The University of Iowa Athletics Department and the Iowa Farm Bureau reached deep into the old playbook last week and revived a campaign initiated nearly three decades ago. “America Needs Farmers,” or ANF, was launched in 1985 by legendary Iowa football coach Hayden Fry.
Iowa was the nation's top-ranked team for several weeks that season. The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten Championship and advanced to the Rose Bowl. But even as jubilant fans reveled in their team's success, rural America was gripped in what came to be known as the Farm Crisis, a prolonged economic downturn that drove thousands from the land. Hayden Fry knew the crisis affected not only his players -- many of whom haled from farming communities -- but also thousands of Iowa fans whose livelihoods relied heavily on a strong rural economy.
Hayden Fry: "It was tragic. It was terrible. They were closing down farms. People were hurting and of course I recruited quite a few farm boys on my team. They were well-disciplined and strong because they'd been working on the farm. So, I came up with the idea America needs to know farmers need help. I came up with the ANF decal. "America Needs Farmers" and it's amazing the great response we've gotten not only in Iowa, but across the nation."
Mike Haight: "When Hayden came to us it was a not brainer. Why not do it? Why not support the people who have been supporting us.?"
Hap Peterson: "Mike and I were both team captains in 1985 and Hayden approached us with this idea during the time that it was a tough time in America but especially here in Iowa. He came up with ANF logo to support the farming community. Bakc then, we didn't have corporate sponsors. It was literally the individual farmer who came to the games who wrote a check to the football program that was the heart and soul of the community. He came to us with an idea of a sticker that would be a great tribute. We won Big Ten that year and that was a great way to promote brand nationally and get the awareness for American farmers."
The Farm Crisis of the 1980s devastated the agricultural sector. As commodity and land prices collapsed, thousands of farmers went bankrupt and forced to sell their land in an economic crisis that rivaled the Great Depression.
Craig Lang, Iowa Farm Bureau: "Banks closed, people were selling their livestock herds. We basically lost a generation my age in the 1980s. I'm 60 today but we were out of college ten years and it hit all at once. Farmers left, small businesses closed and communities suffered."
Craig Lang, President of Iowa Farm Bureau, eagerly endorsed reviving ANF as part of a partnership between his organization and the University of Iowa. A fifth-generation farmer from Brooklyn, Iowa, Lang knows all too well the trials his family experienced during the Farm Crisis.
Craig Lang, Iowa Farm Bureau: "We were like a lot of farmers who bouth land in 1983. We chose to keep it but it was difficult. I remember my wife and I had low interest rates at first and they grew to 19 to 20 percent. My wife had stopped her nursing career to have our children, but she had to go back to work because we needed that extra income."
While the ANF logo was developed during one of the worst economic times in agricultural history, toady's farmers face a new set of challenges. Lang points out that even though producers currently enjoy favorable prices for most major commodities, they also must contend with soaring input costs.
That’s why the Iowa Farm Bureau and the University of Iowa decided to revive the campaign and current Iowa Head Coach, Kirk Ferentz, followed in his predecessor’s footsteps by putting ANF back on the players’ helmets.
To celebrate the return of ANF, the University and the Farm Bureau declared October 15th “ANF Day” at famed Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The ceremonies featured special activities prior to kickoff of a nationally televised game between Iowa and Northwestern. Market to Market caught up with a couple former Hawkeye players to get their impressions of ANF.
Jared DeVries: "That's how I grew up. I was a farm kid. I realized the importance of farming and what better way to support a great cause."
Casey Wiegmann: "It's a Hawkeye trademark and Coach Fry put his stamp on it. Now that we are trying to get it going again and me being a farmer now with some of my own land, we need to get more farmers out there."
The highlight of “ANF Day” was the University of Iowa’s first “card stunt." On cue, 70,000 fans in four grandstands held up colored cards to reveal a patriotic display of red, white and blue, and the iconic America Needs Farmers logo.
Craig Lang, Iowa Farm Burea: "What is important about this promotion is that it allows us an opportunity to talk about the things we do. We build leaders. Our young people grow up on a farm. They learn about teamwork, citizenship and respect. It's important to take that ANF logo and promote it and hopefully, it will rub off to others."
Rural America has come a long ways since the Farm Crisis of the 1980's. But, Lang and Fry still believe ANF is just as relevant today as it was 25 years ago, because "America does, in fact, NEED farmers."
Hayden Fry: "Actually, ANF today may be more important than it was then. There are less farmes today. More poeple have moved to the city and have given up farming. They 've lived a hard life, but those who have hung in there, do a great job. They need to be recognized for what they've done by America and the world."
For Market to Market, I’m Laurel Bower Burgmaier.