Oregon producers actively promoting their industry

Jul 10, 2009
by WLJ

Oregon producers actively promoting their industry

Oregon ranchers have long been aware that self-styled "environmentalist" groups run aggressive advertising and public relations campaigns which often damage the image of ranchers while enriching the war chests of such groups for their next round of litigation. The ranching industry, however, has sometimes been slow to follow suit with their own initiatives to educate the public about the ecological and economic benefits of ranching. With nothing but the propaganda of environmental radicals to fill the informational vacuum, the public image of cattle producers has sometimes been negatively affected. But times are changing. Oregon cattle producers are stepping up to the challenge of educating the public and promoting their industry on a number of fronts, including inside Oregon classrooms and in the state legislature. The potential benefit of these programs to the future success of ranching in Oregon is significant: voters, lawmakers, and young Oregonians will have a clear understanding that ranchers play a vital role in the environmental protection and economy of their state.

As part of this outreach initiative, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA), funded by a grant from the Oregon Beef Council, recently engaged Portland public relations firm Koopman Ospbow to manage a positive producer image campaign. According to Ken Koopman, the key message they wish to develop is that ranchers are environmental leaders in Oregon, active protectors of fish and wildlife resources, and strong contributors to the Oregon economy. To convey this message to the public, Koopman explained, one focus has been to highlight specific "success stories" of ranchers who have been active in protecting and enhancing environmental resources on their operations. In order to reach the widest audience, the success stories have primarily featured ranchers from the Willamette Valley, which is closer to the major population centers of Portland, Salem, and Eugene and, therefore, more relevant to Oregon’s larger media outlets based in these cities. Positive producer image press releases have been featured in newspapers and on local radio, as well as being sent to state legislators and local businesses. Additionally, Koopman Ospbow has developed a promotional video featuring interviews with ranchers who describe their ties to the land and their commitment to stewardship interspersed with beautiful images of well-tended Oregon rangelands and wildlife. The video was distributed to local media and law makers, and can be viewed at http://vimeo.com/3764334.

Along other lines, during the recent hearings on developing an Oregon wolf plan, Koopman Ospbow held a press conference at the state capitol to articulate to the public ranchers’ position on wolf management. Members of OCA were interviewed and media attendance was excellent. With a view to increasing future media exposure, Koopman Ospbow recently offered a beef industry spokesperson training session at the spring meeting of the OCA. Attendees were instructed in how to best communicate key messages and effectively answer questions in an interview setting.

The overall goal of the public relations campaign, according to Koopman, is to "give cattlemen a voice. In the past, cattlemen have not been inactive, but rather reactive. Now, we are trying to be proactive." Cattlemen, Koopmen maintains, need to communicate with the public that, "We have an opinion. Here is where we stand," on issues like wolf management, water regulation, public lands use, and sustainability, rather than let radical groups define their positions for them.

Meanwhile, Oregon school kids may find themselves learning about beef production in their state through a program called Ag in the Classroom, a non-profit organization largely funded by commodity groups and other agricultural grants. Executive Director Tami Kerr explains that the program is designed to introduce children to agriculture at an early age, and uses information about Oregon agriculture as an exciting vehicle to teach science, mathematics, history, and geography. As part of the curriculum, students will learn why beef production is important to their state and where it is grown, thanks in part to the Grown in Oregon commodities map sponsored by the Oregon Beef Council. In addition to providing teachers with the teaching materials, Ag in the Classroom offers training for teachers, books and videos, and a loan library. For more information on Ag in the Classroom, call Tami Kerr at 541/737-8629.

For Oregon teachers with little or no background in agriculture, or who are interested in further developing their ability to bring agriculture into the classroom, the Oregon Agriculture Education Foundation offers the Summer Ag Institute, a one-week intensive class in Oregon agriculture which can be taken for university credit. Participants go on tours, hear lectures, participate in farm activities, and end their class with an overnight ranch or farm stay. Teachers return to their classrooms equipped with a first-hand perspective on agricultural production and the issues that affect producers.

It may still take some time until cattle producers are able to convey their message as broadly and effectively as environmental extremists have been doing for years. But in Oregon, work is well under way to reach out to the public. Producer image initiatives are helping to inform people about cattle production, its importance to the state’s economy and ecology, and the value of the unique legacy of ranching. — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent