American Farmers Venture into New Field: Social Media

September 8, 2010 at 9:16 am Leave a comment

Sure, FarmVille prevails as one of the hottest games on Facebook. But across the country, real-life farmers are hopping off their tractors and hopping on the Internet—for at least a few minutes a day—and are plowing new ground in social media.

More and more resources are popping up to steer farmers through this fertile yet relatively foreign terrain. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, for instance, provides an online guide that teaches its members how to use social media. And in late August, the newly formed AgChat Foundation staged its first-ever conference geared towardsocial media training for farmers.

Jeff FowleJeff Fowle (pictured left), a California rancher who is president of the AgChat Foundation, said: “I’m like most farmers and ranchers. We build extensive knowledge in the care of our crops and livestock, from decades of experience on the farm, training sessions, workshops and our education. Many farmers and ranchers have not had the opportunity to study communications, let alone social media.”

During a recent workshop hosted by the Kansas Corner Growers and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers associations, social media strategist and agriculture advocate Michele Payn-Knoper (second photo) of Indiana led a group of about 20 farmers in setting up accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Payn-Knoper, one of the leaders of the AgChat Foundation, urged the farmers to spend 15 minutes a day promoting agriculture through social media.

A 2009 survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that among the 92 percent of ranchers and farmers age 18 to 35 who use computers, 46 percent regularly use some form of social media. Nearly one-fourth of large-acreage farmers spend at least 10 hours a week online, according to the AgChat Foundation.

In a social media workbook, Payn-Knoper said:

Michele Payn-Knoper

“Today’s Internet experience is about efficient community interaction and information exchange; agriculture loses when farmers don’t engage in that community. Arm yourself with a base knowledge of social media to leverage it as a tool for your farm with customers and influencers. After all, farmers offer the best voice for agriculture in social media.”

DeEtta Bohling, communications specialist with the Kansas corn and sorghum associations, noted that consumers form opinions every day online about the agriculture industry, even though 98.5 percent of them aren’t actively engaged in farming.

Indeed, the American Farm Bureau Federation said that although a fair number of agribusiness professionals are connecting with like-minded individuals through social media, many are striking up online conversations with people who hold differing opinions about agriculture, such as members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“This presence is vital as activist groups also use social media to plant seeds of doubt about modern agricultural practices,” the federation said in a blog post.

Bohling, the Kansas communications specialist, said participating in social media is a business decision for farmers that will help them “protect their livelihood.”

“With 150 million users on Facebook and 50 million tweets being sent daily, farmers have an opportunity to be proactive in educating people about agriculture. Farmers are the experts and if they don’t tell their story, activist groups will,” Bohling said.

Speaking to the National Agri-Marketing Association Trends in Agriculture conference last November, Leslie Bradshaw recommended that folks in agriculture participate in regular “ag chats” on Twitter using the #AgChat hashtag (Those chats spawned the AgChat Foundation).

Bradshaw, principal of an Oregon vineyard as well as a new media strategist, also suggested that if someone in agribusiness operates a website, he or she should maintain a blog because it generates dynamic, relevant, SEO-friendly content.

“I leverage Facebook, Twitter and other social media because the future of my family’s business is tied to the demand for and connection to our [grape] crop,” Bradshaw said. “Social media is expediting connections, raising awareness and helping my family tell the Bradshaw Vineyards story.”

Click here to watch a video produced by the AgChat Foundation.



Entry filed under: Featured Articles, Featured Farmers.

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