Marketing to farmers returning to Rural America

The next generation of ag is returning to Rural America after time spent in the private sector.

We are all creatures of habit and that includes marketers with an ag audience. The audience is evolving, so you may not get away with your tried and true, lead-with-traditional-media strategies for too much longer. In recent years, we have seen reports from sources, including the USDA, indicate the next generation is returning to Rural America. As a marketer, you need to embrace the implications of this shift.

Your audience may not have a traditional ag path – grown up on the farm, gone to school and come straight back to the farm. It may be that they practiced law, maybe they were a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., or maybe they were a journalist and they began to miss the farming life.

Jeremy Brown shared his experience at the Bayer Agvocacy Forum. Brown, a Faces of Farming 2017 winner, is a Texas farmer who worked under former U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer for several years. During his work with the congressman, Brown knew he missed farming. When he had an opportunity to join his father-in-law’s farming operation in Texas, he took it. Brown has expressed a willingness to try new things like no-till, compost and cover crops.

Vivian Howard also shared her experience at the 2017 Bayer Agvocacy Forum. Vivian, of the Chef and the Farmer, wanted to carve out her own path after growing up on a farm in North Carolina. She moved to New York City, began a career in advertising and then later became a chef. Her family farm provided a means for her to return to her farming community in eastern North Carolina, to work with growers and set up a farm-to-table restaurant for the area.

Or, closer to home, there is the example of my own brother, who we lovingly refer to as our “recovering attorney.” Jamie Walter graduated from Drake Law School, passed the bar and practiced law for a few years, before he gave in to the lingering urge to return to our family’s farm. He has been a full partner in the farming operation for more than 10 years now, farming alongside our father. Like most of the people coming back home to the farm, Jamie brought a wealth of experience and knowledge from his years as an attorney. Since he has been back, he has also helped to broaden and diversify the operation to include larger seed sales and crop insurance businesses. In 2014, they decided to take advantage of the farm’s proximity to Chicago and the growing interest in agri-tourism and opened a craft distillery – Whiskey Acres.

With the background of our audience changing, that should in turn change the way we try to reach them. Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate this niche audience:

1. Rethink your strategy.

This is not that same farmer you’ve been marketing to for the last 20 years. They are not as brand loyal as their predecessors and may be looking for new technologies. You may have better success with an “innovation” story rather than a “legacy” story.

2. Remember, they have walked in consumer shoes.

They have a closer tie to consumers than your average farmer. They may share concerns about certain modern farming practices and environmental impact, so widen your lens and make sure your tone is open.

3. Prepare more tailored content.

It’s okay to have content that is not a fit for every farmer, but you do need content for every farmer or you risk your credibility with this audience.

4. Try new platforms.

More and more, the next generation is sharing their #ag experiences online, don’t miss an opportunity for reach and engagement. Consider a podcast or have a farmer show product performance in-season through Periscope.

Awareness is the first step in adapting your message for the “Returning to Ag” group. We’re not suggesting you throw out your old playbook when marketing to farmers. We are encouraging you to develop some new plays if you would like your message to connect meaningfully with this group.