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There is no doubt that the landscape of farm broadcasting has changed in the past year. Voices and personalities that were once a part of the farmer's daily life have either dwindled or disappeared.

Concerned by recent changes in farm broadcasting, in September the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) took action by submitting comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calling attention to the declining radio coverage in rural America and encouraging more farm news programming on local radio stations.

AFBF states in the filing, "To make vital decisions, farmers and ranchers need detailed and timely weather information, local news, up-to-the-minute market reports and news affecting production agriculture. We encourage all radio and television stations to maintain and improve their agricultural services."

But some feel the opposite may be occurring. As farm revenues and advertising revenues have dropped in past years, the industry has seen the number of farm broadcasters and farm radio programs fall. For example, two changes in the farm broadcast industry that received press were the realignment of farm programming at WGN Chicago and the complete abandonment by 80-year-old WCCO in Minneapolis.

Jeff Nalley, president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) agrees that the numbers are declining. But he counters that current farm broadcasters are working harder than ever to serve farm listeners. "We have lost numbers but, over a period of years, networks have grown," Nalley explains. "There has been an increase in geography, and farm broadcast has a further reach than in the past. Broadcasters are doing their best to serve throughout the country."

One farm broadcaster and past NAFB president says that farm broadcasting is "stronger than ever before." Lynn Ketelsen, Linder Farm Network in Owatonna, Minn., says, "I am excited about the future of farm broadcasting. There is a resurgence of advertising interest, and this may be the best fourth quarter that we've had in some time. We are seeing new interest from traditional advertisers as well as from rural lifestyle suppliers who want to reach part-time farmers, a strong audience for us.

"Farm broadcasting is no different than other industries and businesses - you have to adapt to survive," Ketelsen adds. "We have seen a growth in networks, more young people getting into the business and an even stronger commitment from those who are doing the job of serving farmers."

In an effort to build more support and help farm broadcast succeed, AFBF President Bob Stallman also issued a letter to 22 CEOs of top agriculture suppliers and processors calling for more financial support of farm broadcasting.

In this letter to the industry, Stallman says, "I believe that those of us in the broad agricultural community can best show our support by sponsoring the farm broadcasters who carry out this mission today. By doing this, we also would be supporting our farm families."

AFBF points out that there are other sources of agriculture information for producers, but Stallman alerts corporate agribusiness to the fact that without farm programming, the mainstream consumer is not likely to hear the accurate story of agriculture. He says, "...not only will your support reach your target customer audience but it also would pay dividends by reaching the general public with information supporting farmers..."

Nalley also fears that without farm broadcasting there will be no one to carry true agricultural messages. "The ag community must realize who will carry the message if the farm broadcaster doesn't," he says. "The national media may not carry an accurate agriculture message."

Ketelsen adds, "I like to focus on all the positives. Farm radio is still the main source of markets, weather and farm information for farmers during their business day, and farmers do listen."

In order to put legs under Farm Bureau's policy position, some state associations are placing ads only on stations with farm programming and helping to offset travel expenses for farm broadcasters to cover some meetings and events. In addition, the organization is creating a campaign to build awareness of the current situation in farm broadcasting. These efforts may not reverse the downturn in farm programming that is being experienced, but they are definitely a step in the right direction.

Stallman said it best in his letter to agribusiness executives: "In order to better serve the interests and needs of our rural customers and members tomorrow, farm broadcasting needs our increased support today." AM

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