September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

It's all about image

By Natalie Schmitt- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Agriculture is a rapidly evolving industry. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the latest developments and technology as we create new ways to earn a living while doing a "simple job"-growing food for everyone. If we have a hard time keeping up with the changes, think how difficult it must be for the general public to understand what we do. We farm because it is a way of life, but we still need to operate our farm as a profit based business. As with any big business, image is the key to marketing success. What images are we perpetuating to our customers?
If you ask kids to draw a picture of a farm it will almost certainly contain a two-story red barn with a white "X" on the door. There will be a horse and a cow standing in a pasture surrounded by a white fence. The farmer will be wearing bib overalls, a straw hat and a piece of foxtail dangling from the side of his mouth. This is the image most people have of farming but it is not about the picture as much as it is about the "feeling" people associate with farming. When they see these iconic images, they associate the "simple life" and the "good ol' days of grandpa" where life was slowed down. They treasure the feelings the image creates.
Royalton Elementary closed out the school year with a dedication of a new piece of art work. The outdoor sculpture celebrates the family farm using discarded farm equipment and used parts to create a farm family, animals and crops to adorn the wall at the school entrance. Ron and Austin spoke on behalf of family farmers and the FFA chapter during the ceremony. Afterwards they searched the art work trying to identify the pieces and parts used to create the farm images. They could name almost every part. Austin says the sculpture is interesting to study but it is not a modern farm scene. The local paper printed a picture of the event. The picture caught my eye and the images it portrayed. Ron, Austin and the dairy princesses were dressed in town clothes and official FFA dress. The school staff was dressed in plaid shirts, jeans and some straw hats pretending to be farmers. Which is the right image?
At the dedication, the mayor of Royalton described agriculture as a "big business without skyscrapers." Now that is a great image! Her husband gathers at the Senior Center everyday for coffee with the retired farmers. His jaw hanging on his chest as the cost of equipment, land and taxes are brandished around the table. He has told the farmers they throw figures in the thousands around like he tosses 10's and 100's.
I was talking with a former Benton County Dairy Princess at her cousin's graduation party. She works at an advertising agency in the Twin Cities. She struggles with the same dilemma. Which image do we use to portray agriculture? She and her team were developing a new logo for an improved ag product. Some on the team came up with an image of an old barn and silo to signify the product's agricultural uses. She tried to explain this was not an image of the farms they would be marketing their product to. The boss understood her reasoning but they still needed to present the idea to the client along with her insight. The client still selected the barn and silo as the symbol for their new product.
We are walking a fine line in the image department for our business of agriculture. What image do we want to enhance, enforce or escape? Will society (consumers) continue to support us without the images of "grandpa's farm", "the simple life" or the "good ol'days"? As we change our farm operations to keep up with technology, will our new image still generate a connection between us and the consumers?
I appreciate the Royalton Elementary principal for his recognition of the contributions farm families have made to school districts throughout the state. I think small rural schools are facing the same image dilemma as small family farms. We're still doing the same jobs, just in new ways by incorporating advancing technology. We are both struggling to stay connected to our pasts while pushing towards our new futures. Are we shackled to an image that limits and restricts our advancements or are we connected to an image that generates a sense of security, stability and simplicity? I guess it depends upon how we define our image.
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