The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is nearing its official third birthday and one of the original founding fathers is pleased with the accomplishments of the alliance, which now includes over 80 agricultural organizations and companies.
“I don’t know if you ever really reach your goals but think we’re seeing some real strides in the right direction,” says board member Doug Wolf, a pork producer from Wisconsin. “When we sat down to start, we were trying to sit down everybody in one room and get them all to work together and that’s a tough thing to do – but it’s come to fruition and we’re seeing some real progress.”
Among the new endeavors for USFRA is taking its highly successful national Food Dialogues effort down to a more regional level with their affiliates so they can do more of them. USFRA has identified biotechnology and antibiotic use in livestock as two major issues that they are addressing with the non-farm audience. “Those are always controversial issues,” Doug says. “We’re still going to back the science … but we’re up against some really strong emotional responses … but we sit down and debate and discuss how it works.”
There’s also been some recent changes to the USFRA fooddialogues.com website, one of which helps to address some of those hot-button issues, including a new section called FoodSource. They have also incorporated some search engine optimization to the website which brings up USFRA information for certain key words relating to agriculture.
Listen to an interview with Doug and USFRA staffer Lisa Cassady at the Ag Media Summit: USFRA update
For years now, the National Corn Growers Association, along with a broad array of other agricultural groups, has stressed the need for farmers to tell their own stories about food and farming. Time and time again, they have tried to direct attention to the growing public desire to understand what happens to the food on their tables prior to its arrival at their grocery stores. Through programs like CommonGround and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, they have created pathways for farmers to reach broad audiences and offered training tools that help increase the effectiveness of their efforts.
The everyday business of farming and ranching often saps the time and energy of the men and women who grow our food though. With so many demands already placed upon them, the task of volunteering these precious resources for something so seemingly apparent to those involved in agriculture seems daunting, if not impossible.
Last week, the attendees at BlogHer Food 2013 had the opportunity to meet real life farmers and have honest, open discussions about food. Their incredible interest and insightful questions served as a strong reminder that this need for dialogue is not only real, but it is actually growing.
CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross and Morgan Kontz, who farm in Iowa and South Dakota respectively, saw firsthand how great this need for an open dialogue with consumers is. As bloggers, many of whom have thousands of avid followers, stopped at the booth, they warmly received these real-life farmers. Many expressed gratitude for the chance to talk about what happens on modern farms and ranches. Even those who disagreed with some practices came to these conversations with an open, respectful spirit and an honest desire to not only express their own viewpoints but to also truly listen to what these women had to say.
Ross and Kontz met with a steady stream of interested bloggers over the course of the two-day event.
Friday night, Ross and Kontz joined USFRA Faces of Farming and Ranching winners Chris Chin and Will Gilmer, along with other hog and cattle ranchers, to share a meal with a group of approximately 40 bloggers who took time away from the conference, foregoing a night of fun on Austin’s Sixth Street, to visit an urban farm and learn more about how the foods about which they write are grown and raised. The incredible variety of bloggers who attended was astounding. The interest that they brought was genuine.
The USFRA-hosted dinner allowed farmers and bloggers to share a dialogue along with a delicious dinner.
From Google Glass-wearing hipsters to DC policy wonks, the dinner attendees illustrated how diverse the demand for dialogue about agriculture has become. While these women and men brought a myriad of interests and perspectives, they shared two main commonalities. They wield significant influence on broader consumer opinion through their work, and they want to know more about what happens on America’s farms.
Volunteers like Ross and Kontz have taken on the challenge, giving of themselves to become a part of that conversation. As the demand from consumers for a greater understanding of farming grows, so to must the supply of farmers and ranchers willing to become a part of that conversation.
CommonGround volunteers Sara Ross (left) and Morgan Kontz (right) share their story of farming. Do you?
Today, less than 2 percent of the population is directly involved in agriculture, but 99.999 percent of the population eats. Learn what you can do to help make the math work by visiting the websites for CommonGround or USFRA.
Conversations about food and farming will happen regardless of farmer involvement. Show consumers that you care about their concerns and want to share with them the amazing story of today’s American farmer.
