Last November when the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance was unveiled there was some doubt by many whether or not the various groups could come together and achieve the goals the Alliance had set for themselves. USFRA Chairman Bob Stallman says that the attitude toward the Alliance has undergone a positive change during the past year.
"Obviously an effort of this magnitude there was skepticism about us being able to pull it off," Stallman said. "But we've shown through the activities of this first year that we're very capable of raising the funds and resources that we need to, that we're perfectly capable of putting together strategic communications programs and implementing them, and we were certainly successful with our kick off in September with The Food Dialogues, and right now I think we've converted a lot of people and they believe we can be successful at trying to engage with consumers."
Stallman says the growth has been tremendous during the past year. The number of farmer and rancher producer groups has more than doubled from 22 last November to 59 now, basically all of American agriculture. Also industry groups are joining the alliance so it is still growing, yet at the same time Stallman says USFRA is putting together a very comprehensive communications plan for 2012.
During the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance annual meeting this week in Kansas City there were the usual governance issues of electing officers, approving a budget and reviewing the communications plan that went with it. But Stallman says there was another goal for the affiliates side.
"We wanted to have a program where our affiliates came in and also got briefed on our plans for communications strategies for 2012," Stallman said. "We also had some speakers; we had a panel of MommyBloggers, which frankly I think showed us that we are on the right path about how we are trying to reach out to influencers, and MommyBloggers are certainly influencers in terms of this debate about food."
As USFRA moves into 2012 conversation training of farmers and ranchers is going to be emphasized.
"We've known all along that for this to be successful we have to create that direct conversation with consumers and farmers and ranchers," Stallman said. "Consumers want that direct connection with those who raise and grow their food. Farmers and ranchers sometimes are a little reluctant to step out of their comfort zone and have those kinds of conversations, so we are going to move forward and identify those farmers and ranchers who are willing to step up on behalf of the Alliance, and on frankly behalf of U.S. agriculture, to engage with consumers, listen to them, answer their questions, very directly, very openly, a lot of transparency."
Stallman says he it is amazing how American agriculture and farmer and rancher groups have come together to work in this effort.
"I've been involved in farm associations for 25, 30 years, this is the first time all of us have come together, in unity, working together for one common goal," Stallman said. "Everyone has been stepping up and picking up their share of the workload. This is really a volunteer operation, we have funding to help carry it out, but the leaders are participating as volunteers and it's been incredible to me how well everyone is working together."