Bad PR, it seems, isn’t just for Charlie Sheen and oil companies. The American farmer is desperately trying to give itself an image reboot. While farming groups would like us to remember that they do, in fact, supply the planet with the majority of its food supply, detractors like animal rights and environmental activists emphasize what they believe are the questionable and allegedly harmful practices the American farmer uses to get said food supply to our table. Shocking videos of animal cruelty, like fuzzy chicks being stuffed into grinders and poorly-treated piggies, have damaged the farmers’ reputations and shaken public confidence in the industry. In order to combat the evil farming empire image, several of the nation’s farming groups have banded together to give the American farmer a makeover.
In November, big-time farm groups like the National Pork Producers Council and the National Corn Growers Association formed the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance with the goal of publicizing a friendlier and more environmentally-concerned farmer. A high-profile ad campaign, according to alliance members, is “unlikely.” Instead, the farmers are hoping to engage in a conversation with consumers. Naturally, a heavy social media presence is being relied on by the alliance to help start the conversation.
Hog, corn, and soy farmer Mike VerSteeg has already been using social media to communicate his humane and natural ways of farming. He told the Los Angeles Times that he even sends tweets from his tractor during harvest.
“I like to let consumers know how much we care for our animals, because if they are well taken care of they produce a lot better,” VerSteeg said. “Consumers like to have a choice in the food they like to eat and farmers should have a choice in how we care for our animals.”
Farmers, like other independent business owners, are discovering that they can help control their image problems – but, like crops and livestock, it takes constant and steady tending.