The Farmer Identity: Tired Stereotype or Celebrated Hero?

In an effort to gain respect, agriculture has long fought the public image of farmers as salt-of the-earth types, more at home in the barn than the boardroom. But recent high-profile media events involving farmers have captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of people…and suggest maybe image isn’t a problem after all.

First, long after everyone has forgotten Baltimore won the Superbowl a few weeks ago, the buzz remains about a Dodge Ram ad that ran in the U.S. during the game, extolling the virtues of hard-working farmers. Dubbed “God Made A Farmer”, it’s a series of farm images based on, and backed by, the late broadcaster Paul Harvey’s iconic piece of the same name. It was first delivered at the national Future Farmers of America (FFA) conference in 1978.

Dodge generously announced it would donate $1 million to the organization if the video received 10 million views. And to everyone’s amazement, the video has now reached a whopping 18 million views.

But despite the popularity, some farmers call the video hayseed. They don’t like the down-home way they’re portrayed. I can appreciate that. No one wants to be a stereotype.

But I also think it’s important to look at the big picture. Farming needs to be in the public’s face. I’m Farming and I Grow It, a viral parody video by the Peterson Farm Brothers from Kansas, has drawn more than eight million views. Add these numbers to God Made A Farmer’s 18 million views, and the exposure for agriculture is huge.

People trust and respect farmers. Why? For one, people believe farmers work hard. And hard-working people look like they work hard.

Feeding the world is hard work. Embrace the realistic, hard-working public image that reflects the magnitude of the job. It’s something to be proud of, and it will help keep people on agriculture’s side.

Add your thoughts — what do you think? Are viral videos and down-home images of hard-luck farmers good or bad for farming’s image? What makes them so popular? Please, leave a comment!

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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2 Comments

Janice Person

I agree Owen, there are some great components of the stereotypical image of farmers. But I am not sure the stereotype has been fought so much as people have wanted to put it in context. Like all stereotypes, the salt of the earth farmer fits in part but it is tough when the image people have of the group you are part of isn’t inclusive of you. Broadening the picture to include the reality that business skills are important, that farmers don’t all look alike, that technology is scrutinized and then adopted when it makes sense… those are all things that help build the image of farmers to be more accurate and a better understanding of groups helps us all.

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Bob Treadway

I didn’t see the Dodge/Harvey ad as shading to the hard luck or hayseed side. I work with a wide cross-section of industries as a strategy advisor and almost none of them involve the risks that farmers take. That’s what I saw in the Dodge piece. Not since a Zogby (US) survey that’s now a decade old have I seen a broad survey of farmer image (although my client the National Corn Growers did some work in this area two years ago). Both of those surveys show very high admiration of farmers, especially “family farms.” Viral videos? Fun. Gagnam Style is an interesting fad and those parodies show the youth aspect of farming. Frankly, it’s positive IMO.

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