Farmers turn to PR to get past their bumpkin image

WASHINGTON: The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) has hired Aker Partners to launch a public education effort to promote accurate perceptions of farmers.

WASHINGTON: The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) has hired Aker Partners to launch a public education effort to promote accurate perceptions of farmers.

The campaign, called "Home Grown," will focus on media relations to educate Americans about what farmers do, how they operate, and how they contribute to the country.

Phillip Hayes, associate partner at Aker Partners, said, "Ask most people to describe a farmer, and you'll get a description of either American Gothic or a huge factory farm.

"The American farmer is not a country bumpkin. [Farmers] are savvy businessmen, and their efficiency keeps our products low in prices and the most abundant in the world."

A June 27 release by the NAWG admitted, "According to a recent joint study of the Farm Bureau Federation and Altria's Shared Solutions, both consumers and farmers overwhelmingly agree that we've been poor communicators. Because we haven't been communicating effectively, stereotypes are getting worse."

The campaign is partially funded by a grant from the Shared Solutions agricultural initiative of Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris Companies), parent company of Philip Morris USA.

The Aker Partners team intends to reach out to reporters who write about farm policy first, then try to get placements in large urban areas.

"I would love to see a New York City businessman see the business side of a farm in a business magazine," Hayes said.

The next step will be to demonstrate that farmers are environmentalists. Pat Buschette, NAWG director of government affairs, and co-owner of a small farm herself, said

that new technology allows farmers to use products that protect the crops as well as the surrounding wildlife.

Aker Partners and the NAWG also hope to create coalitions with other organizations like the National Cotton Council, which has already aligned itself with the cause.

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