The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance helped celebrate 40 years of National Agriculture Day this week with a breakfast on Capitol Hill and educational briefing on “The New Language of Food and Modern Agriculture.” More than 150 people — including Ag Day participants, members of the food industry, and Congressional staff — attended the event.
Illinois corn farmer and USFRA “Face of Farming and Ranching” Katie Pratt shared her farm story and the need for others to share their personal stories. “This Ag Day – and every day – I encourage farmers and ranchers from across the country to be active, share their personal stories, and answer questions from their community about how food is grown and raised,” she said. Katie also live tweeted the event @USFRA.
Also on the program was Erika Bowser-Poppelreiter, a Midwest farmer and farming/ranching expert with Ketchum, who presented a briefing on consumer messaging research and how the agriculture industry can work to restore relevance. The event featured a new perspective on food culture today led by farmers and ranchers.
Farmers and ranchers are celebrating the 40th National Agriculture Day this week in Washington DC and hopefully letting those running the country know that as long as we need to eat, agriculture will still be “relevant.”
U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) Chairman Bob Stallman says they are encouraging farmers and ranchers across the country to use National Ag Day this week as a springboard to share their stories and answer consumer questions. “That includes talking about the new technologies we have, an emphasis on sustainability, and talking about that new, next generation of farmers and ranchers coming on board,” said Stallman.
The celebration of agriculture on Capitol Hill this week includes a briefing for congressional staffers on Tuesday, March 19 – which is the official National Ag Day. “The whole purpose is to talk about what our research has shown that consumers want to know about ag, how they want to relate, how they want to communicate,” Stallman said.
National Ag Day is celebrated during National Ag Week, which is always the week of the first day of spring, celebrating the start of planting season. If you would like to participate in USFRA’s event on Capitol Hill during Ag Day through Twitter – follow @USFRA or tweet with hashtag Ag Day (#AgDay) or hashtag food D (#foodD).
The four represent a range of agricultural commodities including corn and soybeans, hogs, cattle, and dairy and they were chosen through on-line voting and a panel of judges from nine finalists announced last month at the New York Food Dialogues. The winners will act as national spokespeople, and will share stories and experiences on a national stage to help answer consumers’ questions about how food is grown and raised to feed our nation.
When the four were introduced by USFRA this week, they were asked what they believe is the most important story for agriculture to share.
Chris Chinn of Clarence, Missouri is a 5th generation farmer with her husband Kevin, his parents and brother raising hogs, cattle, hay and row crops. “I think it’s more important for us to listen to the concerns that people have about how food is produced so we can have a more open dialogue,” Chris said.
Will Gilmer and his father own/operate a dairy farm in Lamar County, Alabama that has been in continuous operation since the early 1950s. “It’s important that we help people understand what the new things we’re doing are, why we’re doing them and how it’s beneficial to them in giving them great choices at the grocery store,” said Will.
Katie Pratt and her husband Andy (7th generation farmer) and their two children raise corn, soybeans and seed corn in Dixon, Illinois in partnership with Andy’s family. “One of the stories that needs to be told is that we are families operating businesses,” said Katie.
Bo Stone jointly owns P & S Farms in Rowland, NC with his wife Missy and his parents where they grow corn, wheat and soybeans, hogs and cattle, as well as strawberries and sweet corn that are sold at their own roadside market. “We are all consumers of our products and I’d like for everyone to know that we’re in this together,” he said.
Stallman says USFRA just started with some of its initial programd 14 months ago. “We’ve made great progress considering we started from scratch,” he said. “We’re making great progress in engaging with consumer influencers … we’ve established a really robust social media platform for consumers and farmers and ranchers to have direct conversations.” USFRA has also set up training for farmers and ranchers to learn how to interact with consumers on social media.
Moving forward, Stallman says they want to continue the successful efforts they have begun, including the Food Dialogues that have been held throughout the past year in major urban areas like Hollywood and New York City.
In conjunction with the Food Dialogues held in New York City, USFRA held its annual meeting and elected new executive committee members:
Chairman – Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation
Vice Chairman – Weldon Wynn, Cattlemen’s Beef Board
Secretary – Bernard Leonard, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association
Treasurer – Dale Norton, National Pork Board
At-Large – Mike Geske, National Corn Growers Association
At-Large – Nancy Kavazanjian, United Soybean Board
Going off the executive committee is former NCGA president Bart Schott of North Dakota, who says it has been a great two years. “We’re really reaching an audience through social media that we’ve never really dreamed of,” Schott said.
