The genesis of my interest in public relations plans for farmers came when we built our first 7,200-head wean-to-finish hog building. To continue on good terms with our neighbors, we visited with each of them about our intentions. Little did we realize community activists halfway across Iowa would interfere with the county board of supervisors as we worked to get our construction permit.
Every adversity brings opportunity. There are great examples of this connection in “The Adversity Paradox” by J. Barry Griswell. I encourage you to read the book.
As a result of the board of supervisors meeting we developed a public relations plan, which involves working with neighbors, communities, educators and other stakeholders. Five years later we had a hearing to build a second facility. There was one farmer in attendance, and he was in support of our plan because he wanted animal waste from the facility.
My nephew, who operates the facility, is living proof public relations plans are necessary, effective and can add to your bottom line.
Many think public relations plans are needed in the event something goes wrong. That’s a reactive plan, which is important when an accident, fire or chemical or manure spill occurs. It’s never a bad idea to think through what could go wrong and have plans in place so everyone knows who does what, when and how.
A proactive public relations plan can also be effective and maybe more valuable to your bottom line. Change should occur when we “see the light” rather than “feel the heat.” If your farm is dealing with an issue that could have been avoided with a proactive public relations plan, it’s likely too late.
I encourage farmers to develop action plans that deal with four areas: animal comfort, water, nutrient management and soil quality. It’s not necessary to boast of our efforts and successes. In fact, it’s better to quietly go about making changes. Neighbors, people in the community and regulators will notice if we’re good stewards and making serious efforts to improve.
Animal comfort: Our clients who have willingly made changes in these areas have found it’s not only good business but it adds to their bottom line. I recall visiting with a Nebraska hog producer who switched from gestation crates to an open gestation setup. When I asked him if the change hurt production he said, no, it actually improved pigs per sow per year.
The willingness to make a change opens up the door to new technology, which can increase productivity.
Water: Everyone is concerned about water conservation, quality, best use and runoff. Your efforts and changes in these areas will be noticed.
Nutrient management: A CEO in the input supply industry recently said nitrogen inefficiencies average $50 per corn acre and only one-third of corn acres in the U.S. have best management practices. Additionally, $420 million of nutrients are lost to the Gulf of Mexico every year.
Soil quality: I’m aware of one farmer who through the use of improved management practices was able to increase soil organic matter from 3.2% to 5.2% in 12 years. Each 1% improvement in organic matter allows soil to hold 17,000 additional gallons of water per acre. Soil quality is directly linked to water management issues.
Landlords are watching. I believe farmers who are diligently working to address these four areas will not only improve their public relations but also be approached with opportunities to rent or purchase farms others won’t, thereby adding to their bottom line and the sustainability of their business.