John C. (Jack) Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president

Engaging Our Customers

Be it unfortunate or inevitable, the world is littered with once successful brands that today are bankrupt, bought out or just plain gone. Names like Woolworth and Westinghouse, Sohio and Circuit City, Pan Am and Pontiac.

On my desk right now is the plan to keep Ohio Farm Bureau off that list.

It’s a document titled Ohio Farm Bureau’s Envisioned Future – The New Era. Its 250 pages are filled with ideas and insights from more than 2,800 contributors who participated in meetings, surveys and polls. Countless hours and brain power went into answering a single discomforting question: What will keep Farm Bureau from fading into obscurity?

You might wonder why we’d need to ask such a question. Farm Bureau has been a fixture across the Ohio landscape since 1919. We just celebrated our 42nd consecutive year of membership growth. Our public policy initiatives continue to bear fruit. By nearly every imaginable measurement, Ohio Farm Bureau is vibrant and growing. So what’s the worry? You hold in your hands the answer. Literally.

For you, Our Ohio magazine is a refreshing glance at the miracle of modern agriculture. Its beautiful images and compelling stories offer a sort of user’s guide to your breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’re glad you like it and we take great pride in showing off Ohio’s farms and farmers. But Our Ohio is far more than a magazine. It’s the embodiment of the changing nature of Farm Bureau’s mission – securing your permission to feed the world.

Public relations guru Arthur Page once wrote that “all business in a democratic society begins with public permission and exists by public approval.” This is the reality of farming today. Farmers’ techniques and technology are questioned. There are worries about agriculture’s impact on climate and water. There’s unease about how food and farming affect our health. It’s even become vogue, as a New York Times editorialist did recently, to question farmers’ integrity; to suggest that by becoming successful businesspersons, they have “lost their souls.” Some questions are natural for a consuming public that is generations removed from the farm. Some, frankly, are the product of blatantly anti-agriculture political agendas. Regardless of motivation, the questions demand to be answered.

Farmers have some pretty serious questions too, not the least of which is will they be allowed to do their jobs? Given the forecast that global food production must increase 70 percent in the next 40 years, farmers are wondering where is the workable middle ground between putting food on the plate and putting the public’s mind at ease?

Interestingly, our Envisioned Future participants didn’t identify these questions as challenges. They saw them as an opportunity for Farm Bureau to excel. In a world of rapidly changing expectations, farmers and consumers need a gathering place, a venue for honest discussion where facts are differentiated from opinions, where benefits are weighed against costs and where emotion is balanced by knowledge. This new era of consumer engagement in food production will not be Farm Bureau’s undoing. It will ensure our relevance to farmers and their customers alike.