The movement to raise the voices of America’s farmers and ranchers and facilitate the dialogue about today’s food is gaining momentum. The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), a unique organization that is a collaboration of more than 75 farmer- and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners, is creating new ways for farmers and ranchers from all types of agriculture to reach consumers – whether that’s in the national news scene, popular culture or social media.
“We’re changing the conversation about how food is grown and raised,” says Bob Stallman, chairman of USFRA and president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Farmers and ranchers are telling their own stories and leading the dialogue on some of the hottest topics about food. In six months, we’ve been able to provide more powerful ways for farmers and ranchers to get involved, add their voices and provide their perspectives to an audience that may not have experienced this first-person interaction with the people who grow their food.”
Research shows consumers welcome the opportunity to talk to “real” farmers and ranchers and turn the conversation from one that is often strained to one that is constructive, where all viewpoints are welcome.
“For many years, people outside of actual food production have been telling our story, and sometimes not accurately,” says Jim Schriver, a soybean farmer from Bluffton, IN, and production chair of the United Soybean Board.
USFRA’s public debut happened in September 2011 with a four-city simulcast panel discussion about food production, called The Food Dialogues Town Hall. More than 4,000 people participated in the discussion either online or in person in New York City, Washington, DC, Davis, CA, and Fair Oaks, IN. The event also included an interview with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Newspapers, radio stations and television news programs helped the conversations spread – more than 24 million impressions were generated via Twitter alone.
Between November and the end of 2011, USFRA in partnership with Discovery Communications, produced and aired four video vignettes on Discovery’s network of channels including Discovery, Animal Planet, TLC and others featuring farmers, ranchers and consumers discussing how food is produced. These stories of farmers and ranchers engaging with consumers about food were seen by 78 million on television and another 4 million online nationwide.
More than 2,000 farmers and ranchers have joined the Farmer and Rancher Mobilization (FARM) Team – USFRA’s effort to get farmers and ranchers involved in the conversation that is taking place about food production. FARM Team members have participated in “Conversations with EASE” – Engage, Acknowledge, Share and Earn trust – a presentation that provides tested ways to start or continue dialogues about food production based on research about what resonates and drives trust with consumers.
Farmers and ranchers have joined conversation online where much of the chatter about food production is taking place.
“Every day, the USFRA Facebook page is a multi-sided discussion that ensures agriculture is not just speaking to itself,” says Gene Gregory, president and CEO of United Egg Producers. “It’s a lively dialogue between farmers, ranchers and the general public interested in learning about where their food comes from.”
USFRA is taking on the hottest topics in the food production discussion through Twitter, reaching more than 2,000 followers with links to key articles and discussions about agriculture.
Beginning this summer, USFRA will continue its national food dialogues with national events in California and New York that include key media figures and influencers. Like USFRA’s partnership with the Discovery Communications, the organization will also be creating ways for farmers and ranchers to join the popular culture discussions about food.
“It is critical that farmers and ranchers start reaching more influencers and consumers in bigger and unexpected ways,” says Forrest Roberts, CEO of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association. “USFRA can help these voices reach into the hearts and minds of Americans.”
The FARM Team has a new interactive tool called, “Grow What You Know” that provides farmers and ranchers with opportunities to share stories and respond to news articles and certain online posts.
“USFRA’s efforts not only provide several options for farmers and ranchers to share their opinions and provide Americans a close-up look at today’s agriculture,” says Bart Schott, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association. “They also are successfully providing a more balanced view of today’s issues.”
“We’re making progress, but we still need more farmers and ranchers to tell their stories,” says Dale Norton, a member of the National Pork Board.