COLUMBUS — Ohio Farm Bureau members heard the message loud and clear, because it came from both CEO Jack Fisher and Ohio Farm Bureau President Steve Hirsch: We need associate members, we have to give them more value, we have to do more to connect with them.
Both spoke Nov. 29 at the Ohio Farm Bureau annual meeting in Columbus.
“You are the minority in your organization,” Hirsch told the active farmer-members.
Of the farm group’s 214,000 members, fewer than three out of 10 are active, or farm, members. And three-fourths of the membership revenue comes from associate, or non-farm members.
Hirsch said some would say that’s a problem, but he chooses to see it as an opportunity.
“Our associate members may not farm, but they buy and they vote,” he said. “And because they’re Farm Bureau members, we have a unique opportunity to interact with them.”
And what that means, Hirsch said, is we have to give them something more than discount tickets to Kings Island.
While the governance of the farm organization will always rest with active members, the Farm Bureau wants to reach out to engage more of its nonfarm, associate members.
“Today, you need to earn public permission to farm,” said Fisher. “Consumers are changing; they’re thinking differently about what you do and how you do it.”
“Their relationship with us is changing.”
Consumers have questions, Fisher said, that need answers. Farm Bureau needs to reach out, engage and have a dialogue, to listen to the other person and find out where they’re coming from, then figure out a new way to communicate.
He pointed to the long-standing advisory councils that involve farm members, and said perhaps there’s a new way of re-creating them as “community councils.”
Instead of the farm-based councils, Fisher suggested Farm Bureau explore connections from nonfarm residents, and engage new circles of people who work together to enhance the quality of life where you live, and ultimately “get permission from your neighbors, your community, to farm.”
“Working together works,” Fisher said, adding for Farm Bureau to be successful, it needs to build a community of promoters.
The future in this dialogue with consumers is going to be a lot more why you farm, not how you do it.