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Farmers send a message

Eight national agriculture groups have banded together to better educate Americans about their industry. Driving the effort is misinformation that gives farmers and the nation's farm program a bad rap, said Mark Gage, a Page, N.D., farmer and pre...

Eight national agriculture groups have banded together to better educate Americans about their industry.

Driving the effort is misinformation that gives farmers and the nation's farm program a bad rap, said Mark Gage, a Page, N.D., farmer and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers.

The eight farm groups have formed an organization called Home Grown, a public relations arm with the goal of spreading agriculture's message, Gage said.

"The average consumer needs to be educated about how important agriculture is to their lives," Gage said. "To most people, groceries come from the grocery store and there's no connection to agricultural production."

More troubling to farmers is the perception that federal dollars invested in the nation's agriculture industry are a wasteful handout, said Dee Vaughan, a Dumas, Texas, farmer and president of the National Corn Growers Association.

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The federal farm program costs taxpayers about 10 cents a day, he said.

That money ensures economic stability in rural America, promotes good conservation practices and provides American consumers with a cheap and safe food supply, Gage said.

"Complaining about the farm program is like getting up from a table at a restaurant and complaining about having to leave a 10-cent tip," he said.

The national corn and wheat associations and six other farm-based groups pooled $120,000 to begin their image makeover.

Other groups to join Home Grown are the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sugar Alliance, National Cotton Council, United Soybean Board, USA Rice Federation and U.S. Rice Producers Association.

The groups hope to attract other Home Grown members and sponsors to help cultivate the respect farmers deserve, Vaughan said.

"We feel like if we're going to change the viewpoint in Congress, we have to change the viewpoint of their constituents," he said.

Initially, Home Grown members will reach out to the media and meet with editorial boards, primarily in urban areas where they believe farmers are most misunderstood.

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Members hope to eventually offer education programs for children in large cities, offer educational materials at grocery stores and operate a communications resource center.

Until then, Home Grown will make the best of a meager budget, Gage said. "You won't see us running an ad during the Super Bowl," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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