Why is car No. 78 on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series emblazoned with farm scenes and the words “Farm American” and “Cultivating the Future?” It’s an effort that team owner Barney Visser has initiated to gain the public’s attention – and support – for American agriculture.

Visser wants American consumers to recognize the all-important role of U.S. farmers and ranchers in providing the nation with a safe, sustainable and reliable supply of food. He also wants to underscore the fact that agriculture employs more than 22 million people in the American workforce.

With NASCAR’s large legion of fans – 75 million, and half of them women – Visser sees the NASCAR venue as the perfect vehicle to help convey ag’s message.

Furniture-industry lessons

Surprisingly, Visser isn’t a farmer or rancher. He built his career over four decades in the furniture industry and today is co-owner of Furniture Row Companies, based in Denver, CO. It is that experience that’s made Visser an ardent advocate for American farmers and ranchers.

Visser says that during the course of his career he saw the American furniture industry implode as less expensive furniture imports took jobs and business away from American companies – many of them family businesses. He’s concerned that same trend could happen to America’s food supply.

Visser says, “The number of job losses in the American furniture industry due to unfair competitive practices by international governments has been devastating. To see the same trends occurring in our food supply, leaving us subjected to possible interruptions and unequal standards, is something we see as worth fighting for.”

He continues, “I don’t want America to fall asleep on this issue – this is where America needs to come together. I believe in the free-market system, but we’re not free when we ask our farmers and ranchers to compete against foreign governments and potentially harmful standards that put us and our families at risk.”

Hence, Visser has turned to NASCAR to help get the message out for supporting American agriculture.

Visser initially started his Furniture Row Racing team – and car No. 78 – in 2005. The car bore the traditional sponsor markings for the Furniture Row Companies. But as his concern for America’s farmers and ranchers grew, Visser made the transition to the Farm American team and gave the car a new look in August 2010.

The car ran in three Sprint Cup races last year and is on the NASCAR circuit again in 2011. Visser and his Farm American team would like to continue their ag awareness efforts and broaden the scope by adding interactive educational displays to the Fan Zone at every race. They envision a Farmer’s Market, farm machinery simulators, and real farmers and ranchers to visit with consumers. Furniture Row stores across the country would also showcase in-store displays about American farmers and ranchers.

Industry partners sought

To help that vision become reality, the Farm American team is seeking industry support. A total of $22 million is needed to cover a full year of the Farm American Project, including the racecar, traveling educational displays, and Furniture Row ag-related store displays.

Faulkton, SD, ranchers and ag advocates Troy and Stacy Hadrick are working with the Farm American team to encourage the ag industry to partner with the effort. Troy says that after seeing that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had displays at NASCAR events, it was evident that farmers and ranchers needed to ensure they were sharing their stories with consumers as well.

“The goal of the Farm American program is to provide a platform for farmers and ranchers to share their story with consumers. I don’t want a driver or a celebrity being a spokesman for my industry; we need to do it ourselves and this program will help do just that,” Troy says.

He also points out that as a collective industry effort, the full-scale Farm American Project has the potential to reach 160 million people/week via NASCAR and Furniture Row retail locations.

Hadrick concludes, “We need to be proactive in our efforts to educate the consumer about domestic food production and the farmers and ranchers who grow it, rather than being reactive to the latest inaccurate accusations from anti-ag groups. I’m hoping that once farmers and ranchers hear about this project, they will help spread the word to the agri-businesses they work with. Together, we can make this project a reality.”

Sidebar: First financial sponsor signed

Michigan-based Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizer has joined the Farm American effort as the program’s first financial sponsor. The announcement was made during the annual Commodity Classic convention held in Tampa, FL, in early March.

“The NASCAR-related program allows farmers and ranchers to tell their story. As a third-generation, family-owned company, we feel it’s important that the story of U.S. agriculture is brought to the dinner table of the consumer,” say Albert Bancroft, marketing communications manager at Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers, of the new partnership.

Joe Garone, general manager of Furniture Row Racing, is excited about the support and hopes it will inspire others in the ag industry to join the Farm American team as financial sponsors as well.
“While we seek additional financial partners for the Farm American program, this partnership with Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers will always remain special since it’s the first agriculture business to join our team,” Garone says.

More than two dozen ag organizations are also supporting the Farm American program as communication partners. This is a zero-cost program that helps facilitate information about the Farm American effort among agricultural membership organizations and consumers. Communications partners include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, United Egg Producers, North American Equipment Dealers and several state farm bureaus.

Editor’s note: For the latest news on the Farm American car, go to www.furniturerowracing.com or visit them on Facebook.