So God Made a Farmer

Paul HarveyI’ll be honest: I didn’t watch the Super Bowl.

Maybe it was my antipathy for Ray Lewis, maybe I was already tired of Har-Bowl, maybe it was just that my team wasn’t in the game… For whatever reason my wife and I weren’t jazzed about the game this year. Last year we hosted a Super Bowl party, but with our first baby due to arrive in 22 days we decided to forgo the headache of hosting and just have a nice night in (we watched the Kirk Douglas classic Spartacus, in case you were wondering).

And then mid-way through the game my phone started buzzing as my social media feeds blew up over one of the commercials. While I’m a sucker for Clydesdales and think Terry Tate is still one of my favorite Super Bowl spots of all time, I was taken aback by the avalanche of immediate response to the spot from Dodge Trucks.

As you know, I grew up on a farm. It wasn’t the biggest farm in the country, but it was home. We raised cows and hay and corn and soybeans, and my Little Brother still farms with Dad’s help today, while I’m a restless suburbanite.

My connection to the farm today, aside from helping Little Brother with his grain marketing strategies, is through the written word. I write about farming, food production and agribusiness for a living, and I think I have the greatest job in the world. Even so, I was surprised Dodge would spend a record $4 million to more or less promote the American farmer.

Apparently, the ad was a hit. If you read the comments from my non-farm football-fan friends at ElevenWarriors.com (here and here), you can see why the Dodge ad was so brilliant. Here’s one example:

I have a ton of respect for farmers.  Spent my fair share of time working around them.  They are among the hardest working people I’ve ever met.

Or this one:

I loved this ad, especially the photography and Paul Harvey. Grew up in Bowling Green, where your dad was probably a professor or a farmer. Future Farmers of America was a big club at BGHS. Guys proudly wore their FFA jackets. Wood County Fair was a big deal for the 4-Hers. Farm kids went to OSU as Ag majors. And farm kids worked their butts off on the family farm. I am assuming that the same pretty much holds true today.

But my favorite comment of all was this gem:

I didn’t grow up on a massive farm, I lived in the suburbs, but my grandparents had a 10 acre plot of land that they quite literally paid their mortgage off of.  They scraped together every dime they could and built a house on that 10 acres.  Both my grandparents worked, but they depended on the sales from the strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and beans they grew and sold to restaurants and stores every year.  From the time I was 5 years old I was in the field with them and my parents working in the summer.  At the early age, it was probably more me playing in the dirt but by the time I was 12 years old I was a pretty important part of the work force. We were hardly “farmers” but I have soft spot in my heart for farmers.

I also worked for a small family farm that was a produce farm.  They had several thousand tomato and pepper plants, acres of potatoes, sweet potatoes sweet corn, pumpkins, and an apple and peach orchard. My grandparents and that job gave me the work ethic I have today.

There’s something very satisfying about seeing something transform from seed to crop.  There’s also a pretty cool feeling eating a local pizza place and knowing that bell peppers I picked that morning are on the pizza I ordered that night!

There’s not a day that goes by in my desk jockey job where I don’t wish I was on a ladder in the apple orchard, or crawling through the tomato patch filling up baskets.  There’s a freedom in doing that kind of work.  It’s far more satisfying than answering the next call non stop for 8 hours per day.

Agriculture is often thought of within the industry as our nation’s most essential profession. We are, as a country, food self-sufficient, and are the most productive food-producing nation in the world. And yet farmers face unprecedented scrutiny. From animal rights activists to environmental extremists to the simple fact that more Americans have more questions about where their food comes from than ever before, farmers are under a magnifying glass, for better or for worse.

It was refreshing to see not only the recognition from Dodge, but also to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction to a spot that wasn’t clever, funny or overwrought. As an old radio guy and a farm boy at heart, I miss Paul Harvey, and I tip my hat to Dodge for tipping their hat to the American farmer.

And yet, I’m starting to see backlash from my friends and colleagues within agriculture. Here’s a dirty little secret: if you want to drive traffic today, say something controversial. As such, a couple of commentators looking to keep eyes on their own websites and Facebook pages quickly pointed out that Paul Harvey was beloved by farmers and animal rights activists alike. He was even *gasp* celebrated by The Humane Society of the United States!

Various folks within agriculture have complained that Dodge should have tasked a “real farmer” with narrating the spot, or that they should have avoided Paul Harvey because of some of his stances related to animal agriculture.

