My students in a class called public information campaigns are creating three-month initiatives to put farmers’ role in the rising cost of food in perspective. These are hypothetical campaigns, but the motivation is real: farmers are vulnerable to undue criticism about their contribution to inflationary food prices.
I’m sure similar efforts are underway elsewhere. Farmers are easy targets for pass-the-buck ridicule. They’re not bankrolled like multi-national food manufacturers, processors and retailers. That disparity prompted the class to consider what a campaign would look like if a marketing agency was approached by a farm organization concerned about a balanced public portrayal of its members.
Farmers’ image, high in public trust polls, is worth investing in, and preserving. When people think of food, they think of farmers. And they think highly of them. We know so, because research from organizations such as Grassroots Public Affairs, outlined here recently, shows the public has huge trust in farmers.
A challenge with this type of campaign is that the topic is a moving target. That makes campaigning more given to a relatively short-term approach right now, until prices settle. New information comes forward weekly that adds more light to the picture, that can help consumers understand what’s up and put it in context. Public information campaigns strive to educate and explain, and as far as food prices go, a better understanding is vital for consumers to see the big picture.
The latest information I’ve seen is from the US. Missouri extension business specialist Jason Morris reports that while farm profits are forecast to rise more than 15 per cent above last year, inflation knocks predicted profits down by more than seven percent.
That’s an actual reduction of $9.7 billion in net farm income.
Morris points out that farmers shell out non-stop for what are called “inputs,” like seed, feed, fertilizer and chemicals, not to mention fuel.
So do other parts of the food production chain. No one is immune to such necessities as fuel cost spikes, especially those involved in food transportation. And everyone is passing on their increased costs to consumers.
Morris says some of those costs are now affecting what farmers plant. Even though they’re getting sky-high prices for some commodities, farmers are reluctant to plow all kinds of money into certain crops that need a lot of costly nitrogen fertilizer, such as corn for example.
So if growing corn is less affordable than other crops and consumer prices rise because supply drops, is that farmers’ fault?
And up to this point, we haven’t even mentioned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on the input prices.
This is a tough assignment for my students – not intentionally so, but important for preparing for real-world situations they could encounter when they graduate and start working in communications. They need to be ready, and explaining food prices from farmers’ perspective is a job that must be done.