Opinion: Growers Need To Promote Themselves

Many years ago I worked in consumer media, spending a few years covering business. I worked for a newspaper in an area where agriculture was important to the economy, and we didn’t have a reporter who focused on ag, so that was a big part of what I did. But not big enough. I would constantly have to fight with editors who thought that average people didn’t care about agriculture. Unfortunately, they were mostly right. But they were right only because we weren’t informing people in the first place.

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It was a Catch-22, you see. People weren’t interested in ag largely because they didn’t know enough about it. And why didn’t they know enough about it? Because we — newspapers, TV, etc. (that was prior to the Internet) — weren’t informing them.

That was partly a function of the fact that most newspaper editors and TV news directors in this country don’t come from agricultural backgrounds. So they have to be educated by someone. That’s where all of us who love agriculture come in. I know growers don’t like to toot their own horns — in fact, that’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with them so much — but sometimes, if you don’t toot your horn, nobody else will.

‘The Hand That Feeds U.S.’

That’s why I’m enthusiastic about a new project with a pretty catchy, and absolutely correct title: “The Hand That Feeds U.S.” To quote the press release I just received: “America’s farmers are extending an olive branch to the same urban media that have often been critical of agriculture, and some powerful U.S. lawmakers asked the nation’s reporters in a letter today to give them a chance. ‘It makes no sense that we’re being demonized in many of the nation’s top media markets,’ said Linda Raun, a rice grower from Texas who is participating in The Hand That Feeds U.S.”

“It’s not the journalists’ fault,” Raun continues. “We haven’t done a good enough job telling them our story. We’ve been negligent in explaining that farmers feed and clothe every person in this country, employ 20% of the nation’s workforce, and will be at the center of America’s economic recovery.”
Andy Quinn, a Minnesota corn and ethanol producer, agrees. “We’re the best farmers in the world, but we’re far from being master communicators. For too long, we’ve let a handful of environmental extremists and coalitions bankrolled by big business define our industry in the news.”

Quinn and Raun believe their project, funded by numerous state and national agricultural trade associations, is a good first step in helping agriculture
set the record straight. The multi-year effort will consist of a website, www.TheHandThatFeedsUS.org, as well as a series of face-to-face meetings with reporters across the country.

Even though the farmers admit they’ll never be able to match agriculture’s opponents dollar for dollar, they do have some high-profile cheerleaders on their side. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) published an open letter to the news industry in mid-May “respectfully urging [reporters to] take the time to learn more about this effort, U.S. farm policy, and the farm and ranch families that keep America fed.”

A copy of the letter can be found here: www.thehandthatfeedsus.org/HTFU_Launch-Congressional_Letter_to_Media.pdf.

I’d like to see fruit growers get behind this project. I know I’ll be doing all I can. In fact, where is that number of my old boss at the newspaper?