These folks, both my well-meaning friends and our own agricultural extremists alike, are missing the point entirely.

Paul Harvey is simply the voice to the ad. He is the most beloved personality in radio history, and for anyone older than 10 or 15 years of age, his voice is instantly recognizable. Most of us, in fact, have fond childhood memories of listening to Paul… In my case it was listening to him give the morning news while I was riding to school every morning on my Grandma’s school bus (yes, Grandma was my school bus driver).

What matters is that last night, during a record-setting television broadcast, tens of millions of Americans heard an iconic voice remind them of what it means to be a farmer, helping reconnect them to their own fond memories of our nation’s food producers.

What matters is that last night’s game scored a 48.1 rating and a 71 share in a select measurement of big cities, which would make it the most-watched television event in U.S. history. THE MOST WATCHED TV EVENT IN HISTORY – and farmers were celebrated in what some have suggested was the best advertisement of the night.

This is one of those times where you stop before you cut off your nose to spite your face, you take yes for an answer, and you stand up for what really matters.

Dodge has declared that 2013 is the Year of the Farmer, and I for one am going to say “Thank you very much” and help them raise $1 million for the National FFA Foundation. Feel free to criticize Paul Harvey; he is still one of my radio heroes, but no man is perfect. But while you’re simmering in your own self-righteousness, at least have the courtesy to thank Dodge for putting the biggest spotlight on the planet squarely on the farming men and women of this country.

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About Andy Vance

Grains and Biofuels Editor at Feedstuffs, the weekly newspaper for agribusiness, and resident blogger at BeefProducer.com. If the pen is truly mightier than the sword, I may be the most dangerous man I know...

19 Responses to “So God Made a Farmer”

  1. Yes! Let’s not shred the compliment paid to our industry by trashing the way it was said.

  2. Well said! And you are absolutely right. I would like to see some kind of concerted effort to thank Dodge. Not sure how to go about organizing it though

  3. Paul Harvey is an iconic voice that a majority of people I know grew up with. He sounds familiar, comfortable and safe to many. I think it was the perfect voice to connect with millions in the most watched Super Bowl ever and like you highlighted THE MOST WATCHED TELEVISION event ever. I agree with you Andy. Let’s not shoot bullets. I am celebrating agriculture, my family farm and the role FFA is playing in my son’s life and dreams. Thank you for sharing today!
    Katie
    Wishek, ND

  4. I loved the commercial because it was great advertising. And I didn’t know it was controversial among the ag community until I just now read your post. So what if people on both sides of the issue liked Paul Harvey? The fact that he isn’t polarizing should help relay the message to folks who otherwise might have closed their ears. Plus, he was the author and the voice of the eloquent reading.

  5. The words were from Harvey’s speech at the 1978 National FFA Convention (Future Farmers of America at the time. If his voice wasn’t the right one, I don’t know whose is!

    Just a fact that isn’t being spread across social media.

  6. Thank you! Let’s give thanks that a corporate company with the power of reaching such a large audience was willing to promote a lifestyle that is so under appreciated now days.

    Great job!
    Hannah
    theambitiouscattlegirl.blogspot.com

  7. I have not watched SM closely today, so I hadn’t seen much of the criticism of Paul Harvey or the ad. But I am disappointed that people can’t just enjoy the message! I know about Harvey’s support of HSUS, but he also believed in farmers! This was HIS speech that he gave to a group of Future Farmers of America members! He was the right voice to pick and it was the right message for today.

    Thank you, Dodge, and I’m proud to drive a Dodge as I check cattle and tag newborn calves this afternoon.

    Thanks, Andy, for your directness and honesty–let’s quit fighting each other and get our message together! Celebrate this year…”The Year of the Farmer!”

  8. See? Animal rights activists LIKE farmers. They love food, they love farms, they love animals, plants, and the environment. As America’s only essential profession, farmers should want to be under scrutiny. If you’re proud of what you do, show the world.

  9. You captured my sentiments nearly exactly, Andy. Job well done.

  10. I have a 1993 Dodge Cummins, 20 years old. It is a beast. I’m planning on driving it from California to Ohio in the spring to start a new farm. I thank Dodge for it’s tip of the hat to farmers. It’s the least they could do.

