Communications Squad participant Dave Struthers (center) shares his experiences with participants at a 2020 meeting. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Assocation)
Sharing Our Story: From farmer to consumer and beyond
January 20, 2021 | Katie James
In a world where more than 70% of American consumers use at least one form of social media, it’s no surprise the majority (55%) now get their news from digital platforms, according to the Pew Research Center.
For farmer Klint Bissell of Bedford, he knew when his 13-year-old son started an Instagram account to promote agriculture, he needed to keep up or get left behind.
“Someone is going to tell the story of agriculture, and if you always leave it up to someone else, then you have no control over how it’s told,” Bissell says. “If you want it to be told the right way, then you have to help tell it.”
The southern Iowa farmer is one of more than two dozen to have participated in the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Communications Squad in 2020. Bissell and his wife Aimee are participating again this year.
The Communications Squad is a value-added program for ISA members driven to empower farmers to be better spokespersons for the soybean industry. Originally created to keep farmers at-the-ready for the hundreds of media inquiries ISA receives each year, the group has evolved in its fourth year to promote agriculture and the soybean industry in all facets of communications, including social media.
Aiming to post a picture or video of his row crop farming operation daily, Bissell operates his newly formed Instagram account with the objective of simply making agriculture more visible – something, he says, that doesn’t come naturally.
“I think the more you do it, the more comfortable you get,” he says. “There’s a need – a demand, even – for farmers to talk to people and tell your farm’s story.”
That need is at the backbone of the Communications Squad. Professional media training, updates from industry experts, opportunities to meet and speak with reporters and guest speakers, help propel participants to actively speak up for modern farming. Partially funded by the soybean checkoff with support from industry partnerships, the group serves as a way for farmers to stay connected to ISA while learning skills that benefit their farm and the industry.
Beyond the comfort zone
Lacona farmer Randy Miller says being a communicator has always been outside of his comfort zone, too. As Miller joins the Communications Squad again in 2021, he reminds other farmers that speaking to non-ag audiences is vital to supporting the world of agriculture.
“I’ve been the guy who got up every morning and went to work,” Miller says. “Even though I knew it was important to do, I didn’t make time to be a communicator because frankly, I didn’t enjoy it. I preferred to be behind the scenes.” IOWA SOYBEAN REVIEW® | 21
Serving as an ISA District 8 director and most recently elected secretary for the ISA board, Miller routinely accepts media inquiries and completes interviews with television, radio and newspaper reporters.
“We need to tell our story, to advocate,” he says. “Otherwise, people that don’t know anything about it will and it won’t be factual.”
Miller’s proximity to Des Moines makes his farm a prime location for TV interviews. He welcomes them to his farm, not because it’s his favorite thing to do, but because he feels it’s the right thing to do.
“I’ve always said that if you’re going to complain about something, you need to be willing to fix it. You have to be part of the solution,” Miller asserts. “By not being willing to talk to people about issues in agriculture, you’re not going to fix anything. I want to help fix things, not just complain about them.”
Member focused programming
Farmers like Bissell and Miller inspire the programming for the Communications Squad. In 2021, the group is diversifying into three primary areas of communication. Farmers participating choose between writing, social media or spokesperson task forces. They will be challenged to create, strengthen, or seek out communications platforms to share their farming stories and important messages for Iowa agriculture. Be it media interviews, personal or farm social media accounts, blogs, letters to the editor or speaking with reporters, the 2021 squad is tasked with closing the gap between farmer and consumer, all while bolstering the soybean industry.
“There’s such a disconnect between the farm and the majority of the population,” laments Bissell who enjoys content from other farmers on platforms such as YouTube. “But I know my family likes watching other people farm, too. The more of us sharing our farms, the better. It lets people see what we’re doing.”
For other farmers who don’t see themselves as communicators, Bissell’s message is simple. “Just say yes.”
And Miller agrees.
“It takes practice,” he says. “Fully engage and do it right. Commit to it and learn from it.”
Miller practices media interviews with ISA staff before completing them and pays close attention to other farmers who are on the frontlines sharing agriculture’s message. “If you don’t get out of your comfort zone, you’re never going to find out what it is that you enjoy and are good at.”
And the benefit of farmer communication goes beyond sharing accurate consumer messages. A well-placed effort from a farmer can help further positive policy movements and foster relationships with lawmakers.
“The average farmer does have a voice, and if you ban together and go with other farmers to share your voice, they will listen,” says Miller, who sees his communications efforts compliment the policy work of ISA.
Participants in the 2021 Communications Squad will get to hear firsthand information related to policy issues, consumer trends and communications opportunities, all while getting to meet and network with other soybean farmers from across the state.
For more information about the Communications Squad and involvement opportunities, visit the membership programs page.
This story was originally published in the January 2021 issue of the Iowa Soybean Review.