Illinois corn farmers are writing a letter to Santa; what’s on our list? Today we finish our Christmas list with the final item … public awareness! Thanks to Thomas Martin, SIU student, for this series focusing on IL Corn’s top priorities!

This week I’ve brought up four points that would strengthen the position of Illinois Family Farmers especially corn growers – investing in river transportation, keeping a check on government regulation, getting benefits from an adequate Farm Bill, and progressing domestic fuels. In each case, we returned to some foundational strategies such as education and public advocacy.

I know you are aware the Illinois Corn Marketing Board does wonders as a check-off association with research and promotion while the Illinois Corn Growers Association works tirelessly to compliment the ICMB and fill in gaps such as the more political reaches.

You may even be aware of some of the efforts that Illinois Corn has been pursuing to address the needs of all Illinoisans in understanding the role of corn and it’s potential. Over the past few years, IL Corn has joined other commodity groups and the Illinois Farm Bureau to address the image of farming. The Illinois Farm Families initiative connects Chicago mothers with Illinois farmers and breaks down falsehoods, separations and assumptions. As I learned through my time in 4-H, FFA, PAS and FarmHouse – perception is reality regardless of the truth. We have an issue where people don’t believe that family farms exist anymore. We must show our neighbors that this is a baseless paradigm and that over 95% of Illinois farms are family farms.

Illinois Corn also has had a great program in the greater Chicago area to provide fresh produce for urban residents who live in food deserts without access to affordable fresh produce. These programs show a strong commitment to helping others and helping them to understand agriculture instead of just basing their opinions off of information from groups like HSUS, PETA, GreenPeace, etc.

We also see how the crew at Illinois Corn is ratcheting up this study of communication with their internship program, which allows college students the opportunity to manage social media pages independently and then collect data to determine strategies for improving the message of agriculture. This also provides a great experience for participants who learn about communication and evaluation.

These efforts even go a few steps further with sponsorship of Kenny Wallace in NASCAR and the Cornbelters Baseball team! NASCAR is picking up on the high-octane performance of ethanol and nothing says Central Illinois like corn and baseball! All of these impressive activities actively provide exposure for the work of farmers and additionally they provide data and experiences to further improve media strategies for the future.

The role of agricultural communications might be coordinated by those with degrees in it but the responsibility of communicating agriculture falls on everyone’s shoulders. We must communicate to our neighbors. We must communicate with those in urban and suburban areas. We must communicate with our elected officials and we must be heard! We must pursue ways, both traditional and innovative, to reach out to new and old audiences and engage the public in a deep and meaningful understanding of their food, fiber, fuel, horticultural products and more!

We need to support programs that provide such skill sets such as 4-H and FFA for youth; PAS, our agricultural fraternities and sororities and other collegiate groups and organizations like the Farm Bureau Young Leaders for young farmers. We need to participate actively in commodity groups like Illinois Corn Growers, as well as generalized farm organizations like the Farm Bureau. We need to seek out opportunities and develop them for others. We need to be prepared to show Aunt Caroline the light when she rants about factory farms at the dinner table this Christmas. We need to Agvocate!

Santa, how about helping the public understand more about farmers this Christmas?

Thomas Martin, Raymond, IL
Senior in Agricultural Systems
Southern Illinois University



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