At its most basic level fertile soil sustains all living things – human, animal and plant life. Without it, we cannot exist, yet when it comes to protecting our soil, we are looking at some big challenges here on planet Earth.
Most Americans don’t think a lot about where their food comes from. They go to supermarkets, put items in their carts, take their groceries home and prepare their meals.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is working with America’s farmers and ranchers to improve the health and function of their soil through soil health management practices like no-till, cover crops, diverse cropping rotations and managed grazing. These techniques are helping make farms of all sizes more productive and profitable.
Impact of World Population
World population is growing and will likely reach 9 billion by the year 2050.
Every day, through development and degradation, we lose more of the farmland we need to grow our food. Across the globe, water and other resources are becoming increasingly scarce. And extreme weather events like flooding and drought are adding to our food production challenges.
Research from The American Farmland Trust shows that:
- 41 million acres of rural land has been permanently lost in the last 25 years to highways, shopping malls, and urban sprawl. Of that amount, 23 million acres of agricultural land were irreversibly lost to development. That is nearly double the amount of conversion previously documented and is equivalent to losing most of Iowa or New York.
- This loss included almost 11 million acres of the best land for intensive food and crop production. This is land where the soils, micro-climates, growing seasons, and water availability combine to allow intensive production with the fewest environmental impacts.
- These precious and irreplaceable resources are equivalent to losing most of California’s Central Valley, an agricultural powerhouse.
- America’s cities sprang up on some of our most productive farmland. Today, the farms closest to our urban areas produce an astounding 91% of our fruit and 78% of our vegetables, but they remain the most threatened.
an astounding one acre per minute.*
The Role of Public Education
Our first national PSA campaign to alert the public about these issues was called Harmony. Its call-to-action was to improve the quality of the environment, mostly through sustainable soil cultivation and preservation practices used largely by native American Indians.
A team of USDA public affairs specialists collaborated with the Blackfeet, Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana to initiate and create the Harmony campaign. The campaign included TV, radio and print PSAs that promoted SCS’s 1-800-THE-SOIL toll-free telephone line.
The Harmony theme drew on the response to the movie Dances With Wolves, which showed that Americans are interested in Native American cultures and how those cultures lived in “harmony’ with the environment. The movie’s co-star, Rodney A. Grant, served as the spokesperson for the campaign.
In the PSAs, Grant urged all Americans to “share the heritage of taking care of our Earth” and to call 1-800-THE-SOIL for an action packet. Harmony radio and TV public service announcements (PSAs) were released to approximately 1,000 television stations, 350 cable TV networks, and 5,000 radio stations.
- The campaign generated more than 30,000 toll-free calls, and many callers reported taking a specific action to improve the environment.
- Some 1,500 people who got an information packet returned an evaluation card that was sent with the packet and half of them were from those living in urban or suburban areas, meaning the campaign resonated with people who may not have frequent contact with the soil.
- Stations donated in excess of $5,854,075 of airtime to the campaign and PSAs were used in every state, reaching a potential audience with more than 200 million Gross Impressions. Print PSAs appeared in the New Yorker, Western Horseman. Agri-Marketing, MacWorld and Kiwanis and hundreds of daily and weekly newspapers.
Secrets of the Soil
The Harmony campaign was followed by another national PSA campaign titled: Unlock the Secrets in the Soil. Its purpose was to help farmers and ranchers build healthier, more productive soils that are able to sequester more carbon and store more water – all while providing healthy food and keeping our environment clean.
Through a series of 30- and 15-second public service messages, urban consumers became more aware of the roll soil health plays in their food, in their lives and in their future. And in rural areas, these messages connected with actual farmers, ranchers and landowners who can adopt soil health management systems – which is good for the farm, the farmer’s bottom line and for our planet.
As we do with all our campaigns, we aggressively promoted the campaign to the media. Among our tactics was to stage a Webinar for the NRCS public affairs PR specialists located in regional offices to share successful media outreach tactics.
We sent a news release about the campaign with the PSA embedded in it via PRWeb which was delivered to all the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, as well as to national news sites.
The service will also deliver our message to more than 250,000 subscribers and as many as 30,000 bloggers and journalists. We also published a feature story on the campaign in our Broadcasters Café newsletter that went to all the media receiving the PSAs. A total of 339 stations used the Soil Secrets campaign, generating 98,681 airplays and $9,587,278 in value.
Expanding the Media Mix
In a final wave of national PSAs, we added outdoor to our broadcast distribution which resulted in Starlite posters being placed in major market retail parking lots around the country, highway billboards on major thoroughfares and posters in the subways and busses operated by the Washington, DC Metro Authority. The campaign was featured on a special outdoor website called OOHforGood.
USDA- Food Safety Inspection Service “Cook it Safe” Campaign
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million people get food poisoning each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The USDA’s, Food Safety and Inspection Service is the public health agency responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, correctly labeled and packaged.
To educate the public about the threat of food poisoning and the importance of cooking food thoroughly, FSIS, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE), and the International Food Information Council (IFIC), partnered to produce the Cook It Safe! campaign.
Goodwill Communications was selected to distribute and evaluate the campaign.
One of the target audiences for the campaign was college students who often warm up food in their dorms which may or may not be safe for consumption due to under cooking. To reach this audience, Goodwill Communications placed TV PSAs on college sports stadium jumbotrons in Yankee Stadium, Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas and Ever Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL. reaching nearly 300,000 students. The Cook it Safe campaign aired on 308 stations, with 44,066 airplays and $18.3 million in value.
The total value of all exposure generated on behalf of USDA is just over $39 million.