They’re not just preaching to the choir any more — the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is taking the message about agriculture’s importance directly to the public.

“Our farmer members were constantly telling us we needed to come up with an effective way to get our message before the public, and we decided it was time to do something about it,” says Donald Gant, chairman of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s Communications Committee.

Thus the impetus for the organization’s Ag Image Campaign 2010, launched in February in the Jackson, Miss., metro market, featuring billboards and TV spots, plus messages on a statewide radio network, a Web site, and distribution of printed materials and DVDs.

With the theme, “Farm Families of Mississippi” and a “Growing Mississippi” logo, the six-week campaign cost approximately $200,000.

“TV/radio time, billboards, etc., aren’t cheap,” says Gant, a Merigold, Miss., producer. “But, we were fortunate that a number of commodity organizations and agribusiness partners made generous contributions to supplement Farm Bureau money. All the creative and production work was done in-house, which was a considerable savings.”

And he says, a post-campaign survey of those who saw one of more of the messages shows the effort a success in influencing the respondents’ views about farmers and agriculture.

“A nine-member producer committee was formed in 2008 to look at ways we could be more proactive in telling agriculture’s story to the public,” says Justin Ferguson, Farm Bureau regional manager and commodity coordinator for cotton and rice at Senatobia, Miss.

“They looked at campaigns around the country and got a lot of ideas and advice. Start small, we were told, then evaluate what you’ve done, and build on that. We were advised, too, to get as many different groups and organizations as possible involved in supporting the effort and spreading the word about it.”

Preliminary work was launched in April 2009, with a survey by a market research firm to determine perceptions of the Mississippi public about farmers and farming and to develop ideas about key issues for the campaign.

“The results were very positive,” Ferguson says. “Farmers have a very good image in Mississippi, with a 93 percent favorable rating from the survey respondents. That’s a very close second to small business owners, with 94 percent.” Teachers ranked third, with 91 percent. Lowest rankings were for elected public officials, 54 percent, and corporate executives, 36 percent.

“Eighty-six percent said they believe American-produced food is safer than foreign food; 84 percent that Mississippi farmers treat their animals and livestock properly; 65 percent that most Mississippi farm operations are family farms; and 60 percent said they feel farmers are good stewards of the environment. While there were some areas of concern on certain issues, we were pleased that opinions of farmers were so strongly favorable.

“We also ended up with a list of almost 40 issues, which ran the gamut from animal rights to salmonella in peanut butter.”