NFU struggles to redefine its image

After nearly half a century, the National Farmers Union is looking to update its public identity 
amid flagging numbers in a bid to attract more members

Much has changed in the last 45 years, from the fall of the Iron Curtain to the advent of the Internet, but one thing has essentially remained the same — the NFU logo.

Now the National Farmers Union (NFU) is looking to update its green maple leaf design, a move that drew both criticism and praise during the organization’s annual convention in Saskatoon last month.

“I see this as being a waste of time. I like the old one, there’s too many places people change for the sake of change,” said Tim Tabbert, who farms in the Ottawa area. “I think we’ve got more important issues than changing our logo.”

Others were more blunt in their skepticism.

“It ain’t gonna matter a damn what our logo is,” said Gerald Benneke.

After looking at more than 140 options over two years, the NFU working group examining the issue presented a handful of options to members.

“Because we haven’t done anything for 40 years or so, any change we make, no matter how small is going to feel big,” said Carla Roppel, longtime NFU executive director and working group member. “My proposal going forward, is that we do this on a more regular basis, doing it every 10 years instead of waiting 45 years and having to go through an extremely painful process.”

Alex Fletcher, NFU youth president, said he didn’t initially see the need to update the organization’s logo, even though he is co-chair of the working group dedicated to revamping it.

“For me to be honest about this, I’m not really passionate about branding work… but I do think it’s really important work to be doing,” he said, explaining that after a few months of listening to what others had to say, he realized an update was needed.

“The branding project was initiated to help the NFU stand out, to attract new members and policy-makers, help the NFU more effectively communicate its messages in competitive media spaces, and create a modern visual identity in keeping with NFU history and culture,” said the British Columbia market gardener and fruit grower. “It’s something I hear, that the NFU’s look and feel is outdated, and it’s a barrier for new farmers, new members to sort of take that first step to getting to understand what the NFU’s about.”

Joan Brady said all members were being encouraged to give feedback on the changes, and all regions have provided input during the process.

Efforts were also made to include a cross-section of ages in the feedback process, but demographics presented some challenges. Nearly 35 per cent of members who responded to questions regarding new logos and tag lines were between the ages of 50 and 65, a further 22 per cent of respondents were over the age of 65. Just under three per cent were 25 or younger, something Fletcher said was the result of fewer young people entering the field.

Some of the feedback was positive. But many preferred the union stick with the time-tested green maple leaf and yellow lettering.

Brady said it was important to recognize the past, but that doing so shouldn’t prevent the union from moving forward.

“I want to acknowledge the folks who have rallied around that green maple leaf with the yellow NFU have done so for many years and have brought us this far, and I think whatever we do we can never forget where we came from,” she said. “We did get some comments from people who were hesitant about this process — why change something that we feel is working?”

Others at the meeting felt the current logo isn’t cutting it at all. And for a few the proposed changes to the logo didn’t go far enough — some suggested the NFU drop the word “union” altogether in an attempt to draw more members.

“This is an annual discussion,” said union president, Jan Slomp, explaining the issue has arisen in regional meetings in the past.

The Alberta dairy farmer said that eliminating the word union from the title may draw more members, but it would create confusion as to the organization’s role.

“Newcomers see value but hate the word ‘union,’” Slomp said. “We are a union of independent farmers… I don’t want to change it really, because if we would change it we are also brainwashed with the idea that working together is not good… our name means that thousand of individuals work together.”

But that doesn’t mean the discussion is closed. Slomp said that if there was overwhelming support for changing something like removing the word ‘union’ it would be considered.

Using stickers, members were asked to code for one of three logos during the convention, the existing logo, an updated version with a more contemporary maple leaf and lettering over a furrowed field, and finally, a stark departure —  featuring wheat sheaves in red.

The current logo received a considerable amount of support during the exercise.

Concerns where also raised about the new designs. Some worried that having furrowed fields would show a bias toward row crops and tillage, others thought the use of wheat projected an image that was too western. Francophones worried that a new logo or tag line might not translate well, and others noted that the use of colours like red, blue, orange or green might be misconstrued as indicating an allegiance to a specific political party.

“I just want to emphasize that these are concepts,” said Fletcher. “There is no perfect logo or tag line, there is no silver bullet, what we want to do is get something that is our best chance at really articulating who we are and what we’re trying to do.”

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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