Tired of the negative image being portrayed regarding animal agriculture, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation is fighting back - one billboard at a time.
The billboards, with a photo and slogan, are part of a year-long campaign by the MFBF to put a face on agriculture and show that producers really do care for their animals.
The newest billboard was unveiled in Missoula, Mont., on Nov. 9, just in time for the MFBF Convention held there.
Using funding provided by the Montana Beef Council, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation has previously posted billboards in Billings, Mont. MFB members have also posted road signs across the state on highways and byways, from Custer to Dillon and from Ronan to Glasgow.
“We're trying to combat the negative image of animal agriculture that has come up in the press lately,” said Sue Ann Streufert, director of member relations at MFBF. “We want people to know we truly care for our animals.”
When they received the funding from the Beef Council, the idea to use it for billboards and road signs was already established.
“We do a lot of radio advertising already and we talk about how farmers and ranchers care for the land,” Streufert said. “With this funding we wanted to reach a different market and we wanted to plant visual images in the minds of the people. Seeing something is very different than just hearing a radio ad.”
The MFBF wanted to use photos of real producers working with their own animals. “Honestly, using a professional photograph to take photos never crossed our mind,” she said.
The MFBF put out a call to its members, Streufert said, and they responded from across the state with photos they had taken. Some even provided the slogans that were used, merging both the photos and the producers own words on the billboards and road signs.
“This is a great way for them to show the public how they feel about their animals and for them to be able to communicate their messages,” Streufert said. “Those are their honest thoughts about how they feel. It is a positive campaign.”
Billings had one of the first billboards to go up. Casey Mott, a rancher from Custer, Mont., was featured on a large digital billboard just off the well-traveled King Avenue Exit.
His wife, Rebecca Colnar, took the photograph during calving season.
“It was a spontaneous photo,” Colnar said. “We have this cow that we really like. We call her Curly Cow. Every year she gives us a really good calf. When I saw this calf she was so cute I named her Daisy.”
Colnar said she wanted to pet the newborn calf so her husband caught the new heifer and crouched beside it. Curly Cow was curious about the events and peered over his shoulder and that's when Colnar snapped the photo.
“Later, when I heard they were looking for photos of cowboys who really cared about their cattle, I thought this photo would be perfect to convey that message,” Colnar related.
The response of the larger-than-life image has all been positive, she said.
“People recognized Casey and said they saw him on the billboard,” she said.
Her husband said he was cautious about the idea at first as he is not a very outgoing person. “So the idea of having my picture on a billboard gave me some reservations,” Mott said. “However, I also understood that if we all had reservations about causes we believe in, nothing will ever get done.”
Mott knew the photo his wife took captured what ranching is all about and what ranchers feel for their livestock so he agreed and his picture became a public face in Billings.
Streufert said their real faces are helping all of agriculture put out a real and very important message.
“These guys are not used to having their faces on billboards,” said Streufert, but by letting their photos show up in prominent places, they are reaching a large audience with positive visual images that are hard to erase.
Because of the response and the different approach of this campaign, the MFBF applied for additional funding to continue adding more billboards and the Montana Beef Council has helped fund the campaign once again.
“The Montana Beef Council has certainly made this campaign possible,” said Streufert.
Mott appreciates the program and would like to see it continue.
“One of the problems that we have in ranching is that we're so busy working that we don't pay much attention to what is going on out there,” he said. “I think that is one reason why the extreme animal activists have managed to get a leg up on us. They work at it all the time and they are paid to work at it.
“We spend all of our time actually out there working, taking care of the animals. We don't have a lot of spare time to devote to this issue - which is, basically, defending our industry,” he continued. “Any time we can do something like this billboard program and use our likeness, or our stories, I think that is a good thing for us.
“We don't have to sensationalize something or show it out of context. We just have to tell the truth and that will resonate with people. At least I hope it will,” he added.
Montana Farm Bureau members who would like their images considered for use on these road signs and billboards are encouraged to submit good, high-resolution photos. The photographs should show farmers and ranchers caring for their animals. They can be emailed to Struefert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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