    Most of the food we produce doesn’t come from family farms. It comes from corporations just like Dodge. http://i.imgur.com/k0pv0.jpg

    They don’t care about how an animal is treated or how your food is produced. I’m not talking about some environmental group, I’m talking about proper animal husbandry. Google CAFO, this is how we produce most of our food. (not number of farms)

    Farmers are dying. The average age of a US farmer is about 60 years old. They are down in numbers from 6.8 million in 1937 to 593,700 in 1997. ( I don’t count lifestyle, or retired farmers)

    Farming doesn’t make money. Most farmers have second off the farm jobs and any profit they do make is highly subsidized by the government.

    My point is 99% of real farmers can’t afford a new $43,000 Dodge truck. Debt is a huge issue in farming where a lot of farmers are leverage to the hilt. I hate to see farmers go under with huge piles of debt from machines that cost $250,000. It happens everyday.

    What can we do about it? Well in short, know your farmer. Actually know who the person that grows your food. There is a local food movement trying to take back America. We are young, smart, and ready to deliver real food to you and your family. But we need your support. Get out of the supermarkets. Join a CSA, a buying club, or go to a farmers market. Buy direct from your local farm. Ask how the food was grown. Learn more about your food comes from and build relationships with how your food is grown.

    Yes we will need Dodge trucks, the used ones! But honestly this is more about you and me than a commercial. It all starts with us folks.

    • From one farmer to another, all of our food doesn’t come from corporations. The source that grows the food and the source the processes the food most consumers choose to purchase are two different things.

      I’ve shared thoughts about my experience in cattle CAFOs. Folks working there are people who care about the food/animals too. I don’t believe the local labels eliminate people from that either. – http://agricultureproud.com/?s=cattle+feedlot

      Rather than dividing ourselves within agriculture, we should be thankful folks are actually talking about farming in a positive light for once.

    • SweetSoil, most of the food we eat *does* come from family farms. Those companies shown in the graphic use raw ingredients that are grown/raised on farms, the vast majority of which are family farms. Are you under the impression that Kraft, Kellogg, General Mills, Mars, Nestle and others have their own farms? They don’t. I live in Battle Creek, home of three major cereal companies. They do not own or operate farms. The commodities they use come from family farms.

  11. Thanks Andy! I couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen the criticisms, too, but I believe you put it into perspective. Last night the amount of people that connected with agriculture was huge! Huge!!!! I would love to see the momentum keep going….and we can do it if all of ag pulls together. Through creative marketing, a good company and a wonderful youth organization, the door was fully opened last night to help us communicate to general consumers. Ag is special and those that work in it are unique. For crying out loud, there is only 2 percent of us in the U.S. doing the one thing that affects everyone — providing food! Let’s show everyone that we love what we do and we care.

  12. Here, Here! Andy…your comments are right on the mark.

  13. Well said, Andy, well said!

  14. As a kid that grew up on a cattle farm in central Illinois, a former 4-H member, former FFA member, current student teacher, and future agricultural educator, this commercial was easily my favorite of the night. I feel that Dodge did a great job because they didn’t push their product, they didn’t say “hey buy a cummins.” They wanted the country to stop a moment and thank those men, women, and families that work tirelessly to feed the American people and the world. And as a future agriculture teacher, there is no better way to share with my students the importance of working hard to get the job done than showing them that very few work as hard and as long as the farmer that puts food on your table and mine.

    This article does a great job showing what this commercial truly meant and what everyone should take away from it.

  15. Well said Andy. I think this is a great opportunity to have so many forums buzzing about American farmers in a bright light. Just last year we were busy playing defense with stories of activists attacking cattle trucks, McDonalds being condoned for featuring farmers and feedlot beef, and Chipotle’s ‘Back to the Start’ Super Bowl ad. It’s nice to be on the offense for a big story. What a difference a year makes.

    I do wish the naysayers could put down their griefs with others long enough to celebrate the accomplishment of a positive conversation for once. Let’s keep the ball rolling and reach out to those non-ag consumers discussing the words and images from the ad.

  16. As a full time farmer/maketer I view this as an amazing “tip of the hat” that is also an opportunity. An opportunity to highlight the positive, a way to quantify a way of life on the national stage. It will be fleeting, act quickly and with class and find a way to discover how to multiply the awesome message that there is more we have in common than which divides us. Personally I have an idea how to leverage this moment, a door has opened, I’m walking through it.

    BB