The idea that corporate farms are rampant in agriculture is false. But like many untruths, it won’t go away, so it needs to be constantly managed.
One of the latest and boldest efforts to bring a dose of reality to the argument comes from an advocacy group called Illinois Farm Families. It’s created a campaign called Year of The Farmer and has gone as far as to buy advertising time during the 2023 Super Bowl to plead its case that family farmers are in control.
Here’s why. The aptly named group, which includes an assortment of beef, corn, pork, soybean and dairy producers in the state, has research that shows consumers believe just 47 per cent of Illinois farms are family owned.
The true figure is 96 per cent.
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That chasm could hardly get bigger, and a Herculean effort is needed to narrow it.
With the Super Bowl, the group is starting as big as it gets. Then after the football game, print, radio, digital and social ads will be placed throughout the year.
The amount of money they’re spending on this campaign hasn’t been disclosed, but the group is confident it can make a difference.
It has trust on its side. It believes trust in farmers will rise if people connect them more with family traits and virtues, instead of corporatism and its negative connotations. So the video ad they’re producing will feature 30 farm families, who will be thanked in the narrative for all the challenges they’ve faced over the past few years.
“When people hear that 96 per cent of Illinois farms are family owned, then they’re no longer as concerned about a lot of our management techniques,” Lindsay Mitchell, director of communications at Illinois Corn, told Prairie Farmer. “Consumers trust families, they understand families, they assume that families have the same values that they do, and they’re willing to give us a little bit of the benefit of the doubt when it comes to management practices.”
It’s the same everywhere. Farmers need space to grow crops and raise livestock, and that space is dwindling even though food production must increase. Governments let farmland disappear and prioritize it very little. This is taking a toll on farmers, who are facing huge mental health challenges as a result. They dominate farm ownership, but the pressure they’re under to produce reasonably priced food as their costs skyrocket is incredible.
Farmers think that their stories engage the public enough, governments will respond.
“I want the campaign to help Illinois farmers feel good about their legacy, what they came from and what they’re laying down for the future,” says Mitchell. “I also hope the campaign helps non-farmers and influential people across the state feel differently about agriculture and ask questions.”
Farmers far and wide are counting on the element of trust to resonate with people, so they too will become advocates for fair farm policy. Because there are so few farmers as a percentage of the general public, they need allies. They need the public, and the public needs them.