Ron Moore, Illinois Soybean Association
Growing a connection with consumers
Farm organizations ramping up consumer education
One in four Illinois workers is tied to the agricultural industry. Illinois agriculture contributes more than $6 billion to the national economy. And while recent research shows consumers care about who produces their food, they are misinformed about the Illinois farmers who raise it. As members of the Illinois rural community, we can all do our part to change that.
The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), through soybean checkoff funding, is addressing this issue in 2011. We have projects underway at the association level and as part of a coalition of farm organizations that includes the Illinois Beef Association (IBA), Illinois Corn Marketing Board (ICMB), Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) and Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA).
The goal is to capitalize on the favorable farmer image the statewide poll found, while also tackling unfavorable farming practices perceptions. The poll was conducted by GfK Roper on behalf of these Illinois farm organizations with more than 1,100 non-farm adults. The poll was supervised by Milwaukee-based Morgan & Myers, and placed heavy emphasis on gathering opinions from moms and other influencers, especially from the Chicago area.
Respondents acknowledged that they hold Illinois farmers in substantial esteem. However, consumers shared a mistrust of modern farming practices and doubts about food production that stem from concerns about food safety and animal welfare on so-called “factory farms.”
Not surprisingly, consumers were unable to clearly define what they consider to be “factory farms,” even though they believe those are the types of farms that dominate Illinois agriculture. Respondents said, on average, that 54 percent of Illinois farm products come from “corporate farms,” versus 46 percent from family farms. The reality, based on USDA statistics, is that individual family farms and partnerships represent 94 percent of Illinois farms.
I am encouraged that seven out of 10 consumers in the poll said they felt more positive about farming when told the facts about the percentage of family-operated farms in the state. That provides opportunity for us to get the positive message out about Illinois agriculture.
Consumers are willing to listen. It’s time we look for every chance to engage in meaningful dialogue, and become the trusted source of information about how our food is grown and raised.
ISA is working on consumer education projects in 2011 that will target Illinois consumers with accurate information about soybean production and the farmers who raise soybeans. On a broader scale, the coalition plans to use social media, conventional advertising, special events and personal communications to more widely share facts and facets about family farming.
Last August, the coalition used combined resources at the Illinois State Fair to address image issues by defining for consumers a “farmer’s look.” Large-scale banners around the fairgrounds portrayed true photos of farm men, women and children. The feedback was positive, and the coalition is working on other opportunities to showcase actual farmers and their families.
I challenge everyone living in rural Illinois to think about how you can communicate the positive messages of Illinois agriculture. Research indicates that first-hand experiences with farmers, even at a young age, make a lasting impression and cause people to view farmers more positively. Sure, taking time away from our never-ending “to-do” list to host a school field trip or talk to a school or civic group isn’t always what we want to do. But that is the type of activity that each of us can plan to do to help educate consumers about family farming.
Consumers want to know that farmers care about producing healthy, environmentally friendly food. They want to know why farmers make the decisions we do about production agriculture.
American family farmers should be the most trusted food-producing people in the world. Many of us still farm together as families or live in the same rural areas where we were raised. Often, we are on the same land as our previous generations. It’s time we share more of that good information with the consuming public. Won’t you join us in getting the word out?
Ron Moore is chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association and a soybean farmer from Roseville, Ill. Moore is a member of the McDonough Power Cooperative.