Amy Miles, Account Director, Rooster Strategic Solutions
Brooke Clanton, Account Executive, Rooster Strategic Solutions

This summer, the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) announced the winners in their inaugural 20 Under 40 Contest, an initiative designed to connect with younger farmers who are the future of the soybean industry. Engaging this group in checkoff communications and establishing meaningful relationships will lay the groundwork for a bright future for ISA moving forward.

You can see the names of the 20 winners listed here, and they’re definitely worth celebrating! Coming from every single region of the state, these growers and ranchers stood out from their peers, demonstrating leadership and dedication both on the farm and in their communities.

But don’t just read the names and move on. There are some important lessons to be learned about why ISA felt this was an important venture and how Rooster helped them design, build, and promote the program in cooperation with the state’s other leading ag partners. And because ISA is willing to let us tell their story, it may be a good learning opportunity for other ag companies.

It was an industry-wide initiative. Look at the contest’s sponsors. In addition to the corporate sponsors Busey Bank and John Deere, ISA was supported by nearly all the state’s commodity groups. The list includes: Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois Pork Producers, Illinois Beef Association, Grain & Feed Association of Illinois, Midwest Dairy, Illinois Farm Bureau, and the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association. This was intentional. Rather than focusing specifically on soybean production, bringing in related groups helped ISA leverage the program to attract and highlight more growers and ranchers worth celebrating, across the entire state.

Ag influencers helped spread the word. Farmers younger than 40 are over-represented on social channels, so it made sense to talk to them where they are. Harnessing the power of ag influencers helped promote the contest, generate additional entries, and celebrate the winners. These influencers posted on their channels and Instagram stories, linked to the nomination forms, and aired live interviews with some of the winners. Social media in general and influencers specifically are a must-have in any marketer’s toolbox, and ISA’s use of influencers is a textbook example of its effectiveness. Social media wasn’t the only form of promotion, but it carried the weight of the program.

Taking the news off the farm. One of the criteria for the contest is how the growers are using sustainable practices in their operations. This is also a critical message that the non-farm audience needs to hear, so it was important to ISA to avoid “preaching to the choir.” Including all the related commodities groups and highlighting the contest via influencers and social media helped make the contest even more newsworthy to publications and outlets that don’t routinely cover agriculture, including the Chicago Tribune.

Looking ahead, ISA will continue to build relationships with the entrants through in-person events this fall and will present the winners with trophies at an awards banquet in December. The winners will also be featured in a multi-page insert in ISA’s in-house publication Illinois Field & Bean. More important, they’re looking forward to another successful contest next year, building on the experience and success of this venture, and creating a community of young farmers engaged with and supportive of their soy checkoff.

If you have any questions about farmer recognition programs or ways to harness the power of social media and influencers, we’d love to have a conversation.