Develop a public relations plan for your farm

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Looking at the challenges facing agriculture today, the list must include the fact that Americans are further removed from the farm than ever before. For the most part, they don’t know or understand common agricultural practices farmers use to produce the food and fiber we all enjoy.

The public, with limited working agriculture knowledge also includes policy makers at the local, state and national levels. Even though the public may lack agricultural knowledge, they do have an interest in learning more about farm production, says Julia Nolan Woodruff, Ohio State University extension educator.

By providing information to the public about common agriculture practices, chemical applications, animal welfare issues, manure application, and so on, you will be educating in a proactive and positive manner, she says. A farm public relations (PR) plan will help you provide an organized and meaningful delivery of information to the public.

Before you dive into a PR plan there are a couple of questions you should answer first:

  • What are our farm’s PR goals — why are we doing this?
  • Who will take the lead on developing and implementing the plan?

These are two very important questions, says Woodruff. You might want to create awareness, develop a favorable farm image or build a larger customer base. “It doesn’t matter what your goals are as long as you have them set and are written down,” she explains. “Without goals, it will be difficult to determine if the plan is meeting your farm’s PR needs and if it is worth the time and effort.”

It is also important to have someone responsible for the farm’s public relations plan. Without a specific person taking the lead on the PR plan, it may just remain a really good idea that never got started.

After these questions have been answered, it is time to begin developing your plan.

The first step is to think about your farm’s mission and objectives. Your mission statement will help explain what your farm does, how it does it and why. “It is important that you build your mission statement on your core values,” says Woodruff. This will help the public understand who you are and what is important to your farm business.

You may also consider writing a short history of your farm business. How the farm was started and the changes that have occurred over the years may not seem exciting to you, but today’s public is interested in getting to know and learn about farms and farmers as we’ve seen through the growth of the local foods movement.

Once you know who you are, the next step is to determine who your target audience is. There are a couple of broad audience groups that PR plans typically focus on.

1. Internal Audience. This includes everyone who is a part of the farm; employees, family members, stockholders and employees’ families.

2. External Audience. Everyone not part of the internal audience that the farm wants to connect with and includes customers, prospective customers, prospective employees, community members, local, state, federal legislators, landowners, suppliers, competitors and regulators.

Then, think about what you want to share with the public about your farm, what they want to know, and why you want to share that information. Some examples include:

  • You may want an external audience to know about the quality product you produce and the conservation practices utilized in production to create awareness in the community. 
  • Another external audience topic would be basic animal welfare practices implemented on your farm. This information would help the general public understand how you care for your livestock and why specific practices are utilized by the industry.
  • An internal audience such as stakeholders not involved in the everyday workings of the farm, might benefit from end of the year production records and a comparison to last year, new technologies and practices implemented recently and a financial summary for the year.

This leaves one last, but important part of your plan — what methods will you use to communicate this information?

This is a vital part of the plan, you may have all the other steps taken care of, but if you choose the wrong communication method your audience will not be reached, says Woodruff.

Here are some ideas to communicate your message:

  • Letters to the editor discussing what is happening during the current season. For example, it is spring time and farm machinery will be sharing the road with motorists.
  • Contact newspapers, requesting a feature story about an event or a human interest story about farm life as well as the business side of farming.
  • Develop a brochure that can be mailed to neighbors and landlords that explains your operation and the sound agricultural practices that you utilize to produce your product.
  • Classroom visits to help youth understand how their food is produced. 
  • Speaking at meetings of community organizations to share the economic impact agriculture has in the community.
  • Hold a ‘block party’ at your farm; give tours and explanations about how your farm is part of the food production cycle.
  • Develop Web pages, YouTube videos and/or social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter to tell your story. Pictures and daily updates draw interest to your farm and help the public develop a connection with the people producing their food and fiber.

Finally, be sure to use language that the general public will understand. Every day farm terminology such as heifers, A.I. or chemical names might be confusing to the non-farm public, so take time to explain terms.

“Your PR plan will help you be effective at informing and educating, but only if your message is received,” concludes Woodruff

Source: August 2009 Ohio Ag Manager


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