Industry Perspective: Agriculture
How are you doing? I hear this on every call, every meeting lately, more than I ever have before: “how are you doing?” It’s the acknowledgement of the times, and the very human moment in all of us as we take a moment to consider how our partners — our teams — are doing. And, I feel that brands who will come out shining through this are the ones asking these key questions to their customers: “How are you doing? How can we help?” As people focused on how to communicate with our client’s customers, now is a great time for us to be providing guidance on this; being the voice of the audience’s needs and how best to deliver messages during this time.
The advice that we give should apply just as much to our B2Bs as it does to our B2Cs. And so, my recent focus has been on my favorite B2B category: Agriculture. We reach a lot of Farmers on behalf of our Ag industry clients, and I have been keeping tabs on how things are unfolding in this industry, to get to the heart of how Farmers are doing.
Small businesses across North America are shuttering doors, deemed non-essential in the face of social distancing. Farming operations are very much small businesses, but they do in fact supply a very essential service, one necessary for sustaining life. Long story short, the show must go on. Acres must be planted, animals must be fed, and food must be produced and supplied in order to keep grocery store shelves full. Of course, there is disruption, and of course, there are concerns and uncertainty, farming is a volatile enough business in normal times. So, farmers, how are you doing?
According to a recent survey conducted by Farm Journal Media on AgWeb.com, Farmers’ & Ranchers’ top concerns are commodity prices, financial outlook, and the health of their family & labor force. On a recent Farm Country Update, also produced by Farm Journal Media, a panel of farmers and producers from all over the U.S., including this year’s Top Producer from southeastern Saskatchewan, supported this claim.
- Commodity Prices – farmers are always concerned about this, but they are very much watching how COVID-19 affects them. Prices haven’t been that great, but seem to be, in some cases, ticking back up.
- Financial Outlook – net farm income has been trending back upward, but 50% of farms are not earning positive returns from farming activities, and some are well above acceptable debt-to-credit ratios (USDA). Silver linings: low-interest rates (will allow for lower financing and refinancing costs), increasing land values (more collateral) and low fuel costs (decreases inputs).
- Health of Family & Labor Force – Labor is a key issue in many different dimensions. They need a healthy labor force that shows up to work and they need to manage the stress and anxiety of those that show up to work. They need staff to increase responsibilities, providing extra sanitation precautions. And, they need labor to not be an issue at the processing level so that they have a place to send the food they produce.
So, how can we help?
Although in rural communities, Farmers still feel the effects of social distancing. They can’t go to their favorite coffee shops. Their face-to-face contact with trusted Ag advisors, which is valued very much, is limited. They are relying a lot on digital communications and teleconferencing, as one Texas farmer noted “We’ve been using a lot of Zoom lately.” Digital and mobile channels win the day, but in using those, brevity with a personal, human element is very much needed.
Farmers still need support and education. This also relies heavily on digital channels at present. Webinars, tutorials, and training videos are great resources to leverage right now. If they exist, promote them. If you can, build them.
Farmers need game plans, emphasis on the plural. They need ideas on how to plan, how to pivot, how to protect themselves and how to recognize opportunities in this crisis. Some members of the Farmer Panel stated that at this time because of “cheap money,” they may be considering investing some capital into their operations to improve efficiency. Messaging with distinct proof points on ROI could appeal to this mindset.
Farmers are employers, they rely on laborers and staff to run the operations. Many farmers on the panel stated concern about managing the stress and anxiety of their staff. Guidance in this area would help them help their workers. Included in that is appreciation. The panelists mentioned having lunch brought in for their staff, buying gift cards, were ways that they care for and appreciate their staff.
So Farmers are still doing what they do best, and they love what they do. It’s funny that in such an industry where control is a fallacy, that these men and women seem to be eternal optimists. Brands that can recognize how Farmers are feeling, reinforce recognition of what they do to the masses, and find ways to help them through this, will be the ones remembered. And you might ask, what do Farmers miss the most? One Pennsylvania Hog Producer stated “having my breakfast at a local restaurant every morning, it’s a big part of my daily routine.” It seems that we all just want to go out and get a cup of coffee.
Lesley Landry heads up the True Media Ag Vertical. She is a dedicated media professional with two decades of experience crafting media strategies, as well as stewarding efficient placement of paid media schedules. Lesley possesses a wealth of media knowledge that is supported by general marketing experience and understands how to reach target audiences effectively across channels. Focused on measurable success, she is always seeking to improve upon previous successes. Much of her career has been focused in the Ag industry. She has worked with a variety of accounts in the seed, crop protection, finance, equipment and animal health categories in North America.