By Kinsie Rayburn

Activating change: A case study

February 22, 2021

Trust in Food works with many organizations that want to reach farmers to encourage them do something differently- start or increase use of conservation ag practices, increase irrigation use efficiency, take advantage of programs offered, signup to receive information, the list goes on. 

Our collaborators are aware that developing change programming to activate farmers is not something that happens in a silo. It is a process that often requires innovation, substantial funding, smart people, and a lot of hope- hope that you’ll get enough attendees for an event, hope that you’ll get good engagement, hope that the resources posted on social media or mailed out will reach the intended audience and that they will put those resources to work, and hope that the funds allotted for farmer engagement is enough to get the job done.

While we cannot eliminate this type of uncertainty, we do have the tools to increase the efficiency of both the development and delivery of change programming. 

Working with two National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grantees, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP), we collaborated across multiple partner organizations to develop outreach campaigns focused on educating farmers, increasing awareness of resources and options available to them, and signing up area farmers to receive free, on-farm technical assistance from local experts that understand the area and limitations farmers face. 

To do so, we coupled data science with the intelligence and expertise embedded in our partners to develop strategic communication plans and impactful resources that were delivered into the hands, mailboxes, and inboxes of farmers via Farm Journal’s trusted platform. The result of this approach was the delivery of activation campaigns at scale – reaching middle adopters effectively and efficiently. 

For each project, one of the most critical decisions made by each of the project teams was to diversify the methods we deployed to reach our target audience- understanding that different farmers likely consume information differently. So, as internet connections, smart phone usage, age, and preference of reading online or in print vary, so did the tactics for each project.

Varying the means of communication to include a mix of emails, text, print pages in Farm Journal magazine, direct calls, and direct mail aided in our ability to reach each farmer in the target geography and ensured that the resources developed reached the intended audience.

Working in the Raccoon watershed with the Iowa Soybean Association, Trust In Food applied a model to identify and segment 10,000 farmers from “hot to cold” in the target audience on a readiness scale. This helped the Iowa Soybean Association understand where farmers were in the decision-making process so they could make strategic decisions to communicate best with farmers based on how ready they are to take action. As a result, ISA was able to target their resources to and reach over 3,000 farmers with targeted and relevant communications developed in collaboration across project partners.   

Additionally, changes in farming practices are something that farmers do once a year. A farmer is not likely to change their irrigation or tillage practices mid-season, these types of changes are things that farmers tend to contemplate on for a season or more before they take action. Delivering timely, geographically salient, expert informed resources to farmers during the contemplation phase has proven to be most impactful for the project and most useful to the farmer.

In southwest Georgia and the Florida panhandle, SARP’s project goal was for farmers to sign up for free, on-farm technical assistance for increasing irrigation efficiency. The result of this year and half long project was the successful delivery of timely and geographically relevant irrigation resource guides, farmer spotlight videos, webinar presentations, and other resources directly into the hands of over 1,000 farmers in the project area.  As one outcome, 50 farmers, many of which had never engaged with the project partners before, signed up to receive the free, on-farm technical assistance.  By accounting for the fact that behavior change is not always a swift process- especially in the agricultural sector where farmers are faced with a myriad of challenges such as increasing input costs, market fluctuations, and adverse climatic events – we were able to adjust and increase our effectiveness. 

The key to executing a successful activation hinges on meeting farmers where they are, and seeking deeper understanding of their needs. Fortunately, there are tools and resources available to do just that.

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