By: Amy Wirtz
When I was at the Top Ten Producer Seminar in Chicago, I attended a seminar on branding taught by Brian Deverman. The quality of the seminar was outstanding. The following is an interview I had with Brian in late February 2016:
Tell me how you got started in this business?
I grew up on a farm in Central Illinois and majored in agriculture in college. I began my career in field sales in the late 1990’s and have gone on to do many roles within the agricultural sector. During my early career, I worked for all the big agriculture companies. My ultimate goal was always to return to our family farm, which I did in the fall of 2014. Soon after returning to the family farm full time we lost a decent amount of acreage. Our family had a difficult conversation and while I am still very involved in our farming operation, I am now doing it from afar while also working in ag marketing and consulting with farmers on their brands.
In 2015, I began working with Osborn Barr. This career allows me the opportunity to work with farmers and yet stay connected to the farm. For me it is the best of both worlds. I like to meet the farmers and work directly with them. When talking to the family farmer, I share our family experience. I was only focused on the farming. I was not focused on the brand. It was a revelation to me that if I was more focused on branding, I may have had different opportunities and a different result.
What is Barnstorm?
When I talk to farmers I hear over and over, “I know I need to do this. I have been thinking about it… but I do not know how to do it.” Barnstorm helps farmers improve their brand. It is marketing and communications services available to all farmers designed to help them to tell their stories to those that matter most, like landowners or the local community. We do this through logo development, newsletter writing, website creation and management and so much more. Some farmers like Barnstorm because it helps solve a business pain point and we make it easy for them. Other farmers that want more individualized marketing and we excel at that too. We meet with farmers one on one, learn about their business goals and challenges, and help them understand what steps to take and what makes sense for them and their brand. This leads to a very specific marketing and communications plan for their farmthat we help the farmer bring to life.
What is the difference between branding and bragging?
Every farmer is concerned about bragging and negative connotations associated with it. Reputation is imperative to the operation of the farm. We help farmers tell the unique story of their farm to help connect to future investors. It is ok to step out in the community differently than other generations did. The next generation needs to do this differently. When the farmer takes the risk to create a brand, it spreads in the community and normalizes the process. Farmers say it helps with employee retention, community involvement, and creates a new dialogue about the business.
What is Agvocacy?
We look at ourselves as the voice of agriculture. Farmers are the best conservationists in our community. We need to help farms connect generations back to the farm. The non-operator needs to understand the connection to the farm. We use this platform to connect to other programs. We have a social responsibility to tell the story of agriculture to the rest of the world that are far from the farm.
How does branding interface with landlord tenant relationships?
Farmers can struggle to have conversations with their landowners. They tend to become dollar conversations rather than how to keep the land profitable. This becomes more complicated the more removed the owner is from farmer. That changes the dialogue. The importance is that as farmland changes hands, the farmers have opportunities when they have a brand, education programs and an identity for the new owner to attach to. Removed landowners will use the internet and search for a web page and image. If the farmer does not do the work for branding, they will miss opportunities.
My Dad’s geographical farming area was about 30 miles, mine is around 60 miles and the next generation will be 100 miles or more. There are now land investors that have no history with agriculture but use farmland as an investment. The non-farmer owner needs more education and relationship management than the active farming owner does. Branding of your farm can help educate the non-active land owner and get your name in front of those types of stakeholders.
What do you see as being the biggest threat to the next generation of farmers?
Land is the oldest asset in the world. The care and management of the land is critical to all people, but more so to the next generation of farmers. Our most precious resource is land. We have been involved in water conservation and land conservation as farmers long before it was hip to love the land. There is a lot of misinformation about the effects of farming on waterways and the general population who do not farm. Farmers want to be part of the solution. Our company helps with the image and the story of the benefits of farmers to people who have no reference or information about farming.
Call Brian with any questions you may have regarding branding your farm.