Commentary: Farm Bureau communication evolves with the times


Issue Date: May 24, 2017
By Dave Kranz
Dave Kranz
From its earliest days, communicating with members, news media and the wider public has been a priority for Farm Bureau. From the first issue of its statewide publication in 1921 to its current social media feeds, CFBF has been committed to pursuing the latest technology to reach its audiences.

"What did we ever do before we had a fax machine?" One day in the late 1980s, Clark Biggs walked through the California Farm Bureau Federation office, waving a piece of paper just received via the office fax unit.

It seems quaint now, but at the time, fax technology transformed communications in much the way email did a decade or so later. Before that, CFBF news releases were sent in an envelope in the mail, or hand-delivered to news bureaus near the state Capitol. The broadcast fax allowed CFBF and other organizations to send information rapidly to many outlets at once.

The story came to mind recently as Clark Biggs' family held a memorial service for him at the CFBF building in Sacramento. Biggs, who managed CFBF communications for more than 25 years before retiring in 2002, died earlier this year. His passing evoked memories of how Farm Bureau communications efforts have evolved through the years, and of the significant role he played in shaping that evolution.

From its inception, communication with members, news media and the broader public has been a key objective for Farm Bureau. County Farm Bureaus published newspapers even before the statewide federation was formed in 1919. Publication of the statewide Farm Bureau Monthly started in 1921. As early as the mid-1920s, CFBF began broadcasting radio programs and even created motion picture newsreels distributed monthly to 125 movie theaters around the state.

CFBF and county Farm Bureaus have, from the start, been a key source of information for local and national reporters covering news stories about agriculture. It was during Clark Biggs' tenure that CFBF built its reputation as the go-to source for reporters needing information or comment about the myriad issues affecting California farmers and ranchers.

Biggs emphasized speedy but strategic response to reporters' questions that fulfilled both their need to find accurate information quickly and Farm Bureau's goal to be sure farmers' concerns and opinions remained part of the public discourse on local, state and federal policies. The CFBF communications office now handles more than 300 media inquiries a year.

Farm Bureau leaders and policy specialists are frequently quoted in print, broadcast and online stories. In just the past year, Farm Bureau leaders and members have appeared on many national broadcast and cable news outlets, in all the large California daily newspapers, national publications and even international media.

One thing that distinguishes Farm Bureau is the fact that we operate our own highly regarded media outlets, tailored for different segments of our membership as well as a wider audience. Clark Biggs played a significant role in growing and transforming each.

Ag Alert® began publication as a weekly newspaper in 1974. Under Biggs, the newspaper grew to become the most-read agricultural publication in California—a distinction it has held for many years since—and a key reason for agricultural members to join Farm Bureau. Associate members began receiving their own publication in 1977. Known originally as California Country and now published as California Bountiful®, the publication evolved into a full-color magazine that shows non-farm readers how California-grown food and farm products reach them.

CFBF started producing television programs in 1964, but under Biggs, the organization's weekly 30-minute program transformed into a fast-paced magazine format. Our California Bountiful program now reaches more than 1.4 million viewers a year on commercial television stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and other markets, plus cable outlets around the state and the nationwide RFD-TV satellite channel.

In 1996, Farm Bureau entered the Internet age under Biggs' direction, with the launch of the cfbf.com website. Our online services ultimately expanded to include separate websites for Ag Alert and California Bountiful—plus a full suite of social media sites for the CFBF and California Bountiful audiences.

Just as in the early days of Farm Bureau, when the organization used print, radio and motion pictures, or as in the 1980s, when the broadcast fax was the state of the art, CFBF remains committed to pursuing the latest communication technology to reach out to its audiences.

When someone influential passes away, it's tempting to write that it's the end of an era. Clark Biggs established many of the services, precedents and principles Farm Bureau continues to follow in communicating with its members, the news media and the broader public. He, his predecessors and successors—working with Farm Bureau leaders through the years—form part of a continuum that maintains and strengthens the organization's role as the leading voice for California farmers and ranchers.

(Dave Kranz manages the CFBF Communications/News Division and edits Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.