A lot of the people we were meeting didn’t realize family farms still existed. … Quite often, we’d hear ‘we didn’t know there were any family farms back there in Illinois. We thought it was all big, corporate farms.’ That really bothered me a lot.
“This is something we need to address and I’m glad the NCGA is doing it with this program. … There are people making decisions that affect our lives, our income and environment that don’t know the true facts about family farms.”
CFC and NCGA officials acknowledge some of the campaigns’ themes are similar to the USDA’s controversial “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program.
For more on Know Your Farmer, see http://deltafarmpress.com/legislative/usda-know-farmer-0524/index.html.
“We’ve had many discussions with (USDA) Secretary Vilsack,” said Darrin Ihnen, NCGA president and South Dakota farmer, during the press conference. “He is trying to get more local, community-based people to understand farm programs and where food is coming from.
“Our campaign is to show that families are on the farm. We, as growers, are involved in production agriculture. We may not market directly to someone in our town. But we want to show corn/livestock/soybeans are being grown by family farmers. We (grow crops and livestock) that go outside our area to feed people in New York, in Washington, D.C., on the coasts.
“It’s just to promote the fact that family farms are out there. We’re just trying to educate everyone that we do a good job on our land, we’re sustainable, we’re growing more and more with less and less inputs. We’re reducing soil erosion, fewer pesticides, using les irrigation water, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We’re doing a lot of good things on the land that people don’t realize.”
Even though the USDA and CFC campaigns share some overlap, “the Corn Farmers Coalition isn’t copying anyone,” said Lambert. “This effort began last winter and the ads began in the spring. (Our effort) predates” the USDA’s.
“We’ve actually been putting the wheels in motion for this campaign for over two years through focus groups and trying to assess what’s happening with farmers’ image with the public,” continued Lambert. “So, it’s been going on for some time. We’ve just been out of the market because this campaign, coming with this message, is expensive. It’s dollars over and above what farmers would normally spend. They sure wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t feel there’s a need for it. There are other things they could be doing — market development and things like that.”
Ihnen spoke at length about the need to for policymakers to comprehend that family farms can be of varying sizes. “Farms are getting larger. It’s the natural attrition of business — a lot of businesses are getting larger, there are consolidations. Our farming generation is getting older so there are fewer on the land.
“We represent all size farms. The NCGA has 36,000 members and we represent over 300,000 growers through check-off dollars.”
Ihnen despaired that “each generation is getting more and more removed from the farm. People don’t understanding how we grow crops. And there are myths the media puts out — we over-fertilize, we don’t treat animals properly.”
To combat those perceptions, the $1 million CFC campaign aims to “get the fact out that family farms are producing the food, feed and fuel in this country. … This is an education campaign to show how wrong ideas and misconceptions can turn into regulations and legislation that affect us back on the farm.”
Will the CFC effort be tied into social media?
Over the last 18 months, Lambert has “noticed a real pick up in conversations on-line regarding farming and agriculture. It’s been very visible on Twitter, Facebook — pretty much every arena, even YouTube. … I’ve seen conversations between people from New York City and farmers in Minnesota. That’s a very cool thing.
“Most farmers I know aren’t looking for something else to do. But there is a certain attraction to being able to communicate directly with consumers. Many are already starting down that path but not nearly enough. So, we’re trying to accelerate that and take some of the mystery out of social media for those who” aren’t familiar with it.
“You don’t have to be on-line all the time,” said Lambert. “They say if you send four decent messages a week on Twitter, you’ll have followers. It isn’t difficult to do.”
For more on the CFC, visit http://www.cornfarmerscoalition.org/.