He was especially impressed with the Food Dialogues in New York and said he has learned a lot himself during the panels. “Having a Food Dialogue with panelists that balance each other out and talk about their side, whether it’s right or wrong, just to talk about the issues and get them out there … for me it was a home run again,” said Schott who adds that it is a great way to connect farmers and consumers.
The USFRA Food Dialogues hit the Big Apple last week with three sessions of panelists on a variety of pretty hot topics related to food and agriculture: Media, Marketing and Healthy Choices; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Antibiotics in Your Food; Your Toughest Questions Answered on Biotechnology (GMOs) in Your Food.
Among the panelists on the GMO session was Greg Jaffe, director of biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this technology, about these products and that was clear from questions from the audience,” said Jaffe. “This kind of discussion is a good first step.”
Jaffe said this is a topic that brings out a lot of emotion. “I wish that wasn’t the case,” he said. “But I think for now it is going to continue to remain controversial.”
The moderator for the New York Food Dialogues was Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent, which he says includes the food industry.
Ali thought the event today was remarkable. “This is an area of which I have cursory understanding of,” he said. “I understand commodities and I understand economic impacts of droughts and storms, but I don’t have this degree of detail and granularity that we got today.”
He said it was great to get that and hear from the farmers who are really connected to the food and he was intrigued to hear all the differences of opinion on the controversial topics covered in the sessions. “People have very strong beliefs when it comes to food and that’s understandable,” he said.
The 2012 Commodity Classic was a major record-breaker. Final attendance figures totaled over 6,000 – a full 25% more than the previous record of 4800 set last year.
It was an indication of the optimism in the agriculture industry right now as commodity prices are good and spring planting season is just around the corner. “Right now, if the recent past is any indication of the future, corn growers have a brilliant and bright future,” said National Corn Growers Association president Garry Niemeyer of Auburn, Illinois during the general session of the Classic with emcee Mark Mayfield.
The excitement and enthusiasm was in the air at the annual meeting of corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers who are all interested in working together for the good of the agriculture industry. Niemyer noted several initiatives that are joint projects between various commodity groups, such as the CommonGround program and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA).
It has only been a year since the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance was officially announced, and what a year it has been for the coalition of agricultural organizations!
USFRA held its first annual meeting last week in Kansas City just prior to the NAMA Trends in Agriculture and the National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual meeting where board members like Vice Chairman Bart Schott (pictured), who is also chairman of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), had a chance to talk with dozens of broadcasters about the accomplishments and goals of USFRA.
NCGA CEO Rick Tolman says it’s amazing to see how much the organization has grown in the 12 short months since the first USFRA board meeting in 2010. “There were 12-15 of us sitting around the table putting this thing together and dreaming what it might be,” Rick said. Now there are more than 20 on the board and another 80 were in attendance. He says they raised over $10 million dollars in the first year and have a second year budget of $11.1 million. “So, it’s really exciting to think of where we came from and where we are in such a short period of time.”
Much of the first annual meeting dealt with plans for 2012 and you can hear all about it in this interview that Chuck Zimmerman did with Rick about the accomplishments and goals of USFRA: Rick Tolman Interview
NCGA President, Bart Schott, ND corn grower, was a panelist on today’s Food Dialogues, a town hall style discussion via live web stream. Food Dialogues is a project of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). Schott is secretary of USFRA.
The panel Schott participated in was held in New York and focused on retaining consumer choices in what they eat and what they pay. The panel explored consumers’ need for information at the point of purchase (labeling, restaurant ratings, calories, etc), as well as the safety and health issues related to consumer decision-making and choices. The panelists also discussed the variety of sizes and forms of farming and ranching and its impact on consumer choices made at the checkout counter or when ordering from the menu.
At the beginning of the session, moderator Chef John Besh asked Schott why the price of corn fluctuates so quickly. He says the main driver behind it is the price of oil, the cost of transportation. Other drivers include demand for corn and outside investors buying corn. You can listen to his answer here: Bart Schott Answers Corn Question