Persuading consumers industrial agriculture is good — Conventional family farmers and ranchers, being crushed by the abusive system, are paying the bill
Several points about the new US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance:
To date, 33 general farm, commodity and checkoff groups are members. All of ag’s big organizations are in: Farm Bureau, NCBA, National Milk, Pork Checkoff, Soybean Assoc., NCGA, Grains Council etc…
Cost to enter: Minimum $5,000, maximum unlimited; $50,000, however, gets you a seat on the board of directors. Current board includes members from the Beef Checkoff, Beef Federation, National Milk, National Pork Producers, Poultry & Egg, Neb. Soybean Assoc., Iowa Soybean Board, IL Soybean Assoc, and MN Soybean Council.
Executive members of the board: Bob Stallman, AFBF; Phil Bradshaw, Soybean Checkoff; Bart Schott, NCGA; Dale Norton, Pork Checkoff; Gene Gregory, United Egg; Forrest Roberts, NCBA
Note the heavy checkoff presence on both board and executive members. Beef Checkoff in for $250,000. USDA issued tight guidelines last November (when USFRA was announced and checkoffs joined) on rules governing federal checkoff cash committed to USFRA. For example, checkoff money can be used for “projects” not “membership dues.” USFRA currently viewed by USDA as just another “contractor” or “subcontractor.”
The global ad and PR agency, Ketchum, has been retained by the group to develop message and implementation. Ketchum has contracts with the Beef Checkoff and has worked for NCBA, also. The ag grapevine reports that Kim Essex, a highly placed staffer at NCBA, has left that post to take a new position at Ketchum.
Also, Drake & Co., a Missouri-based, association management company, is in charge of managing USFRA. Its founder and boss is Steve Drake, an old hand from the American Soybean Association.
Big push now underway to get ag business to join USFRA. Viewed as “natural partners” in effort to promote “new” vision of American agriculture. Minimum buy-in $50,000. Any firm that pays $500,000, though, becomes ex oficio member of the Board: no voting rights, but can participate in everything else. Farm Credit and The Fertilizer Institute only two big business members to date, but another to be announced in coming weeks. Hope is to snag some whales: ADM, Cargill, Monsanto, DuPont.
Kickoff targeted for mid-July. $10 million in bank; want is for $20 million for first year’s campaign. Long-term, $30 million is viewed as “doable” for each subsequent year with big agri-business as biggest contributor.
Guiding principle behind formation of USFRA is belief that there’s a growing disconnect between consumers and farmers. That disconnect, it says, is because most Americans now three generations removed from the farm and ranch and the daily effort by “anti-farm” groups to attack production ag. By that, according to USFRA, it means Humane Society et al.
Both points may sound good but are not key to so-called “disconnect.” Land Grant research and independent public opinion polling shows two clear facts: an overwhelming majority of the public “respects” and “admires” farmers and ranchers and, similarly, have “deep concerns” over farming and ranching practices used today to “industrialize” food production. Want is for more “earth” and less “industry” in food.
So what is that unstated goal of big farm groups, commodity organization, checkoffs and agri-business with USFRA and the millions?
From a PR standpoint, the groups want the face of the small farmer and horse-riding rancher to be the public face of agriculture–not confinement hog barns, 100,000-head cattle feedlots; not manure lagoons, eroded fields, hypoxic rivers, lakes and oceans, not GM seed, not sub-therapeutic antibiotics.
In other words, the big money behind US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance wants to preserve and build upon the exact thing the public doesn’t want: modern food production practices it views as questionable, worrisome and even unnecessary.