|U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Form Alliance|
New coalition of ag groups to tackle ongoing issues
If you’re part of any of some two dozen well-known agricultural commodity or farm organizations, you now have a stake in a new coalition whose goal is to make sure the right messages about U.S. agriculture reach the right people.
Welcome to the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), a group that officially began its implementation process in January 2011 after a planning and organizational period that started last May. And while some in agriculture may think the new group is simply another name on a long list of organizations already engaged in similar efforts, USFRA leaders say "no way."
Perhaps the most persuasive fact supporting that pledge is the number of commodity and farm organizations already supporting the new entity – a group that could be likened to a Yellow Pages listing of movers and shakers in the industry. (See accompanying list of founding groups.)
What’s more, USFRA is still growing, both in numbers and in terms of financial support the alliance has received, as word about it spreads. As of early January, the new organization had received commitments totaling some $10 million, according to Rick Tolman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association and one of the architects of the new organization.
"We made a conscious decision this (the USFRA effort) was going to be done right and it would have the kind of structure needed to move forward successfully," said John Becherer, CEO of the United Soybean Board and another involved in the organization’s founding.
Doing things right included a number of realizations and agreements, like:
• Current tactics and efforts by individual farm organizations and other groups are not coordinated or integrated and not always focused on high-value audiences. On a related subject, Tolman observed, "We need to put together the pennies we’re spending individually, so we’re able to invest the dollars needed to get the job done."
• Farm Bill issues and policies on biofuels will be off-limits for the new organization due to their divisiveness within the agricultural industry.
• While it’s appropriate and desirable for U.S. agriculture to be science-minded, using a technology-oriented approach isn’t effective in communications with most consumers.
The planning group also adopted a vision statement declaring "food production partners will work together to enhance U.S. consumer trust in modern food production to ensure the abundance of affordable, safe food."
To make that vision a reality, USFRA leaders identified five strategic objectives:
• Increase agriculture’s share of voice in key media, including national and more local media, traditional and social.
• Increase the number of policy makers and government officials at all levels who accept the value of today’s agricultural production.
• Engage key customer decision makers in the dialogue about the value of today’s food production.
• Work with leading national influencer organizations (medical, cultural, dietary, environmental, etc.) to create partnerships in support of today’s agriculture.
• Increase the role of farmers and ranchers as the voice of animal and crop agricultural on local, state and national food issues.
Another early step was to identify current agricultural industry efforts focused on public education and perceptions and assess if those programs fit strategically with what USFRA wanted to do.
More than a dozen projects came under scrutiny.
The assessment included asking survey respondents if current ag industry groups or programs have been successful in shaping opinions of consumers, influencers and decision makers about modern farming and ranching. An overwhelming majority, 81.3 percent, said no. However, 68.8 percent said their particular program or initiative would fit well with what USFRA wants to do to improve target audiences’ perception of modern agriculture. And while the results suggest a challenge of coping with an organizational mindset demanding, "use our program or we’re out of here," USFRA leaders are undeterred.
Among other conclusions the study reached was that while a variety of audiences are being touched by numerous messages and tactics, a comprehensive, cohesive strategy was missing. That’s the role the new organization is targeting.
As a result, USFRA has charged a communications advisory committee with the task of developing a strategic plan and enlisting industry support for it. Other goals–all for this year–are to identify whom the program should target and to launch the effort.
No time goals for specific steps are in place, pending actions to "get our arms around the overall effort," Tolman said.
Many of the program’s anticipated actions will be paid for with money contributed by commodity checkoff organizations. Combining funds from those sources could yield a budget of as much as $15 million annually.
While it’s possible USFRA could decide to enter the governmental policy arena with lobbying efforts, checkoff funds cannot be used for that purpose. However, Tolman and Becherer report other agribusiness groups, companies and individual producers also appear eager to support the new program. As a result, they estimate the funds available could grow to as much as $30 million per year. Also, income from these non-checkoff sources could pay for any lobbying activities.
Other agribusiness groups and companies can join USFRA’s Industry Partners Council with an investment of at least $50,000. $500,000 or more earns a spot on the new entity’s Premier Partners Advisory Group (PPAG). Plans call for USFRA to begin soliciting support from potential industry partners during this year’s first quarter.
Governance decisions already made call for a board of up to 25 farmer, rancher and commodity organization representatives. The initial board has 11 members now in place, and those directors have elected a six-person executive committee. A seventh, ex-officio spot is reserved for a representative from the PPAG group.
Chairing the executive committee is Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Other committee members are: vice chairman - Phil Bradshaw, chairman of the United Soybean Board; secretary – Bart Schott, president of the National Corn Growers Association; treasurer – Dale Norton, a member of the National Pork Board; at-large – Gene Gregory, president and CEO of United Egg Producers, and Forrest Roberts, CEO of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
USFRA has named Drake & Co., an association management company based in the St. Louis, MO, area, to direct the daily efforts of members, partners and subcontractor firms. The overall goal is to manage the alliance campaign and not create a new permanent organization.
USFRA leaders now envision a three to five-year effort, with an evaluation then to determine what happens next.