Farmer and philanthropist Howard Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, called on agricultural producers this week to join the fight against hunger in rural America.
Buffett's "Invest an Acre" program will encourage U.S. farmers around the nation to donate profits from a single acre's production to rural communities where advocates say malnutrition is a serious - yet often overlooked - scourge.
While producers today are embraced as part of the solution, 30 years ago many farmers themselves were the victims of a prolonged economic downturn in rural America.
But the agricultural sector got some much-needed help during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s -- and again last fall -- from one Midwestern University. And as Laurel Bower Burgmaier discovered, the plan scored points with agricultural interests by using football to help farmers.
The University of Iowa Athletics Department and the Iowa Farm Bureau reached deep into the old playbook last fall and revived a campaign initiated nearly three decades ago. “America Needs Farmers,” or ANF, was launched in 1985 by legendary Iowafootball 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. Back 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 Hill, Iowa Farm Bureau: "We lost about 20,000 farmers during the 1980s and that's a terrible loss."
Craig Hill, President of Iowa Farm Bureau, has eagerly endorsed reviving ANF as part of a partnership between his organization and the University of Iowa.
Craig Hill, Iowa Farm Bureau: "In the 1980s, America needed farmers. Hayden Fry recognized that. But, never more than today the globe needs farmers. So we recognize growing populations, growing demands for food, and America needs farmers and the world needs farmers. So it's a good idea to bring this back."
While the ANF logo was developed during one of the worst economic times in agricultural history, today's farmers face a new set of challenges. Hill, a fourth generation farmer from Milo, Iowa, points out that even though producers currently enjoy favorable prices for most 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.
Rural America has come a long ways since the Farm Crisis of the 1980's. But, Hill 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 farms today. More people 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’mLaurel Bower Burgmaier.